With the huge amount of weight loss information and advice available today, you might have heard about the practice of mindful eating. While it’s true that mindful eating helps us form a healthy relationship with food and can enable us to maintain a healthy weight, a lot of people are misinformed about what mindful eating really is and how to truly practice it on a daily basis.

According to Dr Michelle May, MD, Founder of the Am I Hungry Mindful Eating program, simply put, mindful eating means eating with awareness of how hungry or full you are before eating with the intention of feeling nourished and satisfied (both physically and psychologically) after you are done. It is a flexible, sustainable approach to eating that connects to our own body wisdom.

Unlike trendy diets like Keto, Paleo and even Clean Eating, mindful eating does not advocate eating only certain kinds of food and/or eliminating others. In fact, it’s not really about what to eat at all! Here are 3 of the most common myths about Mindful eating which may help you explore your own mindfulness journey better.

1. Mindful eating means only eating healthy foods

Most clients who walk into my clinic invariably say, “Please teach me how to be mindful so I only make the ‘right’ choice.” or “Help me stop eating ‘bad’ foods.”

Much to their surprise, I tell them that with mindful eating there is no labelling of foods as good and bad. Mindful eating is more about bringing our attention to the manner and attitude with which we eat, rather than focussing on the inherent ‘rightness’ of the food itself. Yes, when we practice mindful eating we do tend to eat healthier, more wholesome foods but that’s not because we have to. It’s because once we start tuning in to our hunger and fullness sensations, we realise our bodies instinctively thrive on eating many nourishing foods in order to feel light and energised. However, we also do give ourselves permission to eat some of our favourite foods which are not as healthful. When we do this, it releases the pressure on us to eat perfectly (which is just not possible), which in turn creates a space for us to adopt healthier choices and behaviours in the long run. Mindful eating, therefore, allows for a balanced way of eating—for both nourishment and pleasure.

2. Mindful eating means only eating when hungry

Mindful eating is about being aware of our hunger and fullness sensations and eating more often than not in response to physical (as opposed to emotional) hunger cues. However, there are times when may be enjoyable to eat even if we are not physically hungry. For instance, we may consciously choose to eat something we like simply because we want to enjoy the taste. In such cases it’s helpful to eat from an emotionally positive space as this helps prevent overeating or using food to feed emotions.

When my mother makes fresh muffins I may not always be hungry but I choose to eat anyway simply because I want to enjoy the wonderful taste of freshly baked bread with my family. In such instances the awareness that I am not hungry helps me eat without over-eating, because I will then eat only enough to feel comfortable and satiated afterwards, instead of doing it on autopilot. And in the event that I do over-eat, which sometimes does happen, I call this a kind of mindful-overeating. My intention isn’t to soothe, distract or stuff myself to avoid feeling my emotions. It’s simply to savour the little pleasures of life. I don’t need to judge myself as good or bad but simply return to eating again when my body tells me it needs food next. So if I am not hungry at the next meal, I may simply choose to not eat or eat something light like a fruit or salad to give my body space to digest. Mindful eating is about choosing to eat or not eat from this kind of non-judgemental awareness with the intention of being kind to our bodies and ourselves.

3. Mindful eating means I need to be mindful of calories/ carbs/ proteins/ macros

Not at all! Mindful eating is about moving away from seeing food in terms of carbs, proteins and calories, and towards eating food as food. It’s about being guided by what feels wholesome, nourishing, and enjoyable to our bodies. While it’s helpful to have some basic knowledge about the important functions of major food groups like complex carbohydrates which give energy, proteins which help build and repair muscle and fat which helps regulate hormones and body temperature, the idea of mindful eating is to be in tune with what works for our own bodies. However, mindful eating is also about becoming more aware of our emotional needs for love, connection, peace and entertainment and learning how to feed and nourish these needs without food too. Then food becomes one—but not the only—way to enjoy life. So, in mindful eating we eat all foods in moderation and balance taking into account the needs of our bodies and our hearts. As with everything, it takes time and practice. It also means we sometimes overeat. But each eating experience is an opportunity to learn, to grow and to discover more about the nuances of your own inner being. As Jan Chozen Bays, world renowned Zen teacher, paediatrician and mindful eating educator says, “mindful eating is about self-nurturing”, not self-control and it’s about respect for and trust in your own inner wisdom.   

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  • Tara Mahadevan

    Psychotherapist & Eating Behaviours Specialist

    Tara Mahadevan is a Mumbai based psychotherapist who works with clients on a range of issues such as anxiety, depression, stress management and relationship problems. She also specializes in the area of food and eating psychology. She helps clients adopt a holistic approach to eating, emotions and wellbeing not just through diet but through mindfulness and self-compassion therapy. In her work with clients, Tara incorporates a range of therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness Based interventions and Existential Psychotherapy. Tara has a Post Graduate Diploma in Existential Psychotherapy from Middlesex University and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, UK. She has Master's in Psychology from SNDT University, Mumbai, and a Bachelor's in Psychology from Vassar College, USA.  She is also a certified Wellness Coach from Wellcoaches Corporation USA; a certified Paediatric Obesity Counsellor from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA; and a Certified Mindful Eating Counsellor from the Am I Hungry Mindful Eating Training Program, USA.