In this first interview in my “Conversations on Mindful Eating” series we are talking with Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD, CDN about the true meaning of mindful eating and her tips to fit mindfulness into our busy lives. Simply put: Jenna is one of the most badass women I know. She’s a quadruple threat: non-dieting dietician, meditation instructor, author, and mom to a busy toddler. Her work is devoted to helping women heal from disordered patterns of eating and develop a more peaceful and loving relationship with their body. Because who couldn’t use a little more of that in our lives? So without further ado, here is my interview with Jenna Hollenstein.
Q.) What does “mindful eating” mean to you?
A.) To me, mindful eating is about paying attention to the information our bodies are sending us and taking the time to discover what we find truly satisfying. This means noticing and responding to hunger, learning what level of hunger is most compatible with an enjoyable eating experience, noticing the sensory qualities of foods, and recognizing the subtle signals our bodies send when they’ve had enough. It’s not about perfection but rather about gentleness, curiosity, and the willingness to respond to changing needs and situations.
Q.) Why is it important to keep the “mindfulness” in “mindful eating?” As a meditation instructor and non-dieting dietician, can you tell us about the role of mindfulness meditation in mindful eating?
A.) I like to say that mindful eating without meditation is like a fat-free cupcake: hard, dense, and lacking in tenderness. I can’t say enough about meditation being the foundation for a mindful eating practice. It creates the stability and self awareness we need to continually notice what is happening in our bodies, hearts, and minds, and learning how to respond to our needs precisely and skillfully. A meditation practice meets us on every level at which we exist: physically it helps us to connect with the physical signals of hunger and fullness as well as to notice the physical manifestation of strong emotions, while psychologically it creates flexibility and resilience so that we develop the ability to tolerate and even accept uncertainty, discomfort, and change. To me, meditation has everything to do with the care and feeding of us.
Q.) In your book Drinking to Distraction, you wrote about your journey to sobriety and your quest to be more present in life. Would you say the same ideas apply to food? Are we eating to distraction?
A.) I often say that you could switch out the word “Drinking” from the title and insert anything from eating to shopping to dating. Anything we use to modify uncomfortable moments in our lives is a distraction in my opinion. And while we might think we are using these various substances to increase our pleasure and decrease our discomfort, over the long run, they seem to detract from our authentic experience of our lives and rob us of confidence and self-trust. Sometimes the bravest and most appropriate thing to do in the face of discomfort is to turn directly toward it and stay with it for a moment.
Q.) You have a lot of experience working with moms, both in your nutrition practice at Eat2Love and as the instructor for Mommy Sangha, a meditation group for moms. Do you have any advice for the busy moms out there who want to eat mindfully but feel like they don’t have the time?
Embrace imperfection. Mindful eating is not about always being calm and undistracted. It can be practiced in brief moments or when eating on the run. I remember mindfully eating a spoonful of Nutella while standing over the sink one day and it was delicious! Allow mindful eating to be messy and to happen in baby steps.
About Jenna: Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, CDN, is a non-diet dietitian who helps people struggling with chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. She uses a combination of Intuitive Eating, mindfulness techniques, and meditation to help her clients move toward greater peace, health, and wellness.
Jenna is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (CDN) in New York State. She has a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Penn State, a Masters degree in Nutrition from Tufts University, is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and an Open Heart Project meditation guide. Within the Open Heart Project, Jenna co-teaches the Meditation Instructor Training Program and leads the Mommy Sangha.
Jenna is the author of Understanding Dietary Supplements, a handy guide to the evaluation and use of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and botanicals for both consumers and clinicians, and more recently the memoir Drinking to Distraction.