Are You Eating Mindfully?
Updated: May 16, 2022
For many of us, our busy daily lives often make mealtimes rushed affairs. We find ourselves eating in the car commuting to work, at the desk in front of a computer screen, or parked on the couch watching TV. We eat mindlessly, shoveling food down regardless of whether we’re still hungry or not. In fact, we often eat for reasons other than hunger—to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress, or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom. Mindful eating is the opposite of this kind of unhealthy “mindless” eating.
Mindful eating is maintaining an in-the-moment awareness of the food and drink you put into your body. It involves observing how the food makes you feel and the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction, and fullness. In fact, this ancient practice can transform the way you think about food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Change How We Eat
Mindful eating isn’t about being perfect, always eating the right things, or never allowing yourself to eat on-the-go again. And it’s not about establishing strict rules for how many calories you can eat or which foods you have to include or avoid in your diet. Rather, it’s about focusing all your senses and being present as you shop for, cook, serve, and eat your food.
Simply changing how we eat might be a key to weight loss. Mindful practices like meditation are being used as tools to improve health, lessen pain and dodge sickness in large part because they reduce stress. And since stress is often at the root of overeating, mindfulness seems to make us eat better meals, which means it’s likely possible to lose weight without dieting.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing attention on present-moment experiences. Apply that to a meal, and mindful eating means actually paying attention to the food you’re eating, making you less likely to thoughtlessly plow through a bag of potato chips, for instance.
The only thing you have to focus on is the food. Mindfulness brings you back to the present moment, back to the present meal.
Mindfulness sharpens a person’s ability to recognize internal cues that signal hunger and fullness. That caloric balancing act may be a long-term habit of the mindful. People who were more mindful and paid more attention to body sensations didn’t weigh less than their less mindful peers, but they experienced fewer weight fluctuations over time.
Mindfulness also helps take the claws out of cravings. When you see a cake or chips, you think about what it would be like to take some of it, what it would feel like in your mouth. But mindfulness can disrupt that automatic reaction by reducing the appeal of unhealthy foods. The trick is to think of your food craving, when it pops up, as nothing more than a mere thought. Think of it as a soap bubble - as soon as you touch it, it’s going to disperse.
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Benefits of mindful eating
By paying close attention to how you feel as you eat—the texture and tastes of each mouthful, your body’s hunger and fullness signals, how different foods affect your energy and mood—you can learn to savor both your food and the experience of eating.
Being mindful of the food you eat can promote better digestion, keep you full with less food, and influence wiser choices about what you eat in the future. It can also help you free yourself from unhealthy habits around food and eating.
Eating mindfully can help you to:
Slow down and take a break from the hustle and bustle of your day, easing stress and anxiety.
Examine and change your relationship with food—helping you to notice when you turn to food for reasons other than hunger, for example.
Derive greater pleasure from the food you eat, as you learn to slow down and more fully appreciate your meals and snacks.
Make healthier choices about what you eat by focusing on how each type of food makes you feel after eating it.
Improve your digestion by eating slower.
Feel fuller sooner and by eating less food.
Make a greater connection to where your food comes from, how it’s produced, and the journey it’s taken to your plate.
Eat in a healthier, more balanced way.
How to practice mindful eating
Try the 5 S's - Sit, slow down, savor, simplify, and smile: These are the basic tenets of mindful eating, and with some practice, they'll become second nature before you know it.
To practice mindfulness, you need to participate in an activity with total awareness. In the case of mindful eating, it’s important to eat with all your attention rather than on “automatic pilot” or while you’re reading, looking at your phone, watching TV, daydreaming, or planning what you’re doing later. When your attention strays, gently bring it back to your food and the experience of cooking, serving, and eating.
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Try practicing mindful eating for short, five-minute periods at first and gradually build up from there. And remember: you can begin mindful eating when you’re making your shopping list or browsing the menu at a restaurant. Carefully assess each item you add to your list or choose from the menu.
Start by taking a few deep breaths and considering the health value of each different piece of food. While nutrition experts continually debate exactly which foods are “healthy” and which are not, the best rule of thumb is to eat food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it.
Employ all your senses while you’re shopping, cooking, serving, and eating your food. How do different foods look, smell, and feel as you chop? How do they sound as they’re being cooked? How do they taste as you eat?
Be curious and make observations about yourself, as well as the food you’re about to eat. Notice how you’re sitting, sit with good posture but remain relaxed. Acknowledge your surroundings but learn to tune them out. Focusing on what’s going on around you can distract you from the process of eating and take away from the mindfulness experience.
Tune into your hunger. How hungry are you? You want to come to the table when you’re hungry, but not ravenous after skipping meals. Know what your intentions are in eating this specific meal. Are you eating because you’re actually hungry or is it that you’re bored, need a distraction, or think it’s what you should be doing?
With the food in front of you, take a moment to appreciate it—and any people you’re sharing the meal with—before eating. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of the food. What reactions do you have to the food, and how do the smells make you feel?
Take a bite, and notice how it feels in your mouth. How would you describe the texture now? Try to identify all the ingredients, all the different flavors. Chew thoroughly and notice how you chew and what that feels like.
Focus on how your experience shifts moment to moment. Do you feel yourself getting full? Are you satisfied? Take your time, stay present and don’t rush the experience.
Put your utensils down between bites. Take time to consider how you feel—hungry, satiated—before picking up your utensils again. Listen to your stomach, not your plate. Know when you’re full and stop eating.
Give gratitude and reflect on where this food came from, the plants or animals involved, and all the people it took to transport the food and bring it onto your plate. Being more mindful about the origins of our food can help us all make wiser and more sustainable choices.
Continue to eat slowly as you talk with your dining companions, paying close attention to your body’s signals of fullness. If eating alone, try to stay present to the experience of consuming the food.
Mindful eating is an approach to eating that can complement any eating pattern. Research has shown that mindful eating can lead to greater psychological wellbeing, increased pleasure when eating, and body satisfaction. Combining behavioral strategies such as mindfulness training with nutrition knowledge can lead to healthful food choices that reduce the risk of chronic diseases, promote more enjoyable meal experiences, and support a healthy body image.
About the authors:
Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.
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