Introduction

Hello everyone! The discussion on the table today is about mindful eating and weight loss. As a dietitian who promotes a mindful eating approach, I often hear the question, “Will mindful eating cause weight loss?” Research has shown that practicing mindful eating may lead to weight loss. [1] 

However, the main goal of mindful eating is to address the connection between your body, mind, and eating behaviors, not your weight. It’s about improving your relationship with food to make sustainable changes to support your long-term health. 

Mindful eating allows you to eat what you want non-judgmentally while listening to your body for signals of hunger and fullness. It is not a diet plan; instead, it includes practices and techniques that help improve your awareness surrounding eating. [2]

Mindful eating can also lead to more mindful nutrition. You can learn to honor your hunger and fullness and focus on giving your body what it needs to operate at its best. Using mindfulness to improve your nutrition can help you manage health issues, including elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, and out-of-range cholesterol and triglycerides. 


The Pitfalls of Restrictive Diets: Why Mindful Eating Offers a Better Path

We have all seen commercials selling workouts, meals, or diet plans that tout extensive weight loss. These ads often show before and after pictures and people holding tape measures to their waist to show their results. Then they may say something like, “I lost 60 pounds in 3 months!” 

If you have ever purchased and followed one of these diets, you likely found that you could only eat certain foods, possibly had to cut out entire food groups, eat tiny portions, and may have been told to do vigorous workouts every day. Your whole life may have revolved around sticking to “the plan.” In addition, if you didn’t always follow the rules, you probably felt some guilt.

Say that you managed to follow every diet requirement to a “T.” You probably lost weight, just like they said you would. No doubt achieving your desired weight loss felt great. Because society puts so much pressure on us to be thin, weight loss can give you confidence and boost your self-esteem. It can also positively affect your physical health, at least for a while. 

Now comes the big question. Were you able to keep the weight off? And, even more important, how did the whole process leave you feeling? The problem comes when you realize you can’t keep up with the rules and restrictions for the rest of your life.

Leaving off foods you like but that are labeled “bad” can make you feel deprived and bored. Suppose the diet you choose requires you to cut out entire food groups. In that case, you may miss essential nutrients and become irritable and tired. 

Image of woman looking at her food with a depressed expression.

Another draw-back to restrictive diets can be isolation. You might feel you have to avoid social gatherings with friends and family because you fear you will overeat or consume the “wrong” things. 

Being required to do strenuous exercise can also backfire. It may feel like punishment. A better approach is to find physical movement that you enjoy. Finding physical activities you like makes it much more likely that you will continue them and reap long-term benefits.

Finally, if the restrictive diet includes excessive fees or requires you to buy special food or supplements, some of your weight loss may come from your wallet. 

Eventually, the pitfalls of those restrictive diets catch up with you, and you return to your old eating habits. Being on a diet that is too low in calories, especially without appropriate physical activity, can cause muscle loss and significantly slow your metabolism. When you go off the diet and go back to your old way of eating, not only will you gain back the weight you lost, but you are likely to put on a few extra pounds as well. [3]

Years of going on and off these restrictive diets leads to that well-known yo-yo dieting cycle. If you add some additional weight every time you quit one of these diets, you can see how this can add up over time. In the long run, this can lead to being a heavier weight and increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. 

Aside from the physical issues restrictive diets can cause, think about the potential impact on your mental and emotional health. Gaining weight back can make you feel like you failed. Those unrealistic, unsustainable, restrictive diets are the actual failures. 

Restrictive diets require you to ignore your hunger signals. They may say you can only eat certain foods at certain times in tiny amounts regardless of hunger level. Learning to override hunger and fullness signals and making unnecessary rules around eating can contribute to a poor relationship with food. 

Being deprived of favorite items can lead to intense cravings and maybe even binge eating. After a while, food may begin to seem like the enemy. It’s always there tempting you to overeat. As a result, it can become a source of guilt and shame. 

Although mindful eating may or may not lead to weight loss, it helps us restore a healthy relationship with food. Then food becomes a source of nourishment and guilt-free pleasure again, which is what it should be. 

Mindful Eating: A Shift in Focus Towards Health and Well-being

When we practice mindful eating, food resumes its proper role. We no longer have to obsess over rules and restrictions around what we eat. Instead, we can choose what we want while responding to our hunger and fullness signals. We realize that all foods can fit into an overall healthy lifestyle. 

Learning to eat mindfully takes time to happen, it takes practice. The good news is that once it becomes a habit, it can revolutionize your thoughts about food and yourself. It can also help you take charge of your nutrition to achieve better health. 

Unlike restrictive diets, mindful eating is not about following rigid rules. Instead, it emphasizes bringing awareness and intentionality to our eating habits. It allows us to make informed choices that support our overall health and vitality. 

While gradual weight loss may occur due to mindful practices, the primary focus is on improving our relationship with food and nourishing our bodies from a place of self-care and compassion. [4]

Breaking Free from the Dieting Cycle: The Promise of Mindful Eating 

One of the most significant benefits of mindful eating is its potential to liberate us from the cycle of yo-yo dieting and restriction. By embracing a mindful approach to food, we can free ourselves from the endless deprivation and guilt accompanying traditional dieting. 

