A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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Where is your attention when you eat?

Do you love the pleasure of eating so much that you overeat from sheer enjoyment rather than from physiologic hunger cues? Do you overeat as a self-soothing antidote for emotional stress, anxiety or depression?

Or do you consider eating a necessary but boring interruption in your busy day at home and work and overeat while reading, watching TV, driving or talking?

If any of these eating patterns describes you, the power of your attention is being used unskillfully. Your health could suffer simply because of misplaced attention.

Whether you are pleasantly engrossed and joyfully overeating or unpleasantly distracted and emotionally upset while you eat, you may consume excess calories, leading to overweight and obesity.

Eating Mindfully

Simply changing how you eat can transform your relationship with your weight. Mindful practices can help you manage the stress that may con- tribute to overeating.

You may be able to lose weight without actually “dieting. ” Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to present-moment experiences intentionally and non-judgmentally. Mindful eating means paying less attention to the past and future and more attention to this plate in this moment. It means paying more attention to the food itself and less attention to the distractions all around you.

When researchers measured people’s mindfulness scores with questionnaires, they found people who were more mindful and paid more attention to body sensations and hunger cues experienced fewer weight fluctuations over time, compared to those who were less mindful. Research has also shown the regular practice of body scan meditation is associated with more mindful eating, accurate assessment of hunger cues and successful weight management.

Mindfulness can also help control cravings and food addictions. Based on your previous experiences, the sights, smells, thoughts and images of certain foods activate areas in the brain as if you were actually eating that food.

Mindfulness can disrupt that automatic neural network firing. With practice, you

can train yourself to experience your desires and cravings as nothing more than thoughts and allow them to simply come and go like any other thoughts.

Seven Kinds of Hunger

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 important ingredients in your overall practice of mindful living and will 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.

A useful review of the various ways to conceive of hunger is offered by Jan Chozen Bays 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, Chozen helps patients and families reconnect with health-promoting, physiologically based hunger signals and avoid the temptation of false appetites.

Bays describes seven types of hunger:

  1. Eye hunger. To avoid overeating and to satisfy eye hunger, intentionally appreciate the visual appearance of your food as you begin to eat.
  2. Nose hunger. Much of your sen- sation 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. Can you eat with curiosity, openness and experimentation as you add more or less amounts of different spices and seasonings? Observing your eating experience this way can put you in charge of your food consumption.
  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 and maintain a healthy weight through mindful eating.

Sources and Resources

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

Body Scan Meditation recordings (5-minute and 40-minute versions) are also available on my Website


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

more articles by dr john patterson