April 12

How to Use Mindful Eating to Break the Diet Cycle


The opposite of being mindful is being mindless, right?

And there are a trillion reasons we overeat. You’ll have heard me talk about some of them before–we’re bored, stressed, tired, distracted, reacting to upsetting situations, to name just a few.

Mindless eating is generally a survival mechanism. A habit we’ve picked up as a way to make ourselves feel better, to dull emotional aches and pains. 

To counter binge eating episodes and drowning our sorrows in tubs of ice cream, we diet.

Diet is such a common word now, right? And I don’t mean in its definition, ‘the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats’ kind of way. I mean in the “I’m going to restrict what I eat” kind of way.

When trying to lose weight, Is restriction the way to go?

Break the Diet Cycle With Mindful Eating

We often forget that to diet shouldn’t be an everyday thing. Sure, dieting has its place. It’s important to lose a few pounds if we’ve put on weight, primarily if weight is affecting our health.

But what’s scary is some people have been dieting for decades. The constant cycle of losing weight and putting back on takes its toll on our bodies, but even more so, our minds. Our mental health, self-esteem, and our relationship with food all take a beating.

So what can we do instead? Let’s find out.

The Problem With Dieting

Losing weight is just a matter of willpower. Use self-discipline to eat less, ignore your cravings, cut out all the foods you love, and you’ll lose weight. Simple.

But it’s not that simple, is it?

How do you cope with cravings? How can you manage your emotions without the crutch of overeating episodes that you’ve leaned into for so many years? Those feelings and reactions don’t just go away.

Traditional dieting also focuses on rules, restrictions, and shame. Foods are either good or bad, and you’re either good or bad, depending on the food choices you make. What a shit way to live, eh?

The Pillars of Mindful Eating

Intuitive eating was introduced by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole in their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.

It’s a philosophy of ten principles that replace a traditional weight loss plan and encourage you to get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues.

Rather than list out intuitive eating principles, we’ll focus on what we do here with our clients at Next Step Nutrition. Mindful eating goes hand in hand with intuitive eating, and that’s why we use both to help clients ditch diets for good and still lose weight while eating the foods they love.

#1: Eat Slowly

Eating slowly is the pillar of mindful eating. When we slow down our meals, magic happens. We enjoy our food more, leading to less stress and more satisfaction. When satisfied, we listen to our body and realise we’re full. Wolfing down our food doesn’t allow feelings of fulness.

If you realise you’re full, you might eat fewer calories. I know for some, it’s sacrilege to leave food on your plate, but if you’re not hungry anymore, why keep eating? Save it for leftover meals or throw it away.

 Learn how to eat slowly here. 

#2. Tune in to Your Body

If you’re used to constant dieting and worrying about food, becoming obsessed even, you might have lost touch with your body’s needs. MyFitnessPal reliance might cause you to under or overeat.

Depending on activity levels, our caloric needs fluctuate day-to-day. An excellent way to recognise if you’re genuinely hungry and satisfied is to learn to tune in to your body again.

It takes practice, but deciding to think about it is the first step.

  • Use the hunger scale. How hungry are you on a scale of 1-10? One is famished, and ten is beyond full. Try to eat when you get to around 3, and stop at 7 or 8.
  • Do you feel light-headed? Is your stomach rumbling?
  • Are you bloated? Feeling sick? Too full?

These are all signals from your body that you can tune into.

#3. Remember That Food Isn’t Good or Bad

Being good is associated with reward in our minds.

“If you’re good, you get ____.”

“If you’re good, you can have ____.”

Can you see why this would be an issue?

What you deem bad food (sweets, chocolates, cakes, ice cream, etc.) should only be eaten if you’ve been good, right?


Thinking about food in this way leads to emotional eating, feelings of guilt, binge-eating, over-eating, secret eating, and a host of other negative behaviours and thought patterns.

We are wired to seek high-reward foods, and unfortunately, high-reward foods are available in abundance in our current food environment.

If you think about things slightly differently, you can find ways to reward yourself without negatively impacting your psyche or your waistline.

  1. Food isn’t good or bad; it’s just food.
  2. You’re not ‘being good’; you’re enjoying healthier foods and having fewer fun foods.
  3. If you still want to reward yourself for being healthy, find another reward, such as every time you decide to cook at home instead of getting a takeaway, put the money you would have spent into a holiday fund.

Once you’ve adopted better habits, make room for fun foods.

Have one or two scoops, eat it slowly, and savour it if you fancy some ice cream.

#4. Find Other Ways to Cope With Your Feelings

It’s more normal than you think to ‘eat your feelings’. We often turn to food for comfort or to escape from our woes.

What if, instead of self-sabotage, you turn to self-care? To start with, try surfing your urges.

When we experience distress and feel a strong urge to numb the emotion, we often act on that urge – most likely with food.

However, like waves, urges rise until they hit a peak and then fall. It might last between 20 and 30 minutes and might worsen until you do something about it, i.e. stuff your face with Oreos.

Every time you act on it, your brain learns that the only way the urge goes away is by acting impulsively and taking away that stress.

But the feeling WILL pass. You just have to notice it, name it, and find a way to distract or relax and let it pass.

How can you do that?

You need to have things in place that will distract or relax you. Such as:

  • Reading a book
  • Listening to your favourite music
  • Going for a walk
  • Watching funny videos
  • Calling a friend
  • Focusing on breathing (more on breath work in next week’s Shaun’s Corner)

Every time you surf an urge, you’re teaching your brain that it doesn’t have to respond to impulses. The cravings lose power over you. You’re creating new pathways in your brain. How cool is that?

So… The next time you feel impulsive or destructive, try surfing the wave of the urge.

#5. Eat Without Distractions and Enjoy Your Food

Do you watch TV when you eat? Look at your phone? Play on your iPad? These distractions make it harder to eat slowly, notice when you’re full, and enjoy your food.

Research shows that eating in front of screens makes it harder to recognise or remember your meal, leading to eating more during the meal and after, too!

We’re already in a 24/7 digital environment. So let’s take some time away from screens and enjoy meals.

Here’s how:

  • Talk to the family at dinner
  • Listen to music
  • Switch your laptop and phone off for 10-15 minutes 
  • Pay attention to your food, not your phone
  • Sit outside on a park bench to eat like a crazy person.
  • Look at your food. Touch it, smell it, and taste it. Describe it to yourself.

Mindful Eating Creates Space to Work On Your Goals

If losing weight is your goal, mindful eating provides a different path from dieting. It might take a while to unpack your thoughts and feelings around diet and what it means to you. It might be hard to get off that wagon if you’re used to always being on a diet.

Next Step Nutrition works with people to mindfully navigate the weight loss minefield. We’ve helped 247 people lose 1.75 tons of weight, and with ten years already under our belt, we’re not stopping now.

If you want to stop dieting and start your journey to health and fitness, book a free call.


Download Our Free Video On Overcoming Cravings

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