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Food For Thought

How Long Does It Take To Learn (And See Results From) Mindful Eating?

It's a fair question, but not an easy one to answer.

We all want to know how long it will take us to learn something new—and from there, how long it will be before we see results from our efforts. Anything we undertake in the name of self-improvement or self-development can't happen soon enough, right? But of course, in the real world, the answer to this kind of question invariably is: it depends. (I hear you least let me explain.)

Most of us drag around a lifetime of eating "baggage" that we need to unpack

We all start eating from birth—we come out of the womb essentially knowing how to eat until we are satisfied. It's our natural way and we don't have to be taught a set of rules in order to do it well. Therefore, by the time we reach adulthood, we've had our lifetimes to establish, then manipulate our eating habits—perhaps not for the better. For most of us, that means we've had decades to "practice" ignoring or disregarding our body cues, and as a result, our mind-less eating habits have become deeply rooted. Hence, relearning the mindful eating ways we all used as infants and little children can be challenging. Had we relearned mindful eating as teenagers, say age 15, it likely would not be quite as difficult as it is at age 55.

And here's where the "depending" part of the answer comes in: how much time it takes you to feel confident in your mindful eating abilities depends on how far away you've strayed from a mindful relationship with your body, and how long it's been since you last felt in touch with your natural eating and satiety cues. Unpacking all that eating "baggage" can take time, as you might expect, but it IS possible.

By the time we reach adulthood, we've had our lifetimes to establish, then manipulate our eating habits—perhaps not for the better

Mindful eating skills are not hard to learn, but they do take practice

If you're worried about your ability to pick up mindful eating skills, it's good to hear that learning the skills themselves is not difficult. In fact, it's usually the easiest part of the process of becoming a mindful eater. For example, learning to appreciate the tastes, textures and aromas of what you're eating is a pleasant pursuit—it doesn't even seem like "work. Slowing down your eating pace isn't that hard either (although it takes practice). Eliminating distractions during eating, again, not terribly challenging.

The more difficult mindful eating skills, such as learning how your body registers hunger and fullness, can take a bit longer to master. You might be surprised at how out of touch you are with your body. Expect this aspect to take some time and patient practice. And, if you really want to dig deep and deal with things like disordered eating patterns and body acceptance issues, you can usually expect a significant time commitment. (This is typically accomplished with a therapist and a Registered Dietitian who specialize in those areas).

The real question is: Why does a timeline matter so much?

If you're someone who has tried a bunch of diet programs, has "collected" eating plans from online gurus or has completed more 30-day challenges than you can count, it's probably safe to say that you're used to focusing on the finish line. Being goal-oriented is certainly not a bad thing, but when it comes to more cerebral pursuits such as mindful eating, knowing why you're pursuing it in the first place can be very revealing.

Take a minute to think about or jot down a few reasons why you think learning mindful eating is a good idea for you. What are you hoping to get out of it? Mindful eating, like mindfulness in general, is a practice—and that means, well, that you practice it. You won't wake up one day and say "Welp, that's it, I've achieved mindful eater status and now I can cross it off my list." There is no gold star at the end of mindful eating. In fact, there isn't supposed to be an "end."

Of course, it's perfectly fine to have a goal of learning the basic skills in a certain timeframe—that's a natural inclination. There's also no harm in throwing yourself into the learning process wholeheartedly in hopes of soaking it all up a bit more expediently. But if you're looking to use mindful eating as a means to an end (to help with weight loss or binge eating, for example), just realize that the practice of mindful eating can be a tool toward an outcome, but it is not focused on those outcomes.

Mindful eating only "works" if you practice it, meaning, you need to actually do it. Challenges and diets end, but mindful eating is something you can do for the rest of your life, in your own way. That's part of its beauty.

Mindful eating only "works" if you practice it—meaning, actually do it

When is a good time to start learning?

Now is always a good time. And really, there's no need to wait. How is waiting going to benefit you? Mindful eating is not like a diet or stringent food plan. You don't have to psych yourself up for it, or try to eat up all the goodies in the house before you begin. You don't even have to wait until Monday, next month or any other "best day."

Ready to ditch diets and learn to eat more mindfully?

If you're interested in learning mindful eating skills and moving away from traditional dieting, check out my online mini-course called the Done With Diets Mindset Makeover. It takes you through a 3-step process for leaving deprivation diets behind and finding your food freedom with mindful eating.

Looking to "dig in" to finally changing your eating habits?

Join our community of like-minded folks who are learning the ins and outs of habit change with me and our supportive FB group, the Eating Habits Lab. 

Join us for free—we are always happy to welcome new lab partners!

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