Think back to the last meal you ate. Did you savor each bite, or were you distractedly scrolling through your phone? Did you stop eating once you were satisfied, or did you finish your entire plate without a second thought?
The manner in which you consume your meals can be mindful or mindless. Most people eat mindlessly on autopilot. However, intuitive eating offers many benefits if you’re willing to give it a try and build upon healthy eating habits.
In this article, you’ll learn about seven mindful eating techniques.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment. It encourages you to become keenly aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness practice offers you a relaxing reprieve from the chaotic hustle and bustle of daily life.
Mindfulness has many notable benefits, especially when it comes to eating. Mindful eating encourages you to slow down and savor your meals, rather than scarfing them down in front of the TV or in a mad dash to work1.
In turn, you’ll appreciate your meals more and become hyper-aware of any negative tendencies in your diet.
That said, mindful eating doesn’t dictate that you follow a specific diet. It only alters the way you consume food. However, over time, eating mindfully may result in you choosing healthier foods. When you eat more mindfully, you’re able to notice how different foods impact your mood and energy.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
By slowing down and tuning in during meals, you’ll notice the following benefits:
- Reduced stress – Many Americans live stressful, busy lives. If you fall into this category, you may be in dire need of some “de-stress” breaks during the day. Since everyone has to eat, mealtime is a great opportunity to relax with mindfulness practice.
- Improved digestion – You digest food easier when you eat in a relaxed state since the parasympathetic nervous system is turned on. Furthermore, intuitive eating encourages you to eat slowly and chew more thoroughly, both of which aid digestion.
- Healthier food decisions – A growing body of research shows that mindful eating helps people make healthier choices when it comes to their diet. That's because many poor food choices are made mindlessly. By cultivating awareness around mealtime, you’ll notice which foods and portion sizes help you feel your best.
- Improved relationship with food – Food is often used as an emotional crux. As a result, many people have poor relationships with food. They either eat foods that degrade their health, or they get caught in destructive yo-yo dieting patterns (jumping back and forth between varying eating habits without gaining full benefits of one). Mindful eating helps break these cycles so you can finally repair and build your healthy relationship with food.
- Maximized enjoyment of food – Eating is a daily pleasure that we get to enjoy a few times a day. Why not make the most of it? After cooking a beautiful meal or ordering one out at a restaurant, you should savor every bite. However, that’s hard to do when you’re distracted, stressed, or rushed. That’s where the mindful eating experience comes into play.
Can You Lose Weight With Mindful Eating?
Another potential perk of mindful eating is losing weight. When you eat mindlessly, it’s all too easy to consume more food than you really need. That's because it takes time for your body to inform your mind that you’re full.
By slowing down and eating mindfully, you will:
- Notice your hunger cues and satiety cues
- Stop when you’re satisfied
- Choose healthier food choices
- Eat proper portion sizes
Altogether, these outcomes of mindful eating may contribute to weight loss or healthy weight maintenance.
How Do I Practice Mindful Eating? 7 Mindful Eating Tips and Tricks
If you’re eager to implement these benefits in your life, try out these seven simple mindful eating tips.
#1 Remove All Distractions
In a sense, mindful eating is a form of meditation. It’s difficult to do any form of meditation with the TV blasting or as you simultaneously scroll through emails. Thus, the first step to mindful eating is eliminating distractions:
- Turn off the TV.
- Place your phone out of reach.
- Take a deep breath.
- Tune in to the present moment.
These steps will prevent you from falling back into an unconscious, autopilot mode and enable you to cultivate more presence and awareness. In turn, your meal will engage your full attention.
#2 Reflect On Your Motivations to Eat
If you find yourself craving a snack, take a moment to ponder your motivations. Are you hungry? Or are you just bored? People often turn to food to distract from uncomfortable emotions, such as stress, anxiety, sadness, or boredom.
Here’s a quick way to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger:
- Physical hunger – Physical hunger comes on gradually. It usually doesn’t show up for a least a couple of hours since your last meal. You’ll notice this hunger in your stomach. You may feel low on energy or lightheaded. Even if you have a particular food in mind, any type of food will satisfy your hunger.
