Are You Ready to Eat For Life?

If diets have proven unsuccessful and exercise hasn’t helped you achieve your weight loss goals, maybe it’s time to put mind over matter. That’s the idea behind a wellness program developed by researchers at the University of Missouri. “Eat for Life” is a new approach to addressing dysfunctional eating habits that focuses on mindfulness and intuitive eating. Could mindfulness be the healthy solution for you?

The Pitfalls of Dieting

Many weight loss programs work well while participants are actively part of the program. With careful guidance and strict instructions, not to mention diligent calorie counts and frequent weighing, people can lose significant amounts of weight. But once the program and the handholding are over, weight tends to creep back up. This yo-yo cycle of losing and regaining weight often occurs because participants become dependent on the scale, calorie counts, and program directors rather than their own internal cues for when they should eat, how much they should exercise, and what foods their body truly needs. That’s what the Eat for Life program is all about.

"Eat for Life is a new wellness approach that focuses on mindfulness and intuitive eating as a lifestyle," says Lynn Rossy, PhD, a health psychologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. "It’s proven to be more effective than traditional weight-loss programs in improving individuals’ views of their bodies and decreasing problematic eating behaviors."

What Is Intuitive Eating?

"Intuitive eating is eating based on physical hunger and satiety [feelings of fullness after eating] cues rather than emotional or environmental cues," explains Rossy. So with intuitive eating, "You eat when you’re hungry, not because you’re stressed, bored, angry, or tired. Instead, you take care of those emotional states with strategies better designed for those needs. You don’t generally eat food just because it’s in view or it’s a particular time of the day."

Intuitive eating can be very effective for weight management: "We’ve found that intuitive eaters are more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI), make healthier nutritional choices, engage in less binge eating, and have more appreciation for their bodies," Rossy points out.

How About Mindfulness?

The term "mindfulness" often refers to a state of being both engaged in and aware of an experience or activity. When you’re mindful, you’re not distracted. In terms of eating, "Mindfulness is the key to healthy eating and to being an intuitive eater because it brings new awareness and choice into your eating behavior," Rossy explains. "Mindfulness means being present with all your senses [and] with kindness and curiosity. That brings awareness to internal cues of hunger and satiety, to your reasons for eating, and to the taste of your food so that you enjoy and savor your meals."

Understanding the BASICS of Mindful Eating

Eat for Life is taught as a ten-week in-person or online program; it uses mindfulness techniques to teach people how to create healthy relationships with their food, minds, and bodies. Would-be mindful eaters learn to practice the BASICS:

Breathe and Belly Check for hunger and satiety

Assess your food

Slow down

Investigate your hunger throughout the meal

Chew your food thoroughly

Savor your food

Using the BASICS can help you become conscious about what, when, why, and how you eat, according to Rossy: "These aren’t rules, and it would be foolhardy to think you could do them all perfectly all of the time. But practicing and playing with them will teach you a lot about eating for pleasure and health."

Learn more about mindful eating at Rossy’s University of Missouri website, Tasting Mindfulness and at The Mindful Eating Program.

Lynn Rossy, PhD, Health Psychologist with the University of Missouri, Columbia, reviewed this article.


Interview with Lynn Rossy, PhD, August, 2014.

"Mindful Eating Program." Mindfulness Practice Center/University of Missouri. Accessed September 16, 2014.

Tasting Mindfulness. Accessed September 16, 2014.