What is mindful eating, and how can it help with healthy weight gain?

During pregnancy, not every woman experiences morning sickness or brain fog, but every woman gains weight. Weight gain is necessary for a lot of reasons, but the amount that you gain matters, too. Too little or too much weight makes pregnancy and the postpartum period more difficult, and raises your and Baby‘s risk of certain health complications.

Unfortunately, it’s really common for women to gain too little or too much weight while they are pregnant. A 2015 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that almost half (47%) of pregnant women gained too little or too much weight, meaning that nearly half of all pregnant women in this study likely experienced some of the negative health effects that come with not gaining a healthy amount of weight in their pregnancy.

The study also found that women who were overweight or obese when they became pregnant were three times more likely to gain too much weight over the course of pregnancy. This means that for women who are overweight or obese, it’s even more important to stay on track with weight gain.

Where mindful eating comes in

With all the cravings, nausea, and indigestion that often accompany pregnancy, it can be pretty easy to put on too little or too much weight over these nine months. Mindful eating has been shown to help with this; it can make it a lot easier for you to control the amount of weight that you gain in pregnancy.

Studies on mindful eating in pregnancy show that women who ate mindfully had significantly lower stress levels than women who didn’t eat mindfully, and they also were able to manage their weight gain much more successfully than women who did not use mindful eating tactics.

What is mindful eating, exactly?

Mindful eating is basically a way of paying attention to how your body feels before, during, and after you eat.

  • Before: Before you eat, or even at any point in your day, try checking in with yourself to see if you feel any physical sense of hunger. If you want to snack but don’t feel hungry, first drink some water or start a distracting activity. If you do feel hungry, think about what you really want to eat, and what your body probably needs, before you pick something out to eat.
  • During: There are lots of tips for mindfulness during a meal or snack, but here are a few. While you eat, think about where your food came from and how it got to you. Consider how it’s going to help your body and reduce your feelings of hunger, and notice how it tastes and how it feels to chew. Try chewing a bit more than usual, and take breaks to really slow down and savor your food, and to assess your appetite and whether or not you’re still hungry.
  • After: Once you’re done eating, notice how your body feels – satisfied? Full? Still a little hungry? Think about what you ate and what parts you liked or didn’t like.

Research shows that by raising your awareness of all these things, you’ll reduce your likelihood of stress eating or comfort eating. You’ll enjoy your meals more, and you’ll be able to tell when you’re done eating more quickly. Over time you’ll even train your body to anticipate mealtime as a relaxing and enjoyable experience, which can lower your stress levels in the long run.

The bottom line on staying present and mindful

You’ve probably heard about mindfulness before. The concept is starting to gain traction in popular culture; there are apps, blogs, speakers, and video series dedicated to discussing its benefits and outlining ways that individuals can become more mindful in their daily lives. Mindfulness has been proven to have some amazing health effects for people of all ages and lifestyles, and mindful eating, in particular, has been shown to have significant benefits for women during their pregnancies.

It’s a pretty simple concept: slow down and pay attention to how you feel before you eat, while you’re eating, and once you’re done eating. Why not give it a shot? You might come to find that the effects of mindful eating extend far beyond the amount of weight you gain in pregnancy, and into other parts of your regular life.

  • KM Rasmussen, et al. “Consequences of Gestational Weight Gain for the Mother.” Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines. National Academies Press (US); 2009. Web. 
  • Nicholas P Deputy, et al. “Prevalence and Characteristics Associated With Gestational Weight Gain Adequacy.” Obstetrics & Gynecology. 125(4):773-781. Web. Apr 2015.
  • AD Hutchinson, et al. “Understanding maternal dietary choices during pregnancy: The role of social norms and mindful eating.” Appetite. 112:227-234. Web. May 2017. 
  • Jill Suttie. “Mindful Mamas, Healthy Mamas.” Berkeley. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, May 2013. Web. Accessed 6/29/17. Available at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/mindful_mamas_healthy_mamas.
  • Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Weight gain during pregnancy.” ACOG. No. 548 Committee Opinion from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Jan 2013. Web. Accessed 6/29/17. Available at https://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Obstetric_Practice/Weight_Gain_During_Pregnancy. 
  • M Blomberg. “Maternal and neonatal outcomes among obese women with weight gain below the new Institute of Medicine recommendations.” Obstet Gynecol. 117(5):1065-70. Web. May 2011. 
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