Fenia’s blog will focus on the effects of mindful eating on eating behaviour and relationship with food. She will introduce the concept of mindful eating and some practices that we can follow to become more mindful in our eating.
We live in a society characterized by speed. This fast pace of life, the increased time on screens and the overall stress and pressure of life and work, has really changed our connection with our body and food. We tend to eat in automatic pilot. More and more people have lunch in front of their computers and dinner in front of their TVs. The traditional family get-together on the dining table has been replaced by eating alone in front of a screen and very frequently in a fast, disconnected mode with no awareness of food taste and satisfaction. We have learned to disconnect from important bodily signals of hunger, satiety and thirst, and often ‘use food’ as a coping mechanism. As result, a high prevalence of disordered eating has been observed in the past decade in young adults, with both males and females exhibiting behaviours such as overeating, emotional eating and cycles of chronic dieting and bingeing. Moreover, a negative perception of body image has been observed in young adults which is also greatly influenced by the social media pressure to be thin and lean. These disordered eating behaviours have been related with disturbances in mood, such as anxiety over body weight and food intake, depression, self-blame, and frequently social isolation. In university students in particularly these eating behavior issues and related mood disturbances are enhanced, primarily due to relocation from home, the change of environment and social circles, lack of homemade food and the academic pressure that students experience.
Recently, new behavioural approaches have been developed that can help young people re-evaluate their relationship with food and their body, and start enjoying food again with no guilt, stress or self-blame. Mindful eating is one of the latest eating behaviour approaches that has shown positive effects on disordered eating. Mindful Eating specifically focuses on the observation, understanding and awareness of our eating behaviour: why, when, what, how and where we eat. It is the opposite of mindless eating: automatically eating with no connection with our bodily needs, what we like, and we do not like, what we want, what we feel. Mindful eating allows us to stay in the present moment and start enjoying food by savouring and tasting it with no guilt. It helps us become mindful of the triggers that lead to emotional overeating or in some cases undereating, such as stress, boredom, loneliness, depression. Moreover, it can help us recognize negative, toxic automatic thoughts related to food such as being scared to eat to put on weight and having critical and negative thoughts about one’s body image. In particularly, one important issue that Mindful Eating focuses on is busting the myth of the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ foods or ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods. From a nutritional point of view, all foods are good as long as we eat them in moderation. However, research has shown that the application of strict ‘food rules’ leads to disturbed eating as well as a disturbed relationship with our body. This is where Mindful Eating comes in: by helping us reconnect with our body and understand our eating habits and our thoughts and emotions related to food, it enables us to break disordered eating behaviours and start nurturing ourselves and enjoying food without guilt.
Recent scientific evidence has shown the effectiveness of mindful eating strategies on binge eating and emotional eating, with significant reductions in the frequency of bingeing, the volume and the type of food consumed and the emotional reactions to overeating. More and more studies in clinical populations such as obese, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression patients, demonstrate the effectiveness of mindful eating interventions and its use in the primary care setting. In young adults and university student’s mindfulness in eating has been inversely related to binging and mood problems. The more mindful the student is the less disturbed the eating behaviour is and the better the mood state. Even the introduction of a few brief mindfulness instructions prior to eating appear to reduce bingeing episodes and portion sizes, lead to a healthier selection of foods and overall improve the relationship with food in university students; however, the data is still limited.
Although, as its name implies, Mindful Eating focuses on our eating behaviour, the most interesting thing about it is that it has knock-on effects on many other aspects of our life. Once we start eating mindfully, we start respecting ourselves and our needs, we practice self-love and by increasing assertiveness, we experience a positive impact on our quality of life and on all other relationships in our life, be they personal or professional.
PLEASE COMPLETE OUR 10 MIN RESEARCH SURVEY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON ON MINDFUL EATING AND EATING BEHAVIOUR BELOW, TO HELP UNDERSTAND ITS IMPORTANT ROLE IN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD: