The Power of Mindful Eating for Pain, Anxiety, and Stress

July 26, 2022
The Power of Mindful Eating for Pain, Anxiety, and Stress

How can eating help someone address anxiety, pain, and overall stress?

In Flowly’s Mindful Eating Workshop, Flowly Founder Celine Tien and Health Coach Rachel answer this question through the lens of mindful eating, explore the science behind it, and leave you with actionable tips you can apply to your own lifestyle.

You can watch the replay of this workshop in the video below:

(Conversations around food may be triggering to people with complicated relationships with food, or who have experience with disordered eating and/or eating disorders. If you ever feel uncomfortable when watching this webinar or reading the informational content below, please take a breath, a break, and reach out for support to a loved one or the NEDA Helpline.)

Food is part of our everyday living. However, food can also be a challenging topic because it can be a source of anxiety, stress, and even pain for many.

Because food is such an integral part of nourishment in any healing and recovery plan, it is important to approach it with science, individualization, and understanding.

In this workshop, we explore one specific aspect of food, and that is the act of eating itself.

What is Mindful Eating?

Before jumping in to the definition of mindful eating, there are two concepts necessary to understand first- awareness and mindfulness.

  • Awareness is seeing the world as it is.
  • Mindfulness is being present, without judgement.

Because we need to see the world as it is to be able to be truly in the present with it, awareness can be considered the first step of mindfulness.

Self-Reflection Question:

Take a moment and answer the following question: Do you feel you have some awareness of how you eat today?

Is it some awareness, full awareness, no awareness, or are you not sure?

There is no right or wrong answer. The time that you are taking to reflect is the first step to connecting authentically with yourself and beginning a mindful eating journey.

Now, what is mindful eating? In its most simple form, mindful eating can be defined as:

  • Taking the time and space to fully enjoy your food.

Taking the time and space to fully enjoy your food means to use all your physical and emotional senses to experience and enjoy the food choices you make.

The Benefits of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating can:

  • improve digestion
  • decrease anxiety
  • increase nutrient absorption
  • allow you to eat when hungry, and stop when full
  • foster enjoyment and gratitude
  • alleviate feelings of shame and guilt around food

The Science Behind Mindful Eating

Most of us practice mindless or distracted eating, such as eating while driving, working, scrolling, or watching TV.

Studies show that this kind of eating is associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain:

  • Intervention studies show that mindful eating can improve behaviors around emotional or binge eating.
  • A literature review of over 68 intervention and observational studies show mindful eating helped improve eating behaviors, leading to people slowing down the pace of a meal, recognizing fullness, and having great control over eating.
  • A randomized controlled trial following 194 adults with obesity showed mindfulness intervention on eating, sweet consumption, and more, actually led to decreased intake of sweets and maintenance of fasting blood glucose, whereas the control group shows increased fasting blood glucose.

Why Mindful Eating Works

Eating food is one of the fundamental ways we nourish our health. Because eating is something we do every day, incorporating a mindful eating ritual into your daily or weekly routine can create a powerful ripple effect over time.

Consistently eating mindfully nourishes the neural pathways in our brain associated with safety and calm, which is a really important focus to have on your journey to healing from any chronic condition, including pain and anxiety.

Because mindfulness is process-oriented, rather than outcome-driven, it focuses on your experience in the moment. Simply trying to eat mindfully is a success in and of itself, regardless of the result. This is similar to other techniques such as biofeedback, which is based in meeting your body where its at and focusing on your experience rather than the outcome.

So How Do I Eat Mindfully?

While there are many techniques and strategies for mindful eating, we recommend starting with these five steps:

  1. Take the pressure off -Choosing to eat mindfully is for you to explore nourishment at your own pace, no judgement.
  2. Minimize distractions -That means setting up an environment without devices where there is nothing else you have to do or focus on.
  3. Tune into your senses-Pay attention to what you smell, taste, touch, see, and hear.
  4. Take your time-Remove any clocks or watches that might pull you out of the present moment.
  5. Chew thoroughly-Chewing is an integral part of the digestion process, so whether you count each time you chew or simply bring awareness to the fact that you are chewing, be sure to chew your food!

Self-Reflection Question:

When would work best for you to try mindful eating for yourself?

Allow yourself to start slow and build up to a consistent practice. You can choose one meal a day (such as breakfast, lunch, or dinner), a certain day of the week, or anytime you eat as an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

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