Mindful Eating vs. Dieting: Part two

Learn how mindful eating can be healthier than dieting by exploring the principle of eating the right amount.

Mindfulness is a practice of slowing down and staying in the moment without judgment. Dieting is judgement-based and promotes abstinence from certain foods or caloric reduction. Slowing down and being aware without judgment seems much easier than dieting until you actually physically try it. However, there is some great information available to help anyone who wants to start introducing mindful eating into their lives.

Dr. Jan Chozen Bays book Mindful Eating – A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, makes you realize that the reasons people eat are a complex subject. In her book, she explains seven kinds of hunger and patterns of eating and how habits form. The book explains how to unwind these patterns through six simple guidelines to become more mindful of the pleasures of eating. Mindfulness truly is the basics of eating and getting back to listening and appreciating what our body is communicating to us, much like an infant instinctively does. These six simple guidelines are:

  1. Slow it down
  2. Right amount
  3. The energy equation
  4. Mindful subtraction
  5. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind
  6. Loving-kindness and the inner critic

This article explores the second principle- eating the right amount of food. Most nutrition educators, practitioners and dieticians will make recommendations specifying how much of each food group should be eaten based on physical activity levels, age and gender. The standard practice or advice is to eat from each food group a total of approximately 2,000 calories per day. This could equate to eating 6 oz of grains, 5 oz of protein, 3 cups of vegetables, 3 cups of dairy and 2 cups of fruit daily for an adult who is moderately active. From this perspective, the “right amount” is something that can be measured and with the exception of dramatic changes in physical activity levels, it is something that will change slowly and predictably over time

Mindful eating is a simple concept but a powerful one. Mindful eating can be an ethical action. It is an ethical action toward one’s self, toward all the people who bring us our food and toward all those who are hungry in the rest of the world; when we consider that mindful eating means eating an amount that is appropriate, beneficial and leading to happiness and freedom. Appropriate in the sense that mindful eating has to do with “getting enough,” not a fixed amount or an excessive amount. The appropriate amount, when viewed in this way, changes with every change in circumstance. So to be aware of what “just enough” is, you have to be mindful not just once but every time you eat.

We have to be aware of changing conditions, how hungry we are, how much exercise we have done or how cold it is outside. We need to be mindful of how much food we take based on the amount of food in the serving bowl, the number of people who will be served and how much food they might need not just how much food we need ourselves.

Those days when you find yourself eating everything on your plate or ordering numbered meals at fast food chains can be  particularly bad for your health due to the distortion of portion sizes over the years. “Normal” portion sizes have grown dramatically in just one generation! Value meal size burgers, for example, are the “normal” size for a burger based on a 2,000 calorie intake. This increase in size is noticeable not only in restaurants but wherever food is found, in portions sold in grocery stores, estimations in cookbooks and even the servings dished onto our plates at home. 

Eating mindfully is a paradigm shift and understanding how the “right amount” can change is a key component of mindful eating. Americans often look outside themselves for answers about food and nutrition. Mindful eating looks within. Your body will tell you what it needs and how much if you slow down your eating enough to listen to it and if you think about the “right amount” in an ethical manner.

Michigan State University Extension offers a series entitled Stress Less with Mindfulness and mindful eating is one of the five lessons in the series.  Peruse their website for programming in your county.  

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