By Michelle Pearce, PhD
Over one third of people in the US are on a diet. Even when diets are successful, 50% of people gain the weight back after 12 months or less. With 70% of Americans obese or overweight, we desperately need to find a way to better manage our weight and take care of our bodies.
Thankfully psychologists have figured out a more effective way of eating and managing our waistlines. What they have discovered is not a diet or a weight loss gimmick. It’s not about prioritizing one type of food over others or banishing a food group from your plate. In fact, it has less to do with what you eat than with how and why you eat. This more effective way of eating is called mindful eating.
Mindfulness has been defined as purposefully paying attention, in the present moment, without judgment (Jon Kabatt-Zinn, 1990). When we eat mindfully, we direct our awareness to the experience of eating in the present moment. We pay attention to why we are eating and how we are eating, as well as to what we are eating.
Eating happens in the present moment, although typically our minds are anywhere but present. We often occupy our minds by worrying about something in the future or ruminating over something that happened in the past. When we do this, we miss the opportunity to connect with and nourish our bodies and to make wise choices. We also lose the opportunity to enjoy our food.
With mindful eating, we no longer need restrictive diets (or rebound binges and increasing waistlines) because we’re not depriving ourselves. Just the opposite, in fact. We are paying attention to what our body needs and then meeting that need in a loving and honoring way. As a result, we find ourselves making healthier choices about what types of food to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat. In this way, we create lasting change instead of the frustrating pattern of yo-yo dieting.
Eating without judgment can be the most challenging part of mindful eating. We all have an inner critic, and for those that have struggled with their weight or food choices, this inner critic may have become particularly loud and mean over the years. The goal of mindfulness is not necessarily to silence the critic; it is to no longer be controlled by the critic, to no longer pay it attention or give it power. When we practice mindfulness, eating stops being a time to beat ourselves up, and starts becoming a nourishing, positive experience.
Tips for Eating Mindfully
Here are some strategies for cultivating the practice of mindful eating.
If you want to learn more about mindfulness and how to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, check out our new online one-year graduate certificate program: Integrative Health and Wellness. Dr. Michelle Pearce, Assistant Professor at the Center for Integrative Medicine, is the Program Director and also teaches in the program. For more information, check out the website http://www.graduate.umaryland.edu/wellness/ or contact Dr. Pearce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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