Guest post: a response to ‘mindlessness’


Written by Charlotte Birkett, Dietitian London

This is a response to Anna’s recent article mindlessness’, I suggest you read it first.

I remember the day Anna and I went for coffee and cake with a friend, and had a full-blown debate about mindful eating – have you read Anna’s winning explosive arguments’ piece yet?! Anyway, I had just been on a mindful eating course in London and we talked about why some people are already in tune with their bodies and others aren’t.

Being in tune = being mindful

For instance, I know that without water I don’t concentrate on my tasks at work, and without fruit and vegetables I feel sluggish and uncomfortable. You could definitely argue that I’ve had nutritional training, so ‘of course!’ I know the positives and negatives of a balanced diet, but others (who are in tune), haven’t – this is what Anna coined ‘mindlessness’, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But, if some people are out of tune with their bodies and don’t feel satisfaction after a meal, they might need to reconnect, using mindful eating tips.

Why we choose food

There is definitely a place for mindfulness but we mustn’t forget the other factors as to why we eat what we eat.  It is not limited to one or two reasons, yes the media craze – as Anna puts it – is a major influencer, but there are other factors too:

  • Cultural
  • Psychological
  • Mood
  • Environmental
  • Biological
  • Survival
  • Genetic
  • Regulatory

Regulatory system

Let us take a magnifying glass to the regulatory system for a moment. It consists of a multitude of signalling systems telling the brain and gut: how much has been eaten, what needs to be processed and how much of it needs to be stored.

Brain data log

This information is processed by the brain along with the social, survival and biological factors, so – in truth – the brain has to deal with a magnitude of inputted data. It is daft – yes, how British, daft! – to assume that our brain uses this data to set everyone at a ‘healthy level’.

Last piece of the jigsaw

We also know the brain can be overridden (computer says no) and we can choose what we eat.  So, here’s my question: are the other factors completely void then? If I ask myself that question, the answer is simply ‘no’. We just don’t know enough about how the complex jigsaw of factors slots together and why it works for some but not others. Segway ‘mindfulness’.  Maybe, if ‘mindlessness’ works for some (like Anna) and ‘mindfulness’ works for others, it’s just one small piece in the big jigsaw and only a tiny glimpse into why we eat what we eat.

Edited by Anna Johnston

Picture citation: Jeanette Goodrich Scale-Apple-Measuring-Tape-Diet CC BY-NC 2.0




Mindful eating is a popular craze. But I wonder, could mindlessness catch on?

I recently went to an independent pâtisserie in Croydon, (yes, the town has a pâtisserie) with friends after a causal dinner, for coffee and dessert.  Whilst my friends ordered sumptuous pieces of cake, I opted to have a small coffee and two milk truffles.  My friends scoffed at my choice.  But when they asked why I wasn’t trying the delights of the shop in all its glory, I said simply, “I feel full, I just fancy a taste of something”.  My friend, who’s a dietitian, said to me in a knowing voice, “now that’s mindfulness Anna”.

That’s not the first time I have been termed as mindful.  In the new craze of mindfulness I look to uncover where it comes from, what it means for day-to-day life and if you really need to learn about mindfulness.  Or, as I like to believe, can you just be mindful without knowingly trying? A term I call mindlessness.

According to The Center For Mindful Eating mindful eating is about allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. Now, I immediately switch off when the phrases, ‘inner wisdom’ and ‘listen to your body’ are thrown around.  But consider this, in the above scenario, did my body tell me I was full? Yes. Did my inner wisdom suggest that I might want something small and sweet? Yes.  So, the Center’s words speak the truth.

They claim that by using all your senses you will choose to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.  If you become aware of physical hunger and allow satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating, you can change your relationship to food.

I have a rebellious streak that doesn’t like to be told what to do.  For example, this article is a great article and gives practical tips around mindfulness and food.  Tips to improve your diet include; letting go of shame and guilt, using the 80:20 rule and my favourite; listening to your body.  All great tips.  But the fact they’re written down for me to read and consume, makes me uneasy.

Isn’t the concept of mindfulness, knowing? So if we already know, if we already have a body that we listen to, then are we already mindful?  If you don’t come to your own dietary conclusions, how can you be in control of your own knowledge?  For example, take the first tip, ‘letting go of guilt and shame’, if I did that, I would never feel the shame of having eaten a bag of popcorn, and so I might eat a bag of popcorn and ‘pick n mix’.  Take tip two, the 80:20 rule.  What if I ate so much in the 80 part that the ratio became 100:40 or 120:60, I’m suddenly eating so much in the 80 section that the 20 part needs to catch up in a big way.  Now that’s a lot of cake.  And tip three, ‘listening to my body’ is wholly unreliable.  My body wants coffee at 08.00, cake at 11.00, 15.00 and 18.00, it wants Praline’s Haagan Daz at 21.00 and sometimes, no breakfast.

Without the top tips, and with only my well nurtured knowledge to base decisions on, I’m well-rounded, balanced and mindful.  I keep moving and I eat when I’m hungry.  I eat meat, fish, vegetables, and have the occasional cake or biscuit.  I’m also partial to a can of coke and coffee, but I know it’s not good for me, so I drink lots of water.  Everyone and no one has taught me to do that. It’s the subconscious and environmental learning journey that I have travelled on throughout my life.

Mindfulness is growing in popularity and it’s popping up in lifestyle magazines left right and centre. But I’ll ask again, is mindlessness a craze that could catch on?

Picture citation: Truffles 02 James Yu, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0