Mindfulness is increasingly being used for eating habits and diabetes management. The results of a study in which mindful eating was trialled in a group of individuals with type 2 diabetes found that eating mindfully, or consuming food in response to physical cues of hunger and fullness, is just as effective as adhering to standard nutrition-based guidelines in reducing weight and blood sugar levels in adults with Type 2 diabetes.
In this study, individuals were coached in the art of mindful eating through group sessions spanning over 3 months. This encouraged participants to become aware of their thoughts and body prior to eating by taking a few moments to assess their level of hunger, thus helping to make conscious choices about food consumption, as well as stopping eating once they were full. Results in this group were compared with a control group who were not instructed in mindful eating, but were given standard nutritional advice as per conventional diabetes education programmes.
Both interventions led to improvements in weight (the standard and mindful approaches led to losses of about 3 and 1.5 kg respectively). There was also a reduction in the marker, which measures overall blood sugar control (HbA1c) from 0.7 and 0.8 per cent in the standard and mindful group respectively.
A valuable outcome of this study is choice. People with diabetes have a choice when it comes to eating a healthy diet, as both interventions were equally effective. Coping with dietary lifestyle changes that seem “restrictive” or “prescriptive” can be an emotional blow for people with diabetes and may affect their compliance to treatment. However, if they can make informed choices and find mindful meditation more appealing this could be a more meaningful approach for them as it encourages “inner wisdom” towards eating.
In my experience in practice, people who confess to over-eating are happy to also admit that it is largely down to habit and not being fully aware of what they are eating, why they are eating it and are not in tune with what their body really needs.
Whether people are binge eating or following a highly restrictive diet, in both scenarios it they have usually lost connection to when they are hungry or full. Mindful eating heals this disconnection between the body and mind because our relationship with food is often a reflection of our emotional well being.
Living with diabetes can be emotionally challenging so instead restricting or over eating as a coping mechanism to block negative feelings there are healthier ways of managing emotions such as mindful breathing to let go of anxiety. There is no need to manage emotions through food choices but learn to embrace and tolerate negative emotions, as uncomfortable as they may be, without pushing them away or stuffing them down with food. This improves the whole experience of living with diabetes and the art of eating.
Author Mita Mistry LicAc MBAcC is a Mindfulness Coach, Acupuncturist, Columnist based in Leamington Spa, UK. She is a recognised expert in holistic healthcare modalities, specialising in helping to ease the mental and emotional side effects of chronic conditions whilst empowering people to reach their optimum health and well being goals.