When assessing a patient’s or client’s dietary history, it may be useful to also understand what drives them to make their food choices. There are many factors that influence food choices; such as their own attitudes and beliefs about food, psychological determinants (e.g stress and anxiety), biological factors (hunger and appetite), socioeconomic factors, culture and religion. Knowing this may help inform their dietetic treatment plan, make it more tailored to meet their needs and form the basis to incorporate mindful eating principles during consultation.
Additionally, it may also be helpful to acknowledge how food makes them feel in general and how they react to the food after consumption to help them focus on their body’s internal cues. Do they enjoy the foods they choose to eat? Do they feel satisfied after consumption? Or do they have negative feelings towards the food?
It is important that questions asked do not seem judgemental and that we use clinical judgement to ascertain whether it is appropriate to ask such questions. Certain questions may expose some individuals to traumatic thoughts and feelings and it is essential that we express empathy and signpost or refer patients/clients to see a healthcare professional such as a psychologist for emotional and mental wellbeing support.
Using appropriate language
One way of incorporating mindful eating principles in dietetic practice is to not discuss with patients/clients about foods being as “good”, “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. There may be some foods they have to limit or avoid for health reasons but instead of labelling foods as previously mentioned, which might induce restrictive eating behaviours, we should place more emphasis on how people can achieve the right balance for their health and nutritional needs; focus more on what they can eat instead of what they can’t eat.
Understand their lifestyle and identify how eating mindfully can fit in
There are some people who live very busy lifestyles and might find it difficult to integrate mindful eating in their day-to-day lives. However, we can help overcome barriers to mindful eating by exploring ways individuals can bring more awareness and attention when they eat. This might be advising them to make good use of their breaktime at work and not to consume meals in front of their computers. Or it might be advising them to avoid using their phones, avoid watching TV or any other distractions during meal times and encourage them to relax and enjoy food in the moment.
Shift the focus
Helping patients/clients know that incorporating mindful eating is a form of self-care and a positive approach to eating instead of it being a type of diet or a weight-loss tool may help encourage a sense of confidence in their decision-making with food and help promote healthier eating habits and behaviours.
Tai is a doctoral researcher at the University of Reading. Her research focuses on appetite and dietary intake in older adults. Tai also sees clients who require weight management and nutrition support advice and delivers nutrition-based workshops in the community.