Eating Your Stress Away? Mindful Eating & Other Stress-Eating Strategies

Mindful eating is an excellent approach to managing stress eating, but the generic nature of the term has unfortunately led to misunderstandings of what it is, where it comes from, and the evidence for its utility in managing stress eating.

This article will explore the Buddhist foundations of mindfulness, and evidenced-based strategies for mindful eating. Lastly, I have included my top eight strategies for managing stress eating.

Origins of Mindfulness

It may surprise you to know that mindfulness actually originates from Buddhism. And now it’s applications in research, psychology, medicine, and nutrition intervention are widespread. Mindfulness is a philosophy, a reflective process, a habitual practice of acknowledging and existing calmly in the present moment. Mindful eating is simply one component. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for example, is an evidence-based strategy adapted from Zen Buddhism that has been shown to support the management of stress and emotional eating, and even help manage weight!


Insights on Mindful Eating from a Buddhist Monk

Thich Nhat Hahn is one of the more prominent Buddhist monks of the 21st century. He has created schools, given academic lectures worldwide, interviewed popular TV hosts such as Oprah Winfrey, and written several best-selling books dedicated to the art of mindfulness.

He suggests that, through the adoption of mindfulness in other aspects of your life, such as washing the dishes, walking, or even mindful breathing – you can build habits of mindfulness that can be applied to mindful eating. In an interview with Oprah, Hahn spoke on mindful eating:

“When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life, and our health, we take on a much deeper quality. I love to sit and eat quietly and enjoy each bite, aware of the presence of my community, and aware of all the hard and loving work that has gone into my food. When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished, but I am also spiritually nourished. The way I eat influences everything else that I do during the day. If I can look deeply into my food and take this time as a meditation—just as important as my sitting or walking meditation time—I receive the many gifts of the cosmos that I would not otherwise profit from if my mind were elsewhere. Because if I eat and am consumed by my worries and projects, I am eating a lot of stress and fear and this is harmful to my body and mind”

Hahn truly has a beautiful way of expressing gratitude in the food he eats as one of the ways you can practice mindful eating. I can highly recommend his work for both mindful eating and stress reduction through mindfulness.

The Mindful Eating Cycle – Michelle May MD

Individual food habits are complex. Many people believe the key to nutrition is about knowing “what” to eat – But, it’s often the where, when, how, and why that determine the what.

Michelle May MD has dedicated her career to helping people address emotional eating. May’s “Am I Hungry – Mindful Eating Cycle™“ is a framework for reflection on the factors that influence our eating. This, in essence, is a form of mindful eating.

Dr. May’s definition of mindful eating can also help dispel stigma. Namely, that mindful eating is not about being hyper-focused or “chewing 32 times before you swallow”. Rather, it is about intention and attention. It’s about purpose and awareness. Understanding your emotional connection to food versus actual hunger is a critical step. Below is a visual representation of the reflective process of the Am I Hungry – Mindful Eating Cycle™:

On her website, there are many resources, such as reflective questions one can ask themselves in helping guide this process. I invite you to consider these peripheral elements as part of the reflective process that underpins mindful eating. Our team of dietitians at Preventous can also provide support!

Dan’s Practical Tips: 8 Stress Eating Strategies That Work

Want to learn more about mindfulness or managing stress-eating?

Our dietitian team can help with stress-eating concerns through listening, education, and counseling. Please reach out today if you feel you may benefit from a discussion with a nutrition professional..

Daniel Neumann 
Registered Dietitian

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