Tune In and Eat: Mindfulness in Your Health Habits

woman and little girl eating carrots“You need to eat like a caveman” … “No, get rid of sugar and gluten only” … “No, go vegan!” Every week there is a new expert out there telling everyone the “right” way to eat, and every day I hear someone tell me that they are ready to give up figuring out how to take care of their diet.

No wonder everyone is confused. We hear testimonials from various people supporting various ways of eating. How are we supposed to find the “right” way to eat? We have forgotten how to tune into our own bodies and determine how we feel when we make certain choices for our health. Many of us go around the world disconnected from our bodies from the neck down. We avoid looking in mirrors and taking the time to really be in the moment to figure out how we feel.

Mindfulness has been tossed around in psychological literature in recent years. The word mindful means to be conscious or aware of something. Much of the time people in this culture are hyper-concerned with the past and the future, but not in the present. In order to figure out what our bodies are telling us, we need to survey the moment.

If we find ourselves trolling kitchen cabinets for food after we have just eaten, ask, “What is it that I need at this moment?” Is it at the end of the day, when we are trying to find some kind of reward or pleasure from the day? Are we sorely in need of sleep or an embrace from our partner?

It may be difficult to identify the reason at first glance, but if we try this method each time we eat when not physically hungry, the true reason may start to show up. It’s great news when we find a need that we can easily fill without food, but what happens when the need is more complex and not easily accommodated? It’s often disconcerting to acknowledge an unfulfilled need out loud. This is why we eat. Distraction is key; if we forget about what we really want, then we won’t have to deal with the feelings that come along with it.

First we have to decide if we really want to reduce/extinguish the eating behavior. If so, then it’s time to pull out your phone or notebook and take notes. Start tuning into the moment when you are grazing for extra food and note what you are feeling and what need you have. Do this for at least a week and see if there are any patterns to these needs. Now, how are you going to get those needs met? Sometimes folks enter into therapy at this point, and sometimes they enlist the help of their family and friends to help satisfy their need.

This brings us back to being mindful about how our bodies feel and how we nurture ourselves. Just like tuning into an unmet need, we can tune into how our bodies feel when we eat certain foods and decide for ourselves what a healthy diet is. If eating more fruit and less bread makes our stomach feel better, than this is our special diet. If not eating meat and eating more grain gives us more energy, then that works for us.

We have heard it lots of times—whole foods and exercise are the keys to health. Why do we have to buy off on the magic diet nuggets in order to find the key? Perhaps that information is firmly planted within, waiting for us to tune in and listen.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Christina Spears-Bartunek, MS, LMHC, CHC, therapist in Kirkland, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Donna


    July 29th, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    What an excellent article. I have over the last couple of years been undergoing a radical body transformation going from right under 400 pounds to 200 pounds right now.

    I still have a ways to go and I recognize that but I am also more in tune with my eating havits and my needs now more than I have ever been. After I started this path to transformation I had to do some soul searching to find out what exactly had led me to this place of where I was beginning and what I could do to change those habits that I had fallen into. The habits were sometimes tough to break and then at other times felt like a real victory when I could squash them out for good.

    I look back on my former self and understand that I am a totally different person today than I was a few years ago when I was only contemplating the changes I would need to make but it is more than the weight. That is only how it is reflected on the outside; but inside I am different too and in a very good way and that is what I am the most proud of today.

  • Winnifred


    July 29th, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Keeping a journal of my etaing habits would sometimes be very scary indeed lol

  • Isabelle


    July 30th, 2014 at 4:14 AM

    Funny how if food is your thing there are definitely habits that you have with it, and for me it has always been about trying to satisfy what I feel like I am otherwise missing in my life. It is always there, a constant companion even when I don’t have anyone else with me.
    I recognize that this is my problem but I have tried other ways to overcomes this sense of loneliness but this is the pattern that I always revert back to, overeating and then feeling terrible.
    I have never given too much thought to keeping some kind of journal mainly because I think that I pretty much know what the triggers are.
    I think that what I have to work on is then what to do with that, finding another way to fill that emptiness with something besides food.

  • Diana C

    Diana C

    July 30th, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    Fantastic article! Concise and to the point. I’ve been struggling with some extra pounds lately because even though I exercise, I still have not given up the after dinner grazing. Thanks, Chris. This is going to help a lot.

  • charla


    July 30th, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Anyone who has ever experienced this struggle can relate to this somehow. And this can apply to so many things in our lives, not just eating. Great points about how being mindful can very much open your eyes, if only you take the little extra time to listen and to see.

  • Dawn Y.

    Dawn Y.

    July 31st, 2014 at 4:12 AM

    we must be mindful of our actions for not only ourselves but for the notions about food and eating that we are also instilling in our children. even if you don’t need to do this to lose weight or something like that, you have to look at the food we are giving our kids, what it could do to their health and the message that we are sending to them about food overall.

  • Penelope


    August 2nd, 2014 at 5:08 AM

    It seems like we always wish to latch onto the quick new fad to help us lose weight when really all we need to do is pay attention to what we put into our bodies. I think that most of us know even when we are eating what is good for us and what is not so we have to stop thinking so much about all of this processed food and instead focus more on eating fresh.

  • Dee


    August 4th, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Oh I think that most of us KNOW what the answers are but we also know that that takes hard work and commitment and most of us are generally looking for the easy way out when it comes to losing some weight.

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