A concept called “mindful eating,” based on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, might get you to think differently about the digestive process and about slowing down during meals, with benefits that could include better overall digestion, weight maintenance and, if needed, weight loss.
Dr. Jean Kristeller, a psychology professor at Indiana State University, is well-known for her studies into mindful eating, especially in regard to helping binge eaters. According to an October 8, 2010 news release from ISU, the principles of mindful eating include: an awareness of each bite of food, learning to savor the experience of eating, and being aware of hunger and satiety cues. Also, mindful eating ideally means allowing 20 minutes for a complete meal. In the normal digestive process that gives the brain time to realize that the stomach is full.
“The mind-gut connection” is a familiar phrase to researchers. The July 6, 2011 HEALTHbeat newsletter from the Harvard Medical School explains that “digestion involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut and the nervous system, and it seems to take about 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety (fullness).” Not only that, but eating too fast or eating while distracted affects the digestive process and could mean that your body isn’t absorbing all the nutrients that it should.
Understanding the mind-gut connection and using mindful eating strategies could help those with a tendency to overeat or who struggle with eating disorders. The National Institutes of Health recently funded a study led by Kristeller from ISU and colleagues from Duke University. It involved 150 binge eaters and compared mindful eating strategies with standard psychoeducational treatment. Both treatments worked to control binge eating, but the group learning mindful eating (and incorporating meditation as well) reported less anxiety about their eating rituals.
Want to try mindful eating? HEALTHbeat gives these introductory tips: set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes; try eating with chopsticks or try using a utensil in your non-dominant hand; eat silently for at least five minutes and think about the energy it took to create your meal; take small bites and chew well; and decide whether you are really hungry before you grab something to eat.
It’s both intriguing and heartening how simple these ideas are and how they could lead to better health. Several studies on mindful eating are underway across the country, the Harvard newsletter stated.
As the national dialogue on healthier lifestyles continues, expect to hear more about mindful eating.
“Mindful Eating Program set to begin at ISU”
“Mindful eating may help with weight loss”
Reviewed August 9, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith