The term ‘mindful eating’ has been bandied about in both academic and popular literature, particularly within the last few months. Curious if ‘mindfulness’ is a legitimate way of enhancing appetite control, I decided to look into a few sources to determine if it is a practice that can be incorporated to improve our relationship with food.
Is ‘mindful eating’ a legitimate way to pursue your diet and lifestyle goals, or are purveyors of this trend rather like wolf draped in cashmere clothing (in a variety of Zen inspiring, pastel hues no doubt)?
What is Mindful Eating?
As opposed to the regular kind, ‘Mindful eating’, is a non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated while ingesting food.1
Mindful eating aims to enhance our awareness of why we’re nibbling on a few carrots, or hands deep in dry cereal (or chocolate mouse, or whatever). Unlike other psychological tools for weight loss, (meal planning, record keeping, and portion control), mindful eating emphasizes the recognition and appropriate response to satiety, while simultaneously acknowledging inappropriate external cues, such as advertising or emotional states (boredom, anxiety).
While contemplating whether another fistful of sugar-coated crispies would be enough to get me through writing another sentence, something clicked and my (slightly cynical) skepticism was stopped in its eyebrow crooking tracks. My acute awareness of the moment was enhanced, and for some reason the sugar cereal started to look really… awful.
Authors suggest that Organoleptic Awareness* (i.e. conscious appreciation of the effects of food on each of the senses) and Affective Sensitivity (attention to how food affects internal states) are key contributors to being truly mindful. There are a series of courses offered on the internet to enhance this kind of appreciation for food. Critically, mindfulness is a skill that can be learned- kind of like meditation can be taught to kids with ADHD.
Simply reading literature about mindful eating practices was sufficiently influential as to discourage my infamous writing crutch (the dry cereal crumbs are an ever present reminder in almost every work place, lab, and home of my commitment to writing about eating behaviour).
Perhaps my cyncism was not warranted. One can see how the 24 hour-availability-yes-man culture might crossover into our eating habits. Yielding to the feelings associated with sensory experiences can lend a special kind of awareness, and remind us of the fact that leaving half the cookie may not be such a bad idea.
I will be posting the authors Mindful Eating Questionnaire at the end of the week.
*I had to look up ‘organoleptic’. Latin bases usually help with the uglier, more nebulous words in english- ‘organ’ (obvious) + Ancient greek ‘leptikos’ (disposed to take), and pertains to the sensory properties of a particular food or chemical, the taste, colour, odour and feel.