I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the National Wellness Conference, an event where health promotion and wellness professionals gather to connect with others in the field and expand their knowledge and skills. I led a breakout session titled “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How Mindful Eating Improves Health and Quality of Life.” The room was filled beyond capacity, with many attendees standing or sitting on the floor.
I was delighted at the large turnout for this session, but not surprised. Recently, we’ve witnessed an increase in awareness about mindfulness and mindful eating, so the topic was timely for those wanting to learn more about mindful eating and how it provides a sustainable alternative to the conventional weight-focused, restrictive approach to food, activity, and self-care.
In the session, we played a good food, bad food game. I asked the group to decide whether a hamburger was “good” or “bad” based on popular rules about what people “should” eat. We all had a laugh at the outcome: it depended on the decade, the fat content of the beef, whether there was a bun, and if so, whether the bun was whole wheat or white! This was an impactful demonstration that rules about what to eat are constantly changing, leading to confusion about what to eat. Most agreed that sticking to a rules-based eating plan is challenging and unsustainable for most people.
Then we entered into a discussion about becoming our own best authority in order to develop a sustainable, healthy relationship with food. I suggested that considering what we want to eat is as important as considering what we need to eat, and that our patients, clients, and employees are capable of handling freedom and choice with food when they are provided with the right skills, tools, and practice. Not surprisingly, this elicited uncertainty and questions. Some wondered if mindful eating in corporate wellness would work and whether it works for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or obesity.
This uncertainty is understandable and expected. The conventional weight-focused, rules-based approach has been standard practice for decades. Many health promotion and corporate wellness professionals were taught strategies for addressing eating and activity that are well-intentioned but based on an outdated paradigm that evidence indicates is ineffective. Our experience delivering mindful eating programs over the last 16 years has taught us that even when someone has a specific condition such as diabetes, it is possible, even necessary, for them to learn how to make eating and other self-care decisions without deprivation.
The good news is that more health and wellness professionals recognize the need for a new approach and are interested in learning about an alternative like mindful eating. My sense is that some already see the important role mindfulness and mindful eating can play in helping people rediscover a healthier relationship with food. Many professionals in that group are working on implementing, or have already implemented, non-diet and mindfulness-based initiatives. Others, need more time, information, or support to fully embrace the value and make this shift.
This article has been updated from a previously published version.
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