With the popularity of mindful eating on the rise, there are many myths about mindful eating, including what mindful eating is and how it is used to help people. One article about mindful eating published on a popular diet website generated comments revealing myths, skepticism, and resistance, including this funny comment: “I will NOT fantasize about fruit like it is a sexual object.“
It is understandable that people might be confused about mindful eating. Just a decade ago, when I asked audiences whether they’d ever heard of “mindful eating,” very few hands went up. Nowadays, mindful eating has become more mainstream. Today, a Google search for “mindful eating” turned up almost 37 million results!
This may explain one of the myths about mindful eating: “Mindful eating is just a fad.”
1. Mindful eating is just another fad.
Mindful eating is an ancient concept that has important applications in our current abundant food environment where the norm has become mindless eating.
Mindful eating is about bringing awareness of what is going on in the present moment. This includes awareness of your physical sensations, your thoughts (including your reaction to environmental cues), and your emotions. This awareness helps you choose how you will respond in any situation.
Clearly, that is a useful and lasting skill, not a fad!
2. Mindful eating is “just” eating with awareness.
I often see articles that give advice to eat mindfully like this: “Sit down to eat. Don’t eat in front of the television.” And to be clear, “chew each bite 32 times” is NOT mindful eating!
While eating slowly and decreasing distractions while eating are helpful strategies, mindful eating has many more applications.
At Am I Hungry?, we believe that mindful eating encompasses the entire process of eating, for example: awareness of body cues; recognition of non-hunger stimuli for eating; selecting food to meet your needs for enjoyment and nourishment; eating for optimal satisfaction and satiety; the ability to learn from our mistakes; and using the energy you’ve consumed to fuel the vibrant life you crave.
For more about how to use the Mindful Eating Cycle to explore the entire process of eating, download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.
You can only change what you are aware of. That is what makes mindful eating such a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food.
3. Mindful eating is too hard.
As a young child, mindful eating was natural! You touched, smelled, and played with your food – and sometimes spit it out if you didn’t like it.
As adults, many of us have learned to rush and/or multitask while we eat (and just about everything else). We barely notice that we are eating, or even if we like it. We’ve had lots of practice eating a candy bar or a bag of potato chips without thinking about it. It’s easy!
It’s challenging to slow down to notice what we are consuming, much less how we are consuming it and how our body is responding to it. Slowing down heightens your senses, including awareness about what you are thinking and feeling.
Just remember, there is no need for perfection! Take small steps. Some ideas for making it a little easier at first:
- Eat one bite of chocolate or a strawberry, noticing the aromas, flavors, and textures.
- Set an intention to eat the first few bites of your meal mindfully.
- When you notice you are eating fast or while distracted, practice bringing your attention back for your next bite.
- If you become aware that you are feeling uncomfortable or anxious, pause and take a couple of deep breaths.
- Practice mindfulness while doing other activities, like showering or taking a walk.
- When you have time, follow the steps for mindful eating by yourself or with others. You might be surprised at how that changes your experience.
If mindful eating is a new skill, every bite you eat is an opportunity to practice! Since eating mindfully brings more pleasure and satisfaction to your snack or meal, you will likely find that it becomes easier and feel more natural over time.
Which brings us to another myth about mindful eating.
4. Mindful eating takes too long.
When you are busy, it seems that sitting down to “just” eat takes too much time. The temptation is to eat while working, driving, reading, scrolling, or watching TV.
When we lead a mindful eating experience during a workshop or retreat, we spend up to an hour “deconstructing” the Mindful Eating Cycle in order to demonstrate the skills in discrete steps. (You’ll also find these strategies explained in the Mindful Eating chapter of the Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat books.)
This may sound prescriptive or mechanical at first. However, each step of our mindful eating exercise has a purpose. After one such lunch, one mindful eating retreat participant said that eating this way felt “sensual.” The definition of sensuous is to use all of one’s senses, so that is a great way to describe mindful eating!
And while it is wonderful to experience an entire meal leisurely and mindfully, mindful eating doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective. A meal eaten mindfully for 15 minutes is likely to be far more satisfying than one you eat unconsciously. And you can mindfully consume a piece of cheese or a couple of cookies in just a few minutes – and turn that few minutes into a mini-meditation that will nourish your body and your soul!
5. Mindful eating is “woo woo.”
In contrast to hypertasking and just going through the motions, it does feel a bit spiritual to focus on just one thing at a time. And while mindfulness has ancient roots, it is imminently practical in our modern hurried, overwhelming environment.
Unlike the the less common acts of meditating, going to a place of worship, or reading spiritual works, everyone eats! Bringing mindfulness to the table is a useful way to tap into the calming effects of the present moment.
When you bring “beginner’s mind” to each eating experience, eating becomes a multisensory adventure that is so much more satisfying and enjoyable – perhaps even a bit spiritual.
6. Mindful eating is for eating “better.”
Unfortunately, the phrase “mindful eating” is often misused as a way to talk about restricting food intake, as in “Eat mindfully to avoid sugar.” I describe that as mind-full eating!
Eating mindfully definitely increases your awareness about why you do what you do, and that can lead to changes that support your intention to feel better.
Combining mindful eating skills with a non-diet (non-restrictive) approach makes it possible to listen to the feedback your body gives you when you eat something that doesn’t agree with you or eat more than your body needs. When guilt is no longer a factor, common sense will prevail!
7. Mindful eating is for weight loss.
Unfortunately, due to our our weight-focused culture, a common myth is that mindful eating techniques are used for weight loss.
Mindful eating is an “inside-out” approach. This myth undermine the benefits because it keeps the focus on changing the outside.
This is a complex topic worthy of its own article: Mindful Eating and Weight Loss: Setting the record straight.
Although there will continue to misunderstandings and myths about mindful eating, the best way to tap into the power of this approach is to try it for yourself!