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What is mindful eating and how can it help my diabetes?

By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E

By Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed, RD., C.D.E.

Mindful eating can mean many things. Some might think mindful eating is simply paying more attention to what, when, or how much you eat. For others, mindful eating means slowing down, chewing your food more slowly, and really trying to savor the bite in your mouth. Mindful eating can be all of this and much more.

When mindfulness (which I’ll loosely define as choosing to be aware of your current experience) is combined with eating, there is a major shift in the way you think about food. Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat or what you should have eaten instead, stop and just observe what is present in you.

“Huh? That sounds too simple! All I have to do is just pay more attention?” Actually, it can be quite challenging because paying attention is a skill. Learning a new skill requires practice; the more you practice, the better you become at it.

salt and pepper grinderUnfortunately many people with diabetes have been told to eat less, taught to count carbohydrates, and made to feel guilty when their blood sugars are high. Having someone ask you to think about the bite in your mouth and decide if the food you are eating actually tastes good seems almost irrelevant!

“Wait a second. You want me to taste my food now?” Exactly! Mindful eating is becoming aware of information that is available only to you. For example, at your next meal or snack, take a moment and notice how the food really tastes. Why? Because there is no test, instrument, or machine that can measure how a food tastes to you. The only way to know if something tastes good to you is to taste it and notice.

People with diabetes sometimes start a mindful eating practice to help them eat less. If that’s why you are interested in giving mindful eating a try, begin by checking in to see how a food tastes as you take each bite.

My clients are surprised when I ask them to try to notice the flavor of the food they are eating. People often think they love a particular food but there are lots of reasons why the same food won’t always taste as good. You could feel rushed, not hungry, excited by the conversation–or something as simple as having recently brushed your teeth. Sometimes the way the food is prepared simply isn’t appealing to you. Unless you take a moment to notice this, you may mindlessly eat something that really doesn’t even taste good.

For the next several meals, take a bite and try to really taste the food. Rate it on a scale of 1 (not very good) to 10 (wonderful). Continue doing this with each bite. Become curious and ask yourself lots of questions. What do you enjoy about that bite? Is it delicious because it’s warm and chewy? Refreshing because it’s cold and crisp? Eating food that tastes good is a wonderful reason to keep eating.

Mindful eating can help you see that the enjoyment of food changes as you eat. Something that tastes good at first may lose its appeal after a few bites. Noticing this shift can help you place your fork down, recognizing that you aren’t stopping because you have to but because you want to when the food no longer tastes wonderful to you.

In another post we will talk about fullness and how to use these two pieces information to begin to change the amount and types of food that are consumed.

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About the author

Megrette Fletcher is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. Megrette is the 2013-2014 president of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit, organization to assist health professionals to explore the concepts of mindful eating. She has written articles for and has been quoted about mindful eating in Diabetes Self Management, Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Social Worker, Bariatric Times, Glamour, Family Circle, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Women’s Day, and Oxygen Magazine. Megrette currently works as a diabetes educator in Dover, New Hampshire.

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