- Emotional hunger – Emotional hunger comes on suddenly (usually in response to a negative emotion). It can creep up anytime, even if you ate recently. You’ll notice yourself craving something specific and only that food will satisfy, whether that’s salty chips or chocolate candy. When you tune in with your stomach, you don’t feel particularly hungry, but you want to eat anyways.
As a mindful eater, you’ll become more attuned to identifying these forms of hunger and types of eating behavior. Over time, you can implement healthier ways to address the emotions that compel you to eat unnecessarily.
#3 Eat Slowly
As you eat, remember to slow down and savor each bite. This mindful eating exercise will allow you to fully appreciate your meal. It will also enable your mind to notice as hunger shifts into satiety. It takes your body nearly 20 minutes to communicate satiety signals to your brain.
Some tips to slow down as you eat include:
- Taking smaller bites
- Chewing them thoroughly (ideally around 30 chews per bite)
- Placing your fork down between each bite
#4 Engage All of Your Senses
Eating is an enjoyable sensory experience. Mindful eating helps you optimize that enjoyment by focusing on each sense with presence and curiosity.
As you eat, engage your senses with the following questions:
- What colors do you notice on your plate?
- How does the food smell?
- How do the flavors taste in each bite?
- What textures do you notice as you chew?
- How does the temperature of the food feel?
- What sounds do you hear when you take a bite?
#5 Pay Close Attention To Your Hunger
Before you select a meal, mindfully check in with your hunger. Are you starving? Or do you just need a small snack? Depending on that data point, you can choose your food and portion size accordingly to avoid overeating.
Next, notice how your hunger slowly transforms into satisfaction as you eat. Once full, you may want to stop eating, even if you haven’t finished your plate. This way, you can avoid overeating and becoming uncomfortably full.
#6 Express Gratitude For Your Food
Research shows that gratitude is associated with higher levels of happiness. Fortunately, gratitude is free and easy to tap into, especially if you enjoy bountiful, healthy food on a daily basis.
Food is something to be grateful for. Not everyone has access to quality food. Take time to appreciate your meal, its delicious flavors, and the nutrition it’s providing. Consider how this meal supports your vitality. Reflect on all the moving parts that were required to get this meal to your plate, from the farmers, to the food transporters, to the grocers and chefs.
By making the eating experience about gratitude, you can improve your mood considerably.
#7 Reflect on How The Food Made You Feel
Not all meals have the same effect. While tasty, a greasy burger may leave you feeling worse off than a fresh plate of vegetables and lean meat. As a mindful eater, you learn to observe these differences and alter your eating habits accordingly.
After you finish eating, tune in with your body and analyze whether you feel:
- Heavy or light?
- Sluggish or energized?
- Stuffed or satisfied?
Consider writing down your observations in a food journal. For example, if you follow a ketogenic diet and begin to experience keto bloating, make sure to track your meals to potentially pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. By doing so, you’ll gradually gain wisdom about which foods promote your optimal health and wellness.
How to Make Mindful Eating a Habit?
Mindful eating is an immersive experience with many benefits. However, it’s understandable if you can’t eat mindfully at every single meal.
If you have a busy schedule or lots of people around you during mealtimes, you may have to sit a few meals out from your mindful eating cycle. That’s okay. Aim to commit just one meal a day to mindfulness and go from there.
As you enjoy the benefits of mindful eating, this practice will become a natural habit over time.
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- Warren, Janet M., et al. “A Structured Literature Review on the Role of Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating in Changing Eating Behaviours: Effectiveness and Associated Potential Mechanisms.” https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews/article/structured-literature-review-on-the-role-of-mindfulness-mindful-eating-and-intuitive-eating-in-changing-eating-behaviours-effectiveness-and-associated-potential-mechanisms/351A3D01E43F49CC9794756BC950EFFC.
- Cherpak CE. Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2019;18(4):48-53. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32549835/.
- Jordan, C. H., Wang, W., Donatoni, L., & Meier, B. P. (2014). Mindful eating: Trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior. Personality and Individual Differences, 68, 107–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.04.013.
- Dunn, C., Haubenreiser, M., Johnson, M. et al. Mindfulness Approaches and Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Weight Regain. Curr Obes Rep 7, 37–49 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-018-0299-6.
- “5 Key Habits of Healthy Eaters.” Mayo Clinic, 9 Dec. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/5-key-habits-of-healthy-eaters/art-20270182.