It turns out we are not what we eat, but we are what we think as we eat.

Michelle Holland used to "inhale" food. A busy professional, she would eat on the go or while doing three other things at once.

In February, the 48-year-old Christchurch sales consultant who had spent her adult life on different diets and exercise regimes decided to try a mindful eating course.

Mindful eating teaches that people should meditate before eating, use all the senses when eating, and listen to the body when it indicates it's full.

"I have an hour commute each morning and night so I would often eat in the car. At work, if I stopped for lunch, I'd be on my phone and reading a newspaper while I ate.


"I'd done mindfulness before and found it really helpful, and I wanted to eat less and lose weight so I thought I'd give it a go.

"I've lost 4kg since doing the course and have kept the weight off without consciously dieting or exercising."

Holland did a four-week introduction to mindful eating course run by Mindfulness Works. The course was designed by Dr Heidi Douglass, a clinical psychologist who based the course on an American mindful eating programme created in 1999 for treatment of bulimia.

"In the first class, we were given three minutes to eat a sultana," Holland said. "The experience is so heightened. The flavour burst was insane. Then in another class, we did the same with a potato chip. All I could taste were the chemicals."

Holland doesn't always eat mindfully since doing the course but says her eating has slowed down a lot.

"You need less because you experience more. I definitely slow down and as a consequence eat far less and feel satisfied for a lot longer.

"It can be hard with my hectic lifestyle to stop but I try to. If I speed up, I often catch myself and realise."

Mindful eating teaches people to use all their senses when consuming meals. Photo / Getty Images
Mindful eating teaches people to use all their senses when consuming meals. Photo / Getty Images

Douglass began the course in Hamilton in May last year. It's now also available in other centres and has attracted hundreds of Kiwis wanting to lose weight or change their relationship to food.

"Some courses have had a lot of people who are overweight, others have had people who are of a healthy weight but have negative associations with food and their body," Douglass said.

"It can really help people who binge eat, or are emotional or mindless eaters. We often get people who eat when they're stressed, or as reward, or when they're angry. I had one woman say she was really angry at her husband so she ate six cookies but she hadn't actually talked through the issue with him."

Binge eating was often associated with depression and anxiety. "Just telling people to eat healthier and exercise more if they want to lose weight doesn't work for everyone," Douglass said.

"It gives some people terrible self-esteem when they fail to do that. Mindful eating teaches people to tap into their built-in natural systems. They don't have to calorie count; they just have to listen to their body."