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Physician Health and Well-Being: Mindful Eating for Healthy Mind and Healthy Body

Mindful Eating for Healthy Mind and Healthy Body

By John A. Patterson MD, MSPH, FAAFP, ABIHM
Founding co-chair LMS Physician Wellness Program

What you eat and how you eat are both important factors in determining your overall health.

What to eat? The world’s leading nutrition researchers are sending a very clear public health message based on the best scientific evidence available. For more than 70 years, the Department of Nutrition of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has conducted rigorous scientific research on the relationship between food and health. Their conclusion? To promote health, prevent disease and extend life, half of your food servings should come from fruits and vegetables.

       HSPH researchers agree the healthiest eating plan includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, focusing on a ‘rainbow’ of colors (dark green, red, yellow, orange) to provide abundant amounts of anti-oxidants and phytonutrients- both known to have special health-promoting and disease-preventing properties. HSPH researchers created the Healthy Eating Plate as a science-based guide that recommends a dietary approach to protect against cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems and other chronic medical conditions.

       These same researchers published results from the world’s oldest and largest ongoing health research projects – the Nurse’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Comparing dietary protein sources, they found that high dietary animal protein intake, especially from processed red meat, was linked to earlier death. Higher plant protein intake was linked to longer life. These life span differences were most striking for individuals with at least 1 lifestyle risk factor, such as smoking, physical inactivity, obesity and alcohol use.
       These research results are clearly illustrated in the protein section of HSPH’s Healthy Eating Plate, which advises you to favor fish, poultry, beans and nuts while limiting red meat and cheese and completely avoiding bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats.
       This message was dramatized by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified processed meat as a carcinogen. Processed meats include hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. It refers to meat that has been salted, cured, fermented and smoked to preserve or flavor it. IARC also classified red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat) as a probable carcinogen.

How to eat? Mindfulness is the world’s leading behavioral, mind-body practice for promoting health, managing stress-related chronic conditions and enriching your experience of being alive. Mindful eating and food preparation can be an important ingredient in your overall practice of mindful living and enhance your overall relationship with food- its production, distribution, preparation and consumption. Those with eating-related conditions such as overweight, obesity, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge-eating disorders, body image disorders and night-eating syndrome can also benefit by including mindful eating in an overall treatment plan.
Mindful eating– A useful review of the various ways to conceive of hunger is offered by Jan Chozen Bays MD in her book Mindful Eating- A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Based on her work as a pediatrician and mindfulness meditation teacher, she helps patients and families re-connect with health-promoting, physiologically-based hunger signals and avoid the temptation of false appetites. Bays describes 7 types of hunger.
(1) Eye hunger– Your emotional appetite and physical hunger are strongly influenced by sight and visual presentation. To avoid over-eating and to satisfy eye hunger, intentionally appreciate the visual appearance of your food as you begin to eat
(2) Nose hunger– Remember how you begin salivating at the smell of food? Much of your sensation of taste comes from your sense of smell rather than your taste buds. Honor this aspect of your eating experience by focusing on the smell of the food you are about to eat
(3) Mouth hunger– So many of your preferred tastes are socially conditioned from your family and acquired eating habits. How would your food taste with less sweet, salty or spicey condiments? Can you eat with curiosity, openness and experimentation as you add more or less of different spices and seasonings? Observing your eating experience this way can put you in charge of your food consumption. You are less likely to be a victim of your old habits and preferences
(4) Stomach hunger– Abdominal rumbling and growling may suggest hunger when the body doesn’t need to eat. These sensations may reflect stress, anxiety or an artificial eating schedule you may have developed out of social convenience more than physiological need. Listen to overall hunger cues before trusting stomach hunger
(5) Cellular hunger– This is the underlying physiological need being addressed by hunger and eating. Becoming more attuned to your body through body scan meditation and other mindfulness practices can put you back in touch with this deeply physiological ‘true’ hunger
(6) Mind hunger– Your food choices may sometimes be driven more by advertising and fad diets than your true body needs. Pay attention to your food as you eat. Avoid eating while watching television. If you typically eat with family, practice attending to mind hunger by eating some meals alone and really tuning in to the full experience- physical, mental and emotional.
(7) Heart hunger– Your eating choices may sometimes be driven by a desire for comfort foods and feeding emotional needs that you can address in a healthier way. A hot bath with candlelight, journaling, talking with a good friend or walking in nature are low calorie/high nutrition options for feeding heart hunger.

       Practical, ancient meditation practices and modern scientific research can be combined to help you achieve a healthy mind and healthy body through mindful eating.


A detailed description of Mindful Eating Instructions can be found on my website at

The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health (#1 nutrition resource worldwide)

Mindful Eating- A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food,

Jan Chozen Bays, MD

About the Author-

Dr Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is certified in family medicine, integrative holistic medicine, mind body medicine, yoga therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction and physician coaching. He teaches mindfulness for Saybrook College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences (Pasadena), the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, DC) and the U of KY Health and Wellness Program. He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers mindfulness classes and integrative medicine consultations. He can be reached through his website at


Gain Efficiencies Delivering Medicare Annual Wellness Visits in Your Practice

Medicare annual wellness visits provide an important opportunity to promote health and to provide disease screening and advance care planning with patients who have Medicare. However, billing for the wrong visit or at the wrong time can result in denied claims. Several resources are available to help you avoid claim denials and gain efficiencies in time and resources spent on providing these visits:

  • brief video to learn about the components of each visit, when to provide each visit, and how to submit claims for them.
  • Check out this printable flyer, which can be a helpful tool for discussing these visits with patients.
  • Take this online education course. This is a great tool for newer staff or those who can benefit from a refresher on AWV services.