Why Your Patients Should Learn To Eat Like Babies

Jun 01,2021

Eat like babies

 
International No Diet Day was celebrated on 6 May 2021, raising awareness around body acceptance and the need to normalise body diversity. This initiative was started by Mary Evans Jones in 1992, following her experiences with bullying, the extreme pressures of dieting and subsequent anorexia nervosa. Her stance is supported by scientific evidence, finding that dieting in teens is the most important predictor of an eating disorder. 1

No Diet Day is an international movement, which prompts us to question messaging around food, weight, health and body shape.1 Pertinently, it also prompts greater awareness of mindful eating, which is believed to promote a healthier relationship to food. 2

A growing number of researchers and HCPs are finding mindful eating effective in supporting the management of conditions such as diabetes 3, obesity and eating disorders 4. Mindful eating also appears to reduce impulsive food choices. 5

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness is the practice of conscious awareness of one’s self and one’s senses, in the present moment and without judgement. Mindful eating is about purposefully paying attention to our food and the process of eating it, without distractions or judgement. It calls for the engagement of all the senses. 6

How to eat mindfully?

Eat like a baby! That is, sit down in a calm space with your food. Before eating, study each individual food item. Observe its colour, shape and texture. Consider where it might have come from and how it arrived on your plate. Then handle the food; smell it and listen to the sounds it makes (if any). Put it in your mouth and pause, to observe the response from your tastebuds. Slowly chew it and savour it. 7

It’s really important, say mindful eaters, to let go of any ideas you might have about the food, while eating it (remember: No judgements). It’s also important to pause after every bite, to consider whether you’re full or not. 5

How is this better than a diet?

Experts have pointed out that a diet is essentially a set of rules about food, designed to achieve a specific outcome (e.g. weight loss). There is a focus on either avoiding or consuming specific ingredients, calories and food quantities. However, there is no focus on changing the mindset of the dieter (or their relationship to food). 6

On the other hand, mindful eating is all about the process. It guides the individual to choose what they want to eat and how much of it. This, say researchers, is why mindful eaters tend to eat less and tend to make healthier food choices.8 The focus is on the appreciation of the food and on eating to satiety. 6

Researchers explain that dieting rules are difficult to maintain over the long term, because they don’t take into account how the individual is feeling on a given day (tired and needing more energy or sad and needing a mood-booster, for example). Mindful eating, on the other hand, gets better over time as the individual becomes more practiced. And their behaviour changes – they develop a healthier relationship with food. 6

Researchers go on to say that this is most likely the reason why mindful eating has been an effective tool for patients with diabetes or eating disorders, as well as problematic eating habits.9  This is because the patient’s behaviour changes fundamentally, without the need for unsustainable rules or the negative emotions that can accompany dieting (e.g. shame, felt when we eat something we were told not to).

On this basis, mindful eating might be considered a valuable complementary tool which enhances the practice of dietetics and nutrition.

 

[1] National Eating Disorders Association. 2018. Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders> [Accessed 6 May 2021].

[2] Warren, J., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283. doi:10.1017/S0954422417000154

[3]Miller, C., 2017. Mindful Eating With Diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum, 30(2), pp.89-94.

[4] Albers, S., 2010. Using Mindful Eating to Treat Food Restriction: A Case Study. Eating Disorders, 19(1), pp.97-107.

[5] Psycnet.apa.org. 2017. APA PsycNet. [online] Available at: <https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-52932-001> [Accessed 26 April 2021].

[6] Nelson, J., 2017. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum, 30(3), pp.171-174.

[7] Monroe, J., 2015. Mindful Eating. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 9(3), pp.217-220.

[8] Jordan, C., Wang, W., Donatoni, L. and Meier, B., 2014. Mindful eating: Trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior, Personality and Individual Differences,. 68, pp.107-111.

[9] Warren, J., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283. doi:10.1017/S0954422417000154