By Kristi Willis
Fad diets that include bizarre ingredients or omit major food groups are common, and typically result in yo-yo dieting—a cycle of losing and gaining weight that is both unhealthy and demoralizing. A more balanced and realistic approach recommended by a growing number of doctors, psychologists and nutritionists is mindful eating—the practice of being mindful or observant of personal thoughts and feelings surrounding food without judging them.
“For many people, eating is more of a habitual activity,” explains Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. “They eat the same things that they always eat at certain meals, at certain restaurants or while they are doing certain things. Mindful eating is about awareness of the entire process of eating. It starts with basic awareness of my physical state and continues to explore the emotional and physical conditions of eating.” By changing a person’s relationship with food, mindful eating removes the guilt around enjoying food, and breaks the cycle of what May refers to as “eat-repent-repeat.”
To assist both new and experienced mindful eaters on this journey, a new set of digital tools is available to help users better understand the choice to eat and to teach the skills needed to break away from the frenzy of the day—to check in, think and then decide.
Am I Hungry? FreeTreat e-book: Created as a series of exercises for self-guided training, this e-book offers seven activities that address the issues that lead to emotional, mindless eating. Participants explore techniques to integrate mindfulness into their day, enjoy food rather than eat on autopilot, remove judgment around “good” and “bad” foods and reduce stress. Dr. May is currently developing an iPhone app called Am I Hungry? Virtual Coach that will be available in late 2013. Cost: free. Platform: PDF. amihungry.com
CraveMate: This app focuses on encouraging users to break the cycle of food cravings by setting goals for foods they want to add to, remove from or limit in their diets. Reminder alerts prompt them to take action on their goals and a camera tool lets them add pictures and video to capture the moment of the craving and how they felt, which they can then share with friends over social media or via e-mail. Cost: $0.99. Platform: iPhone. cravemate.com
Eat, Drink & Be Mindful: From Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist and author of several books on mindful eating, this app targets lifestyle changes to break mindless eating habits. Users log their physical and mental states before and after meals on a hunger scale and detail foods eaten in a diary. An alarm prompts them to log their entries, which can later be viewed in a calendar or a graph showing progress. Cost: $5.99. Platform: iPhone. eatingmindfully.com/tools/mindful-eating-app-new
Mindful Eating: Food journaling is a popular weight-loss technique and this app expands the journal by shifting the focus from calories consumed to the experience of eating. Users can add photos, describe their food and sensory experiences, as well as rate their hunger, their focus and the pleasure of their last bites. They can also capture the location of where they dine and add notes about small, healthy changes they made each day. The app includes a separate log for tracking weight and body mass index (BMI) and a link to the e-book Diet Shock about the tactics of the diet industry. Cost: $5.99. Platform: iPhone. vialean.com
Mindful Meals: Using a timer to remind users to slow down while eating, this app presents a survey before and after meals to help people track their emotions. A chime and on-screen alert occur periodically during the meal to prompt diners with a mindful eating tip. The information screens provide helpful background to those new to the practice. Cost: $1.99. Platform: iPhone. mobilerecoveryapps.com/mindful-meals