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Health & Exercise Forum

Mindful Eating: Part 1 of 2

Jan 22, 2018

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumTRY A NEW APPROACH TO WEIGHT LOSS IN 2018…MINDFUL EATING! (Part 1 of 2)

There are many reasons why losing weight, the number one resolution for the New Year, is the most elusive goal of all. Not the least of these is the psychology of eating . In the land of plenty, we eat mindlessly! Consider the facts. First, we blamed the food, thinking it was bad. But, when we chemically modify the food to remove or alter the fat or sugar and remove the calories, it fails to reduce our weight. In fact, it has been discovered that “fake sugar,” even though it does not have calories, can still increase blood glucose levels. Next, we decided that fat cells were the enemy, but when we removed fat cells from our body through liposuction, we failed to control weight gain. Then, we decided the problem was our digestive systems, so we placed bands or staples in the stomach or by-passed the small intestine. While these efforts helped many in the short run, long term, it failed as a long-term solution without a change in behavior. Many medical professionals have concluded that the problems people have with weight are not exclusively due to the food, fat cells, stomach or intestines, but rather, THE MIND!


Mindful eating, also referred to as intuitive eating, is based on Buddhist teachings which focus on the experience of eating, AND ENJOYING, our food. The concept was presented in a feature column in The New York Times written by Jeff Gordinier, based on his time spent in a Buddhist monastery. He learned that mindful eating practitioners eat in silence and chewed small pieces of food very slowly and deliberately to experience its taste, texture and smell. He discovered that it requires full attention to the experience of eating and drinking on the body and mind. It is often referred to as “the opposite of diets” because with mindful eating there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of awareness about WHAT WE EAT AND WHY. The goal of this exercise is to teach our mind and body to connect and communicate while eating so one can learn important cues such as: what are my hunger signals? What does my stomach feel like when it is half, three-fourths and completely full?


One study of 1,400 mindful eaters found that they enjoyed lower body weights, greater sense of well-being and suffered from fewer eating disorders. However, many feel the concept, while valuable, is very difficult to put in practice in the busy American family. Fortunately, research shows that the simple act of the family meal can have a powerful impact on mindfulness, health and wellness, even if it isn’t a picture-perfect meal.

In a country that thrives on a fast pace with over-booked schedules, families struggle to balance work and school and after school sports and activities. Consequently, fast food, eat-and-go habits have become the norm. According to some studies, most find it difficult to sit and relax for a family meal even once a week. And often, when families do pull off a family meal, it is often overwrought with school drama, sibling rivalry, and parental discipline about school, homework or social activities, making the situation stressful. Even so, despite the family conflict, studies strongly support the health values of the family meal.

A recent study from Columbia University that received national attention found that children who participated in a family meal regularly were less likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol and more likely to excel in school. Moreover, those children eating with their families at least 5 times per week benefited most. Other studies have found that there is a significantly lower incidence of teens who smoke, use alcohol, have sex at a young age, fight, get suspended from school or commit suicide among those who have meals with their family on a regular basis.

TIPS FOR MINDFUL EATING: 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating – by Christopher Willard PsyD

Mindless Eating Vs. Mindful Eating

  • Mindless Eating=Eating past full and ignoring your body's signals
    • Mindful Eating=Listening to your body and stopping when full
  • Mindless Eating=Eating when emotions tell us to eat (sad, bored, lonely)
    • Mindful Eating=Eating when our bodies tell us to eat (stomach growls, energy low)
  • Mindless Eating=Eating alone, at random times and places
    • Mindful Eating=Eating with others, at set times and places
  • Mindless Eating=Eating foods that are emotionally comforting
    • Mindful Eating=Eating foods that are nutritionally healthy.
  • Mindless Eating=Eating and multi-tasking
    • Mindful Eating=When eating, just eating
  • Mindless Eating=Considering a meal an end-product
    • Mindful eating=Considering where food comes from

From Christopher Willard PsyD:

  1. Let your body catch up to your brain: Eating rapidly past full and ignoring your body’s signals vs. slowing down and eating and stopping when your body says it’s full. Willard suggests that slowing down the process of eating may be the best way to get our mind and body to communicate their nutritional needs. For example, it is well documented that there is a 20 minute delay from the stomach to the brain…which is why we continue to eat when we are full, only to feel overstuffed 20 minutes later. Eating mindfully involves: slowing down, sitting and relaxing, chewing our food 20 or more times, setting your fork down between bites, and practicing other table manners that promote slower eating and allows you to listen to the hunger/full signals from your body.
  2. Know your body’s personal hunger signals: Are you responding to an emotional want or responding to your body’s needs? It is important to distinguish between your unique hunger signals from your BODY (stomach growling, low energy, lightheadedness) as opposed to EMOTIONAL signals (stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or boredom). Mindful eating requires listening intently to your body…knowing your body.
  3. Develop healthy eating environments: Eating alone and randomly vs. eating with others at set times and places. Rummaging through kitchen cabinets in search of food and snacks and eating at random times and places are classic examples of eating mindlessly. Slow down, think about your hunger and how long it’s been since you have last eaten. Instead, plan a healthy snack or meal at set times and places. Plan you grocery list with this in mind. Keep a log or use a daily/weekly planner if necessary.
  4. Eat food not comfort: Eating foods that are emotionally comforting vs. eating foods that are nutritionally healthy. Certain foods, many that contain sugars and fats, stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and become the source of “cravings.” However, over time, we can retrain the brain to derive pleasure from healthier foods. Mindful eating involves thinking first, eating second, and choosing healthy options such as carrots, apples, grapes, oranges as a snack instead of cake, cookies, or chips.
  5. Consider the life cycle of your food: Considering where food comes from vs. thinking of food as an end product. In hunter-gatherer cultures, people pay spiritual homage to those who provided the food and the plants and animals sacrificed in the process. Modern man/woman has been disconnected from their food and often eat without thought. Slowing down allows us to consider the farmer, butcher, baker, grocer, and those who prepare our food and bring it to the table. It can be both spiritual and thankful.
  6. Attend to you plate: Distracted eating vs. just eating. Mindful eating avoids distraction. The classic example of eating the big bowl of popcorn at the movies and wondering at the end of the movie who ate it? When we are distracted we cannot listen to our body’s hunger/full signals and we overeat. Try single-task eating without phones, tablets, computers, or televisions. Instead, share some light conversation with a friend or family member.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.