Mindful Eating

If you’ve ever been shocked at how quickly the bag of popcorn disappears during the movie, or how easy it is to plow through your lunch while you’re working at the computer, you’ve experienced mindless eating. Most of us have mindless eating well in hand, but mindful eating is less familiar.

Dinner / Peter Hellberg / CC BY 2.0

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating means giving your full attention to the act of eating and drinking—experiencing it more intensely and enjoying it more. Many of us tend to distract ourselves during eating, with the internet, work, television,  or we simply rush through our meals. We don’t take time to really notice what’s going into our mouths and may not realize how much food we’ve consumed and we may end a meal not feeling satisfied.

Mindful eating is a not a diet, but practicing mindful eating has been shown to benefit those who tend to overeat,  possibly by helping them “check in” with their bodies during meals instead of rushing through the meal. Research indicates that mindful eating helps people notice their level of fullness earlier, allowing them to eat smaller portions.

How do I eat mindfully?

What are the basic things to know about learning to eat mindfully? To eat mindfully you need to slow down, relax a bit and generally just be present when eating. Take time to think about all the sensations the food or drink brings to us. Notice how beautifully green the pear is, how effervescent the seltzer is, how pucker-producing the pickle spear is, how chewy the barley is or how sweet the banana is.

Mindful eating also means observing how your body reacts to the food or drink—noticing when you start to feel satisfied, or if you’re still thirsty, for example. Eating mindfully does not mean eating judgmentally—it’s not about telling yourself how much to eat, or what to eat or not eat. If you find yourself getting distracted during eating, just calmly redirect your focus back to your food. Mindful eating experts emphasize that practicing the technique should be enjoyable, not stressful.

Three Ways to Eat More Mindfully

You can eat mindfully without spending all your waking moments thinking about food. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it may take some practice to un-learn old eating habits. Here are three things you can do to start eating more mindfully:

1. Start by just putting your food on a plate or bowl in the kitchen (not family style at the table). Sit down at a table or counter with no distractions.

2. When eating a snack or meal, take the first five minutes (set a timer perhaps) to focus your awareness on the meal. Appreciate your food—look at it, taste it, savor it and think about how that food makes your body feel.

3. Slow down your eating pace—put your fork down between bites, chew slowly and take time between bites to converse with an eating companion, if you have one. Aim to take 20 minutes to eat a full meal—it can take that long for our minds to realize that we are full.