Ever felt like this? You’re at your computer, trying to keep up with one of those never-ending chains of emails when hunger strikes – so you reach for your cheese and salad wrap. After a few bites, another urgent email comes through, so you take a few mega bites and quickly draft a reply. You suddenly realise your 1:30 pm Zoom is looming, and scoff the remaining half down in 15 seconds flat. And then you wonder half an hour later why you still feel hungry.
This is where mindful eating comes into play – you may have heard the term ‘mindfulness’ in yoga and meditation, but did you know it applies to how we eat too? Some countries like Canada have included the idea of ‘mindful eating’ into their recent dietary guidelines, saying that it can help people make healthier choices.
What does mindful eating really mean?
Mindfulness is not a new concept – it’s an age-old practice that focuses on the present moment in a non-judgemental manner. ‘Mindful eating’ is a term used to describe being fully attentive to one’s food, moment by moment, without judgement. Unlike diets, which are typically centered around rules of eating, this practice pays little attention to specific foods, calories, weight loss, macronutrients, and meal timings. Instead, it’s all about appreciating the experience and taste of food, and chewing slowly – this helps us regulate how much we eat at one time and finish that meal or snack with a truly satisfied feeling.
Is mindful eating backed by science?
Researchers have begun studying the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on eating behaviour, particularly non-hunger related eating behaviors like binge eating, emotional eating and external eating (eating in response to external food-related cues). We’ve pulled out the key findings from three of these studies below:
- People with higher levels of mindfulness are less likely to impulsively eat and more likely to make healthier snack choices. [i]
- A weight loss program focused on mindfulness resulted in decreases in binge eating, perceived stress, negative emotions and also led to significant weight loss. [ii]
- A review of mindfulness-based eating awareness training found that mindful eating can improve self-control around food and reduce the frequency of binge eating and/or emotional eating episodes. [iii]
While these results are promising, further research is needed as many of the studies did not run for longer than a few months, so the long-term effects of mindful eating practices are not clear.
Why mindful eating works also remains unclear, although, there are some proposed reasons:
- Enhances executive functioning (includes planning, awareness, and attention), likely leading to a more self-controlled pattern of eating. [iv]
- As a result of increased awareness of the physical sensations of hunger and fullness, mindful eating can increase satisfaction, as well as reduce emotional eating and regulate portion sizes.
- Reduces non-hunger eating by dulling alertness to external cues that encouraging eating, like appealing packaging or advertisements. [v]
Shifting the focus towards how we eat
So, while mindful eating isn’t a silver bullet for better health, it’s interesting to see dietary guidelines in many countries start to recognise how we eat, as well as what we eat is important to wellbeing. While other countries like Israel don’t label it “mindful eating”, their dietary guidelines place emphasis on the social elements of eating, due to the positive effects on both food selection and mental health. With the dietary guidelines in Australia currently under review, we may see the next version include guidance on how to eat mindfully.
How can food companies encourage mindful eating?
- Provide simple and practical portion guidance
- Guidance on portion sizes is important, particularly with snack foods. As consumers are snacking more frequently, it’s important to help them understand what a recommended serve is and then to provide advice on how to enjoy it mindfully so they don’t reach for yet another serve.
- Example: Mondelez launched their Snack Mindfully program with a goal of having a Snack Mindfully portion icon on all packs, for all snacks, globally by 2025 along with consumer and health professional education and communications. Their consumer website has great practical tips backed by good evidence like minimise distractions, notice the textures, chew thoroughly and finish one bite before starting the next.
2. Hero mindful eating moments
- Illustrating mindful eating or snacking in integrated communications showing people savouring the food or snack, in the moment. Think, sharing a snack or meal with friends or colleagues around a table instead of a person eating solo at a computer or in front of the tv.
- Example: Tea companies like Lipton have typically championed the mindful moment, but there’s an opportunity for other brands and categories to hero taking a moment to really enjoy food and savour it.
- Inspire more home cooking
- The revival in home cooking seen in 2020 is likely to continue into 2021, and this is good news for mindful eating – the simple act of making your own food increases the joy and appreciation of food.
- There are plenty of ways brands can encourage this healthy behaviour, through content like simple, healthy recipes or modern twists on family favourites or through new product innovation with short-cuts like sauces that unlock the barriers to home cooking.
- Example: Retailer Harris Farm has responded to the popularity in home cooking, with offerings like pizza kits available for delivery. Providing this easy solution to households allows time-strapped consumers to enjoy cooking and reap the mindful benefits, as opposed to resorting to a take-away pizza on the couch.
[i] Jordan, C. H., Wang, W., Donatoni, L., & Meier, B. P. (2014). Mindful eating: Trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 68, 107–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.04.013
[ii] Dalen, Smith, Shelley, Sloan, Leahigh, & Begay, 2010
[iii] Katterman, Kleinman, Hood, Nackers, & Corsica, 2014
[iv] Zeidan F., Johnson S. K., Diamond B. J., David Z., Goolkasian P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 597-605.
[v] 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/S095442241700015