Mindful Eating: An Effective Method for Generating True Health and Happiness

August 18, 2021 by

By Barbara Maille, LCSW

“The Weight-Loss Industry Is Coming for Our Post-Lockdown Bodies”.  This was the title of a recent New York Times article in which the author outlined ways in which the multi-billion-dollar diet industry is devising new tactics to persuade us to buy products that promise quick weight loss and happiness.

The problem with restrictive diets and weight-loss products is that, while they may bring about rapid weight loss, they are not sustainable. Most people regain the lost weight and return to mindless eating habits. Furthermore, the weight loss industry seduces us into believing that weight loss, at any cost, is the path to achieving happiness. Worse, they teach us to distrust the very best tool we have; ourselves and our own awareness of what our body wants and needs.

Mindful eating is different. It is a humane, balanced approach that acknowledges the complexity of what it means to be human. It is a kinder and ultimately more sustainable method for making healthy changes to the way we eat and live. And it is backed by research that demonstrates its effectiveness.

By bringing the mindful qualities of awareness, curiosity and kindness to the exploration of hunger, taste, fullness, satisfaction and satiety, we learn to use our own inner wisdom to decide what and how much to eat. We discover that sitting down, slowing down, and eating as a singular activity (rather than something we do while working or watching TV) leads to increased satisfaction and less over-eating.

Mindfulness helps us to differentiate between various types of hunger–which sometimes may not be for food at all. Sometimes we discover that what we are truly “hungry” for is connection, or rest, or fun, or stimulation or any other normal human need that we have been conditioned to try to satisfy with food.

Mindfulness helps us to have compassion for the ways we have denied our true needs, been critical of ourselves for acting on conditioned, habitual behaviors and for ways we may have internalized societal disdain for our “imperfect bodies”. Mindfulness helps us to resist the external pressures that urge us to continue doing this and to delight in the truth that bodies come in all shapes, sizes and colors. It can help us to accept the body we were born with that may be different than the body we (or others) believe we should have, which, paradoxically, leads to our feeding and treating it better. And if difficult emotions such as grief, sadness or anger arise as we unpack our conditioning, mindful awareness provides a container in which to hold it all.

It takes time and practice to alter our thinking and behavior with regard to food and eating. Just as we understand that lifting a weight only one time will not make us stronger, so too it is with mindful eating. With practice, kindness, support, and sometimes a healthy dose of humor, our thoughts and behaviors will begin to change.

Ultimately, mindful eating helps to shift from a mindset that punishes and judges to one that nurtures and supports our true desires, and encourages us to treat ourselves and others with the kindness and respect that lead to true healthfulness and happiness.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings