The psychology behind mindful eating

Photo by Tanzeel Sayani

Psychology research at Wilfrid Laurier University has concluded that those who practice mindful eating have healthier eating behaviour.  

Mindfulness is intentional awareness of experiences in the present moment. Mindful eating, specifically, focuses on the awareness of cues one gets regarding how full they feel and what they taste while eating.  

Research done at Laurier looked at how general mindfulness affects eating. Studies concluded that those who were mindful about what they ate made healthier eating choices. Those who were high in mindfulness showed a higher preference for healthier foods such as fruit and were more likely to choose fruit over sweets. 

100 participants were selected to be a part of a study through the Psychology Research Experience Program, and participants were put through a series of tests, one of them being the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, and another being a simple choice between fruit and candy.  

The research found that people who were high on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale were more likely to select fruit over sweets and having a higher preference for fruit led individuals to have a higher probability of choosing the healthier option. 

“Overall, it is beneficial that [people] practice mindfulness because, in the long run, once they form this habit their individual tendency of being mindful will increase,” Wan Wang, social psychology PhD student at Laurier, said. 

Being aware of the food that you put into your body, as well as how much, is important to living an overall healthy lifestyle. Especially on a campus of students where junk food is readily available. Mindful eating encourages focusing on the flavour and quality of food you put in your body.

“People have to be aware of the balance, how many calories you should consume and how much to burn through exercise,” Wang said. 

“A lot of junk food and other kinds of food that are less healthy aren’t as appealing or they are initially appealing but lose their burst of flavour quickly.” 

This research began with Christian Jordan, psychology professor at Laurier. Jordan was interested in how mindfulness might affect what drives people’s behaviour. 

Mindfulness is often used in a lot of clinical work for people who are struggling with depression and anxiety. 

“In that setting it is described that mindfulness doesn’t necessarily change the experiences you’re having but changes the relationship to those experiences, and I think the same can be true with eating,” Jordon said. 

Jordan explained that mindful eating becomes especially useful as it helps to guide one’s relationship with eating to some extent. 

This can be useful if you are unhappy with your eating habits or your relationship with food. 

“It’s not to say that you should be eating differently or that you should feel bad or better, but just that it can put your more in touch with the actual experiences you’re having while eating,”  Jordan said. 

Mindfulness can be an individually varied experience where some people are naturally higher in mindfulness and some are relatively lower. States of mindfulness can also be cultivated through meditation. 

The origins of mindfulness and mindful eating stem back to the Buddhist religion, while the practice was imported here in the 70’s and focused on stress reduction. 

“When people pay more attention to the actual experiences they have while eating they notice that there are a lot of flavours in healthier foods they may not expect,” Jordan said.

“A lot of junk food and other kinds of food that are less healthy aren’t as appealing or they are initially appealing but lose their burst of flavour quickly.” 

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