What Is Mindful Eating?Mindful eating is a form of mindfulness (a great stress management technique, by the way) that incorporates the practice of being fully present and non-judgmentally aware, with the act of eating. Because many people—especially stressed people—can overeat without even realizing what they’re doing, mindful eating is an excellent strategy for stopping the pattern of mindless eating and really enjoying food.
Benefits of Mindful EatingBecause mindful eating can enable you to become more fully aware of every bite you take, mindful eating can lead to a significant decrease in mindless eating—where you just ‘nosh’ on snacks and aren’t even fully aware of what and how much you’re taking in. Mindful eating can also help you really savor your food, enjoying it more fully so you require less of it to feel satisfies, and, paradoxically, enjoy your smaller portions more.
Overall, mindful eating can be an effective strategy for eating less, enjoying food more, and even reducing stress in the whole process (which can lead to less emotional eating as well). Great strategy, huh?
Mindful Eating in PracticeMindful eating has been used successfully as an approach to weight loss as well as for a meditation and stress relief technique. Mindful eating is regularly recommended by weight loss coaches, diet books and others. It’s a simple and effective technique that can be easily put into practice.
The first—and simplest—step you can take to develop a mindful eating approach to your regular meals is to stop eating while you engage in other activities. Most importantly , that means not eating in front of the television. Studies show that adults who eat in front of the television tend to eat more and enjoy their food less; research also shows that children who eat in front of the television are at a higher risk for obesity.
Mindful Eating: How It’s DoneWhile removing distractions can go a long way in reducing mindless eating, the practice of mindful eating goes a step further. When practicing mindful eating, focus deeply on each sensation you experience, both inside and out. Some specific things to pay attention to include:
- The taste of the food.
Specifically, focus on each individual flavor, how it feels on your tongue, how long the flavor lasts and how it fades.
- The texture of the food.
How does it feel to eat it? Is it satisfyingly crunchy? Smooth and creamy? Juicy? Celebrate each sensation.
- The thoughts you experience as you eat.
If other thoughts come into your head, notice them, but then gently redirect your attention to your mindful eating.
- Physical sensations in your body.
Notice how your hunger gradually moves into satisfaction. Try to pinpoint specific moments when you no longer feel hungry, and no longer need more food to feel satisfied. Often when people eat mindlessly, they’re left with a ‘stuffed’ feeling afterward because they didn’t notice when they were full.
- Tension in your body.
If you feel tense from a stressful day, try to relax your muscles. Let your shoulders drop and relax, let your breathing switch to deep breathing, and just relax and enjoy your food. This should all give you a good start in mindful eating, requiring only practice.
Mindful Eating ResourcesTaking away distractions will help by automatically help create more mindful eating, and being ‘in the now’ and noticing each sensation will bring even more mindful eating benefits. There are also exercises you can practice to deepen your success with mindful eating. You don’t need to eat every meal with the deepest level of mindfulness, but practicing exercises that require deeply mindful eating can enable you to be more effective at mindful eating when you think of it. Other exercises that require a more relaxed level of mindful eating can be used at every meal. Here are some to try:
Liang T, Kuhle S, Veugelers PJ. Nutrition and body weights of Canadian children watching television and eating while watching television. Public Health and Nutrition, December 2009.