Mindfulness is often defined by a two-component model (Bishop, 2004). One component looks at the self-regulation of attention to the present moment experience. The other component describes an orientation towards present moment experience which is characterized by a curious, open and compassionate form of acceptance.

However, in recent scientific literature, the role of acceptance in mindful eating is increasingly discussed. Some researchers argue that the attention component in mindful eating (purposefully concentrating on the experience while eating), is the key element in changing eating behavior and related characteristics, for example, in weight management.

Currently, it remains unclear whether adopting an accepting orientation towards one’s own experience explains effects on mindful eating beyond/in addition to the attention element.

Is acceptance necessary to eat mindfully?

woman in lab coat doing experimentI also dealt with this question when working on the mindful eating questionnaire. Scientific research wouldn’t help me as it has so far not reached the point of being able to prove the importance of the accepting element. Inspired by an exercise from Jan Chozen Bays’s book Mindful Eating: A guide to Re-discovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food , I decided to use a different way to find out about this: I would try to experience it myself – with my scientific tools heart and body.

My little experiment

I sat down for a meal and looked at the food with my full attention. I directed my concentration purposefully on the colors, shapes, smells and taste of my food. I observed my food precisely as a lab worker. And the experienced felt like this: clean, precise and clear. I ate less than I usually eat. A good argument for the singular importance of the attention element in using mindfulness for weight management.

But there was something missing compared to my usual mindful eating experiences: I didn’t feel a satisfying nourishment.

So I tried it again, taking a different approach.

watermelon and blueberries form heartsThis time I took a few moments to close my eyes. I dropped into my heart and looked inside myself to bring compassionate acceptance for whatever showed up as I ate.

When I opened my eyes there was no need for me directing the attention purposefully. My attention just floated to the meal and regulated itself.  With the acceptance came curiosity, the genuine interest in the colors, shapes, smells and taste of my food. I didn’t have to do anything but to go with the flow. The meal naturally became an adventure.

And what came with the acceptance, was not only this easy, natural flowing attention, but also appreciation, which I had not aim for.  Appreciation for the food on my table and for the wonderful job as a mindful eating practitioner, researcher and teacher. Appreciation for all the living beings and the natural elements that were involved in the origin and manufacturing of this food.

Nourished Body, Satisfied Heart

And when I finished my meal, I felt happy, content and now, holistically nourished. I could directly experience: This way of eating fed and satisfied my heart hunger.  All of us deal not only with habituated eating behaviors, but predominantly with emotional eating, namely the hunger of the heart.

My little experiment showed me: It indeed might not be enough to only use directed attention to the present moment when eating to (re)establish a healthy and joyful relationship with food. For me it needs this certain, open-hearted quality of acceptance while eating. Acceptance seems to be  a doorway to all other, helpful qualities of mindfulness like curiosity and gratefulness.

With a heart full of acceptance, those qualities come naturally and without effort. And they have the potential to reach the thing you cannot reach when you try too hard, too precise and too concentrated: Natural Nourishment – of body and heart.

What do you think, feel and experience is the role of acceptance within the mindful eating context? Maybe, you might want to try out this little experiment: What do you notice when practicing mindful eating with and without the quality of open, compassionate acceptance? Is the experience regarding both conditions similar or different? Let’s share our experiences!

Diana Peitz, Germany

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