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Mindful Eating
Tuning In to Your Food

by Megrette Hammond, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E.

These principles and more information about the center are available online at www.tcme.org.

Getting out of the blame habit

Allowing yourself to focus on what is good about eating can dramatically change your eating experience, says Donald Altman, author of The Art of the Inner Meal: The Power of Mindful Practices to Heal Our Food Cravings. “If you can learn to eat without shame and blame, it can open the door to the awareness of what you are feeling. If you are hungry and craving, just know that is present. If you are restricting, know that you are restricting.”

Ruth Quillian-Wolever agrees that for anyone to begin a mindful eating practice, he has to become more aware of judgment. This requires both practice and patience, but it is doable. Quillian-Wolever says, “The more people practice, the more they will be able to apply the skill of eating nonjudgmentally.”

Dr. Kabatznick adds, “Everyone thinks she is supposed to be perfect, but that is not the point of becoming mindful. It is the commitment to return to the bite, the moment, the direct experience of eating. That is the intent of a mindfulness practice. No matter how many times we leave the experience and no matter how many times we judge ourselves, we make a commitment to return to the direct experience of eating.”

Altman reminds us that “eating is something you do every day. There is always another meal.” The opportunities to practice being mindful while eating, therefore, are numerous. Altman also suggests that taking the time to feel grateful for food often transforms the eating experience. He says, “The second we bring gratitude into eating, there is a shift into sacred space—it connects us to all the people who brought us this food. It can bring a sense of cooperation into the eating experience. Just having a sense of gratitude gives us a space, a moment to transcend that impulse or craving.”

Quillian-Wolever’s research showed that mindful eating training helped participants in two ways. First, it promoted awareness, which aided a person in knowing whether he was eating for reasons other than to nourish his body. Second, having a mindfulness practice can assist a person in finding new ways to address emotions without using food to cope. Quillian-Wolever says that a person can learn a lot by taking a moment and exploring what hunger and fullness actually feel like. She suggests focusing on the internal experiences of eating and the physical feelings that are present. She also suggests trying to separate those experiences and feelings from any judgments, such as “this is a good hunger” or “I shouldn’t eat so quickly.” Mindful eating training can help a person recognize that the labels “good” and “bad” and “should” and “shouldn’t” are judgments, which can distract from the experience of eating.

Other experts agree that having the ability to become aware of what happens during a meal offers great benefit. “Health is a process of transformation,” says Susan B. Lord, M.D., Director of the Food As Medicine training program at the Center for Mind–Body Medicine in Washington, DC. “Part of the process is to have the person understand what food means to them. Mindfulness is an important tool to do this. It helps people understand how they view food. When people become mindful, via a guided meditation or other techniques, they become aware.”

Beyond eating

Becoming more mindful can help with other areas of diabetes control, too. Rather than reacting to things such as high blood glucose levels the same old way each time, taking a moment to tune in to your emotions before taking action can open the door to a wider variety of responses. By not operating on automatic pilot, you may be able to view knowledge and facts more objectively, without feelings of fear or shame.

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