Mindful eating is an effective approach to weight loss as it involves engaging your brain and thinking about your food while you are eating it. Here’s how it can help you to get your eating habits under control.

Many of us can follow a diet or weight loss plan for a while before we begin to feel restricted. Then we resort back to our old eating habits, which often involve overeating when we’re stressed or eating purely for enjoyment rather than hunger. Mindful eating is a useful way to help prevent you from overeating, and it will almost certainly improve your relationship with food.

Mindfulness is a practice that came from ancient meditation and was discovered more recently in a modern sense by Jon Kabat-Zim, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts in the Seventies. More recently, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed in the nineties by Professor Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Seagal, with the aim of helping those who were suffering from depression.

Mindfulness explained

Mindfulness means being in the present moment. It’s about switching off negative self-talk and inner chatter that can hold you back, and avoiding the temptation to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Put simply, it’s about focusing on how things look, feel and smell in the present moment.

When it comes to food, mindfulness can be an effective way of controlling the amount you eat. Rather than gulping down food quickly, because you’re distracted by other thoughts or you’re not thinking about the food you’re eating, mindful eating is about savouring every mouthful and being aware of how it tastes and when your body is starting to feel full.

You need to focus on the food in front of you. Many of us lead busy lives, and grab snacks and meals when we can, often in front of a computer screen at work or while we’re watching TV. Eating becomes almost secondary to the task you’re focusing on or the programme you’re watching. As you’re less aware of what you’re eating, because you’re distracted by something else, you’re less likely to be thinking about whether or not you’re feeling full and more likely to absent-mindedly eat everything on the plate, just because it’s in front of you.

Eating when you’re busy is best avoided, as you’ll gobble food down in a hurry, regardless of whether you need all of it. Try to eat when you’re not busy, and without the TV on. This will give you a chance to focus on the food you’re eating. Ask yourself how every mouthful tastes, chew slowly and think about the texture of the food.

Think ahead

The practice of mindful eating can also be applied before you even start putting food on your plate. Think carefully before you put food on your plate. Ask yourself how hungry you are and how much you need. If you’re the kind of person who eats everything on their plate, because you hate to waste food, then consider using a smaller plate if you’re not too hungry.

And before you load food onto a plate because it’s breakfast or lunchtime, check in with your body. Don’t just eat out of habit, or because it’s lunchtime. Ask yourself if you’re genuinely hungry.

Many of us can have complex issues with food and can often rely on it to self-medicate, for comfort, when we’re stressed. Or sometimes it’s tempting to overeat when we have something to celebrate. Or we may use food to help us unwind. We may enjoy it at the time, but afterwards, it’s easy to feel guilty. If you’re a comfort eater, and rely on food for helping you cope with stress, then you could try some meditation techniques to calm you down instead.

Mindfulness Meditation is now well respected by the medical profession because it works. Various studies have proven its effectiveness. In one American study, participants who signed up for an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group had significantly less stress and anxiety than their counterparts. Similarly, it had been used as a treatment for those with recurring depression and had been proven to reduce recurrence rate by up to 50 per cent.

How to practice mindfulness meditation

Find a quiet room or space where you won’t be disturbed. Or you can try it when you’re going for a walk or even a run, but try to exercise in a quiet area, like a park away from noisy traffic. Remember it’s about being in the moment, so look around you. Notice your surroundings, and focus purely on what you see, hear and smell and on your breathing. Another option is to work around the whole body, starting with your upper body and working your way down. Start with the shoulders; tense and relax them, elevating them up and down, while taking six breaths and six breaths out. Do the same with the rest of the muscles in the body, working your way down to your feet. While you’re concentrating on tensing and relaxing and breathing in and out, you’ll be able to switch off other thoughts. It takes practice, but try it and you’ll see that it works.