Research has shown that mindful eating can result in improved body image, self-esteem, and overall well-being, helping us break free from the unrealistic expectations imposed by diet culture. [5]

The Health Benefits of Mindful Eating Beyond Weight Loss

Beyond its potential for weight management, mindful eating offers many health benefits that extend far beyond the number on the scale. 

For individuals with metabolic syndrome or prediabetes, mindful eating can be a powerful tool for improving glucose control, regulating blood pressure, and managing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. [6]

By making better food choices and embracing a balanced approach to eating, we can nourish our bodies and support optimal health from the inside out.

Embracing a Holistic Approach to Well-Being with Mindful Living

Incorporating mindful eating into our daily lives is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to holistic well-being. 

Alongside mindful eating, daily physical movement, stress management techniques, adequate sleep, and cultivating a positive body image are all essential components of a beneficial lifestyle. 

Image of a couple smiling while kneeling beside a garden bed of lettuce.

Getting Started with Mindful Eating

Mindful eating offers a sustainable and compassionate approach to health and well-being that transcends the narrow focus on weight loss. 

By nurturing our relationship with food and embracing a balanced approach to eating, we can nourish our bodies, support our overall health, and break free from the cycle of restrictive dieting. 

Remember, achieving true health and happiness is not about a number on the scale—it’s about feeling good in our bodies and taking care of ourselves with love and respect.

Are you ready to achieve better nutrition with mindful eating? Here are five tips to get you started:

Before each meal, take a moment to express gratitude for the food in front of you. Reflect on where it came from, the hands that prepared it, and the nourishment it provides for your body. 

My family and I give thanks for our food at mealtimes. This simple practice helps us cultivate a sense of appreciation and mindfulness before we even take our first bite.

Aside from the miracle surrounding the creation of food, also think about all the time and effort placed into cultivating the ingredients of your meal. 

For example, my daughter recently started vegetable gardening and wanted to grow some tomatoes. She spent weeks watering the soil and pruning the plants before reaping the rewards of having tomatoes on our table. But all her efforts were worth it. The tomatoes were delicious, and they provided us with important nutrients.

The same can be said for tomatoes and all the other foods in the grocery store. Think about all the work and resources that went into producing those items and getting them to your table.

It’s impressive, and even humbling, to think about. 

Before reaching for food, take a moment to check in with your body and assess your hunger levels. Are you truly hungry or eating out of habit, boredom, or emotional cues? 

It is easy to turn to food to help calm our emotions. When you notice that you are about to engage in emotional eating, try redirecting to another activity that will distract you. Hobbies like drawing, painting, writing, gardening, or going for a walk can be beneficial alternatives.

Mindful eating encourages us to honor our body’s natural hunger and satiety cues, allowing us to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re satisfied.

As you eat, engage all of your senses to fully experience your food’s flavors, textures, and aromas. Take small bites, chew slowly, and savor each mouthful. Notice the colors, shapes, and sounds of your meal. 

By fully immersing yourself in the sensory experience of eating, you can enhance your enjoyment and satisfaction with each meal.

Avoid distractions such as TV, phones, or computers while eating, as these can lead to mindless overeating. 

Pay attention to portion sizes and serve appropriate amounts based on your hunger and nutritional needs. 

Try to gauge how much food you think will satisfy your hunger but not cause you to feel stuffed or weighed down after the meal or snack. Avoiding the discomfort of overeating makes mealtime more positive and uplifting. 

Approach your eating habits with curiosity and compassion, free from judgment or criticism. Notice any thoughts or emotions arising during your meals, and observe them without attachment. 

If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk or feeling guilty about your food choices, gently redirect your focus back to the present moment and the nourishing experience of eating mindfully.


Conclusion

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can cultivate a more mindful approach to eating that nourishes your body, mind, and soul. Mindful eating could lead to weight loss because it helps you tune into what your body needs and prevent overeating.

However, please remember that the main goal is to be kind to your body and give it what it needs to be healthy in a positive, non-judgemental way. Mindful eating is not about perfection—it’s about progress and creating a healthier, more balanced relationship with food.

Just taking a step is still progress towards your goals, no matter how small.

References

1.Fuentes Artiles, R., Staub, K., Aldakak, L., Eppenberger, P., Rühli, F., & Bender, N. (2019). Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews20(11), 1619–1627. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12918

2. Nelson, J. B. (2017). Mindful eating: The art of presence while you eat. Diabetes Spectrum30(3), 171–174. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0015

3 Habib, A., Ali, T., Nazir, Z., mahfooz, A., Inayat, Q.-A., & Haque, M. A. (2023). Unintended consequences of dieting: How restrictive eating habits can harm your health. International Journal of Surgery Open60, 100703. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijso.2023.100703

4. Kristeller, J. L., & Wolever, R. Q. (2011). Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for treating binge eating disorder: The conceptual foundation. Eating Disorders, 19(1), 49–61.

5. Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10(1), 9.

6. Miller, C. K., Kristeller, J. L., Headings, A., & Nagaraja, H. (2012). Comparison of a mindful eating intervention to a diabetes self-management intervention among adults with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled trial. Health Education & Behavior, 39(2), 152–161.

7. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.

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