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Mindfulness, intuition, nutrition, compulsion … Beyond the choice of food, healthy nutrition is especially about the relationship we have with food as well as with ourselves. Let’s take a closer look at mindful eating, a movement that is gaining popularity in the ​​wellness and health domain.

Interview with Isabelle Huot, Ph. D in Nutrition

About mindful eating

What is mindful eating? 

It is also called intuitive eating. Developed by 2 Americans, Evelyne Tribole and Elise Resch, the approach allows to learn and develop a healthy relationship with food. The concept also proposes to work on self-acceptance and listening to hunger and fullness signals. Mindful or intuitive eating is based on 10 principles, which are supported by scientific data: 

  1. Reject the diet mentality that creates false hopes.
  2. Honour your hunger when it is moderate.
  3. Allow yourself to eat all the foods you want.
  4. Stop categorizing food as “good” or “bad”.
  5. Consider the feeling of fullness to know when to stop eating.
  6. Discover the satisfaction and pleasure of eating.
  7. Honour your feelings without using food.
  8. Respect your body as it is at the present moment.
  9. Be physically active, for fun, not to lose weight.
  10. Honor your health and taste buds with your favourite foods.

Is there a connection between mindful eating and mindful meditation? 

Yes! The whole is part of a global movement of mindfulness. You can work, walk, and breathe in a mindful manner. It’s a way of living life to the fullest … and, for many, a constant learning process! 

Nowadays included in some university programs and taught in many companies, mindfulness allows one to pay attention to the present moment voluntarily and without judgment. Coming to rest allows you to breathe fully and observe your thoughts and emotions to finally understand them better. 

What is the worst enemy of mindful eating? 

Restrictive and severe diets accompanied by excessive weighing are the complete opposite of a mindful approach. These methods do not honour hunger, categorize and reject certain foods and do not encourage the pleasure of savoring and tasting the food. 

That being said, for many, it can be very difficult to implement the principles of intuitive eating right from the start. The process can sometimes be long and full of obstacles. I am especially thinking of people with emotional problems, who need more support at the beginning of the process. 

Can you give us some concrete tips on how to integrate mindful eating into our lifestyle? 

First, I suggest getting enough sleep, being well hydrated at all times and moving regularly. These 3 tips will help stabilize your appetite. Then, on a daily basis, several simple tips can be put in place to get closer to conscious eating: 

  • Eat regularly during the day to satisfy your hunger when it is moderate (3-3-3 rule: 3 meals, 3 snacks every 3 hours) 
  • Sit down to eat, without distractions (no television, cell, computer, etc.) 
  • Eat slowly by putting down your fork between each bite 
  • Savour the food, honour its colour, become aware of its texture and smell 
  • Enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate, for example, when you crave a little sweet treat

Is there a link between emotions, sensations, mindfulness and “eating your emotions”? 

Undeniably! Mindfulness allows us to welcome and better understand the emotions and sensations that reside or sleep in us. When we become aware of what prompts us to eat, we become better equipped to manage these sensations or emotions differently, without judgment.

More about: “Eating your emotions”

What are the causes – effects – consequences of this problem? 

Food compulsions are triggered by negative emotions (anger, boredom, anxiety) and stress. They are also often linked to overly severe self-imposed restrictions. Feeling fat or bloated also leads to difficulties in self-care, feelings of failure and sabotage. 

Food compulsions naturally lead to excess weight. Self-esteem and self-confidence are affected and a vicious cycle takes hold. We eat because we feel bad, we put on weight, we feel bad about gaining said weight and we eat again! Not to mention that being overweight and obese can lead to serious health problems.  

Can you give us some concrete tips to overcome this problem? 

Emotional work is often necessary. An estimated 30% of hyperphagic people have experienced sexual abuse in the past. Sometimes the wounds are deep. Psychological support is often necessary and very helpful. 

However, some tips can help control food compulsions on a daily basis: 

  1. Eliminate diets.
  2. Eat every 3 hours: 3 meals and 3 snacks during the day.
  3. Choose a well-balanced plate: half of it should be vegetables, a quarter meat and substitutes and a quarter grains (starches).
  4. You can also keep a thoughtjournal to help you understand the context around your loss of control.
  5. Rely on filling and nutritious foods (protein, fiber, low glycemic index foods)
  6. Make a list of your guilty foods and gradually reintroduce them, in a healthy manner, into your diet to finally be free from the feeling of deprivation.

To learn more about this topic, take a look at Isabelle Huot’s book, Cessez de manger vos émotions – Briser le cycle de la compulsion alimentaire, Édition de l’homme 2017.

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