Mindful Eating: How to break the binge/diet cycle for good
These days most of us are guilty of speed eating on the go. Sometimes it just feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
According to Holistic Nutritionist and Mindful Eating Specialist, Deirdre Kavanagh, time pressures mean we’re also likely end up over eating, comfort eating or bingeing. Scarily, 70 per cent of us eat ‘for non-hunger reasons’ and the consequences can include obesity and self-hatred. Deirdre is a passionate advocate of mindful eating; something she believes can break the binge-diet cycle for good.
Here’s her advice:
1. Just eat, don’t multi-task
“We very seldom eat and just eat,” Deirdre notes. “We’re usually eating while doing something else. The more distractions around us, the faster we tend to eat.
“Mindful eating is about turning off some of the distractions and tuning back in to ourselves – that’s before and during meals - and catching the moment when we’re satisfied rather than over-full.”
2. Tune in to what your body needs
Scarily, a lot of us have lost the ability to tell when we’re hungry and when were full. “Typically that happens when someone has been on lots of diets at different stages,” Deirdre explains. “People may also have a lot of frustration, stress and anxiety around food. Those can also block signals like hunger and satisfaction. A lot of people simply don’t know when to start eating and when to stop. Before we eat, we should tune in to our emotional state. Mindfulness incorporates a lot of self-kindness. So, we should ask ourselves how we’re feeling and how hungry we actually are.”
3. Consider portion size and pauses
“Our portion sizes have almost doubled in the last 50 years,” Deirdre notes. “Generally, if we fill our plate with food, we don’t stop eating until it’s gone. What I recommend is putting around half of the food you feel you need onto the plate. Once you’ve eaten that, you can tune in again and ask yourself: ‘Where am I now?’ and figure out how hungry or full you are. That brings a natural pause to the meal. People really get a light bulb moment around this.”
4. Be aware of your unique needs
“We’re all different shapes and sizes,” Deirdre reminds us. “We have different needs. Very often, though, we’re handed the same sized plate of food, or we prepare the same full plate of food even if we’ve had a snack earlier. With friends and family, a six-foot man and ten-year-old child tend to end up being given the same sized meal. Mindful eating is about tuning in to ourselves and eating to satisfy our own individual needs, not just clearing the plate.”
5. Recognise emotional triggers
“If someone says they’re never satisfied after eating, there’s an emotional reason,” Deirdre explains. “When we comfort eat, there’s usually a trigger. It could be a really busy day or something someone has said. The trigger might be loneliness or boredom or just habit. It stimulates emotion and we seek comfort, often from food. We all do this to some degree, but people can get stuck in a cycle. If we’re bingeing and it’s controlling our lives, that’s harmful.
We’re all human and we need comfort. It’s important to look at what we really need. If we tune in to ourselves and ask what we really need, that could be a chat with a friend, a good cry, a hug, or something like that.”
6. Don’t avoid your favourite food
Putting certain food off-limits is counterproductive. Deirdre explains: “Usually, when we eat foods we feel we shouldn’t, we speed eat and don’t taste them at all because we have some much guilt around them. At workshops on mindful eating, we do a really interesting exercise with chocolate. It involves eating just one square. People find that that’s definitely enough because they’ve really tasted and savoured the sweetness and the texture.”
7. Try taking ‘mindful bites’
“Taking a ‘mindful bite’ means putting some food into your mouth, then putting your knife and fork down and not picking them up again until you finish the mouthful of food,” Deirdre explains. “That in itself can be a huge help. When people start incorporating mindfulness techniques, their portion size decreases naturally and their weight often decreases. Someone mightn’t necessarily change their diet very much, but often they’ll find it’s very hard to eat too many sugar, fatty foods, because they’ll realise their body doesn’t want them.”
8. Consider a mindful eating workshop
Breaking a serious cycle of comfort eating and yo-yo dieting may take a bit of support. Deirdre runs a series of workshops that offer emotional and practical help. “The mindful eating workshops are deeper than a nutrition workshop,” Deirdre says. “People usually come to mindfulness when they’re really ready, when they’re so tired of doing the same thing over and over again and realise that they’re ready to break their habits. Often people come to me and they’re feeling self-hatred. Mindfulness involves having self-compassion. We work through feelings about food and do a lot around compassion.”
Deirdre Kavanagh is a Dublin-based Holistic Nutritionist specialising in Mindful Eating. She runs workshops and weekend retreats around the country. Deirdre also provides one-to-one consultations from her practice in Ranelagh. Details of forthcoming workshops are available here.