Mindful Eating: A Dietary Rx for Heart Health



“You should really consider making some diet and lifestyle changes to improve your cardiovascular health.” Does this sound familiar to you? Have these very words been spoken to you by a doctor, family member, or friend?

Maybe the thought of making these changes feels so overwhelming that you haven’t tried because you don’t know where to begin. Or, you’re reluctant to give up all of those foods you love.

Maybe you’ve heeded the advice of others – you’ve cut calories, eliminated sugar, pushed yourself at the gym, and lost that weight… only to revert back to old habits, to see that weight eventually creep back on and your numbers to rise again.

In a country where heart disease tops the list for causes of death, there’s good reason for concern when it comes to heart health. But what if there is another way? What if the path to heart health is not paved with deprivation but with mindfulness?

Mindful Eating is a Dietary Prescription for Heart Health

An important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle is a heart-healthy diet, right? But what most heart healthy meal plans and diet programs lack is an understanding of what is driving eating behaviors to begin with.

Eating for health is not about lists of good and bad foods, it’s about understanding what our bodies need in any given moment to feel and perform their best and fueling them accordingly.

Mindful eating improves body and appetite cue awareness, and that awareness can improve eating patterns.

Mindful eating involves reconnecting with the body’s cues about hunger and satiety and allowing those cues to drive decisions about when to eat and how much to eat. Eating in response to these cues allows us to better manage our food portions.

This in turn, helps to reduce how often you overeat and will allow the body to find its natural, healthy weight – without counting calories or measuring every single food portion.

Becoming attuned to hunger cues also allows hunger to be identified sooner, which can positively affect what and how much we choose to eat.

If we wait until feeling ravenous to eat we tend to desire richer, heavier foods and we are more likely to turn to quick, processed convenience foods – the foods that don’t likely fit our definition of “heart healthy”. We will probably eat these foods fast, too, again setting the stage for overeating.

The heightened awareness that mindfulness provides allows us to feel hunger sooner and therefore respond to it rather than react to it.

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Mindful Eating Also Helps to Prevent the Yo-Yo Effect

The yo-yo effect is a common side effect of chronic dieting characterized by extreme fluctuations in eating behaviors and weight.

The ‘on the diet/off the diet’, ‘good food/bad food’, ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset makes it near impossible to achieve any balance in food choices. It’s either all salmon and kale or all cookies and potato chips, but there is very little in between.

Mindful eating introduces a middle ground. It creates space for nutrition and pleasure in meals. It empowers the individual to select foods that are nourishing and satisfying. This results in an eating pattern that is not only enjoyable and sustainable, but more health-supportive, too.

Of course, yo-yoing eating is followed by yo-yoing weight (also known as weight cycling), which can be potentially harmful to heart health – resulting in fluctuations in blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides[1].

While alternatively, mindful eating practices may actually improve these very same indicators and more [2],[3],[4].

The bottom line – in order for any lifestyle change to be effective in improving our health long-term, it needs to be maintained long-term. The traditional approaches – rigid diets and lifestyle practices – are never going to get us there, but eating mindfully just might. And, eating just may become a bit more enjoyable along the way.

 


 

[1] Montani JP, Schutz Y, Dulloo AG. Dieting and weight cycling as risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases: who is really at risk?. Obesity Reviews. 2015 Feb 1;16(S1):7-18.

[2] Bacon L, Stern JS, Van Loan MD, Keim NL. Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005 Jun 30;105(6):929-36.

[3] Hawks S, Madanat H, Hawks J, Harris A. The relationship between intuitive eating and health indicators among college women. Journal of Health Education. 2005 Dec 1;36(6):331-6.

[4] Schaefer JT, Magnuson AB. A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014 May 31;114(5):734-60.


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