Differentiating Between Mindful Eating and Diet Culture
How does mindful eating differ from the thousands of diets out there? Well, first off – mindful eating is NOT a diet! It is a form of eating that allows you to reconnect with your natural, innate ability to eat based on internal and physical sensations.
We are all born with the innate ability to recognize hunger and fullness. As infants, we are completely in sync with these patterns! Babies cry when they are hungry and they push the food or bottle away once they feel satiated. But, once we reach childhood, we begin ignoring these innate signals and eat based on other external factors (such as a parent forcing their child to finish their entire dinner before having dessert).
With mindful eating, we want to allow our bodies to eat based on the way they were biologically meant to. This way of eating allows us to take better care of our bodies and fuel ourselves with an abundance of nutritious foods. When we practice mindful eating, we will naturally prevent overeating and lose weight with ease.
Components of Dieting
According to Oxford Languages, the term “diet” is defined as: “Restricting oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”
The first word in that definition explains it all – RESTRICTION. Focusing on restriction and deprivation does not work and is an ineffective way to eat for life. We need to focus on incorporating more foods into our diets instead of taking foods away.
Let’s compare some of the key differences between mindful eating and traditional diets.
- Counting calories and/or grams of macros
- Guilty thoughts
- Societal pressures
By the looks of that list, diets tend to be correlated with a bunch of negatives. Alternatively, let’s look at the components of mindful eating.
Components of Mindful Eating
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of the key terms associated with mindful eating.
- Internal signals
- Intuitive eating
- Sustainable weight loss or maintenance
This list looks like a breath of fresh air! Of course, when comparing these two ways of eating, the mindful approach is the way to go. It is more satisfying and flexible, all while assisting with sustainable weight loss and increased satisfaction around eating.
Why Do Diets Not Work?
Dieting tends to be a quick fix for weight loss. But, always ends up in rebound weight gain, sometimes gaining even more weight than before the diet started! Most forms of dieting are associated with restrictive behaviors and the abolishment of certain foods. In fact, calorie deprivation leads to changes in a variety of cognitive functions that result in a total preoccupation with thoughts of food. Studies have found that with restriction of calories, the sense of smell becomes heightened and the drive to eat becomes of utmost importance. Consequently, the preoccupation and obsessive food thoughts will most often lead to insatiable cravings, over-eating, and binge eating.
Let’s face it – dieting is stressful! This additional stress leads to an increase in the production of cortisol. Cortisol is an important stress hormone that is supposed to help the body fight inflammation. But, when cortisol levels remain high due to prolonged stress, it can lead to an array of metabolic disorders and diseases.
Negative Effects of Diet
Now, let’s take a look at some of the chilling facts about dieting and the dangerous effects that dieting can cause.
- It rarely works! It has been found that 95% of all dieters regain their lost weight and often more within 1-5 years
- Yo-yo dieting (repeated cycles of gaining and losing weight) has been shown to increase the risk for heart disease, metabolic disorders, and premature death
- Diminishes satiety cues (leading to overeating and binge eating)
- Lowers metabolism to compensate for the decreased intake of nutrients
- Increases the risk of eating disorders
- Causes side effects such as headaches, menstrual disturbances, hair loss, fatigue, and electrolyte disturbances
- Increases the risk for osteoporosis, fractures, and broken bones
- Lowers self-esteem and self-confidence
- Diminishes cognitive abilities, such as memory and attention
Above all, this is why the goal for healthy living should be shifted away from “weight loss” and “dieting” to a lifestyle approach that focuses on incorporating balance, variety, and moderation. With an increased focus on nutritious eating and the ability to recognize hunger and fullness, the body will be able to naturally maintain a healthy weight.
Mindful Eating Leads to Successful Weight Loss
Mindful eating gives you the freedom to break away from years of deprivation diets and failed attempts at weight loss. It allows you to tune into your inner cues and eat based on personal food preferences, hunger sensations, and satisfaction.
This way of eating results in sustainable weight loss because you will learn to eat based on your body’s innate ability to honor hunger and fullness. Over time, your ability to recognize these internal cues will become second nature. It just takes time and practice!
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Albers, S. (2020). Mindful eating handouts. Eating Mindfully.
Berkeley Education. (2005). Feeling stressed and depressed? kNOw Dieting: Risks and Reasons to Stop
Hall, K. D., & Kahan, S. (2018). Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. The Medical clinics of North America, 102(1), 183–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
Tribole, E., & Huber, H. (2021). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. Blackstone Publishing.