How often do you get to the end of a meal and don’t even remember if you enjoyed what you were eating? Do you shovel the food into your mouth without noticing how it tastes, smells or feels? Most of the time we eat without thinking. We are too busy talking or watching TV or checking our phones for the latest update, and before we know it the meal has finished. It has passed by in a blur without you really enjoying it. Practicing mindful eating is a great way to bring your attention back to your food so that you can savor it again.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is about bringing your attention to the present moment. Conscious eating involves focusing on your thoughts, feelings and sensations while you are eating. Many of us would like to change something about the types of food we eat or how often or how much we eat. Changing your eating habits can be difficult. Eating mindfully is a great way to begin changing your eating habits and building on your mindfulness practice at the same time.
How to Eat Mindfully
Do this for one meal a day for a week.
Mindful Eating Exercise
- Sit comfortably and leave the food in front of you.
- Take a few deep breaths and feel your body sitting on the chair.
- Bring your attention to what you are eating. Look at the food on your plate, really see it.
- Explore with curiosity. How does it look and smell? Look at the colors, shapes and textures.
- If you can, pick it up. How does it feel in your hand?
- Put some into your mouth and then put down your fork. Pay attention to the sensations you feel. Is it hot or cold, hard or soft? How does it taste and feel in your mouth? Is it sweet or sour, mild or strong in flavor?
- Chew slowly as you pay attention to these sensations. What does it feel like on your tongue and teeth. Has the flavor changed? How does it make you feel emotionally. How do you feel as you chew and swallow it?
- Swallow your food and notice how it feels as it goes down your throat and into your stomach. Can you feel it all the way down? How does it make you feel?
- Do you notice any leftover flavors in your mouth?
- Pause during your meal to breathe mindfully and then start again with the next bite.
- Repeat this practice until you are no longer hungry. It is important to only eat until you are satiated, not full.
How to Practice Mindful Eating
Then move on to paying attention to other thoughts and feelings:
- Notice your urges to eat, are they motivated by hunger or emotion?
- Notice your emotions during and after eating. Do you feel different?
- Think about where your food is coming from and the people involved in the process of getting it to your plate.
- Then you can introduce mindfulness into your food preparation as well.
- Another mindful eating activity you can also try is when you are in social occasions. This can be more difficult but not impossible.
If all of that sounds too difficult for you to tackle at once, then try this mindful eating exercise. Start with just one mindful bite a day, or one mindful sip of tea or coffee. Anyone can do that. Then build on your practice over time. Take small steps to ensure your success. It takes time, but with regular practice you can introduce mindful eating into your life.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
The benefits of practicing mindfulness in your daily life include reduced levels of stress, improved immune system and improved general wellbeing. Bring mindfulness and eating together and you gain some added benefits.
- Learn to really enjoy and savor your food.
- Make healthier choices because you are paying attention to your food and what your body needs.
- You may discover any emotional issues you have with food.
- You will be less inclined to overeat and as a result may lose weight if you are currently overweight. While mindful eating for weight loss should not be your primary motivation, it can be a pleasant side effect.
- Reduce or eliminate any digestive issues you may have.
- You can use it as a tool to help with chronic eating problems.
- Learn how different foods affect your energy levels and mood throughout the day.
- As a result, you can learn what foods are best for your body.
Like with meditation and mindfulness, you don’t need years of practice to see some of these benefits. You will start to notice them right away.
Quick Mindful Eating Tips for Success
- Start small, with one bit or one sip.
- Put a reminder where you will see it to “eat mindfully”. On the fridge, the kitchen bench or table.
- Try eating mindfully with different types of foods, a strawberry or grape, a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine. Even try foods you don’t like. Pick something different each day.
- If you forget, don’t worry about it, just start again when you remember.
- Slow down. Eating slowly
Mindful eating is a form of meditation. It is about slowing down, being present and savoring life. Remember to practice when you can and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Mindful Eating Books
If you want to explore further you can try some of these books on mindful eating.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung.
Mindful Eating Apps
If you think you may need some help to encourage you to practice you can try a mindful eating app to help with reminders and advice.
The Mindful Meal Timer for Android will help you to practice mindful and intuitive eating. You will be guided to slow down your eating to engage your senses. It will help you focus on being present with your food, and allow you to feel your fullness as it sets in so you do not overeat. Free.
In The Moment on iOS is a light-hearted app that will help guide you to better food choices when your hunger hits and quick options are needed. It helps you to create some space between your urges and the choices you make. $1.99.
Mindful Bite on iOS is a simple app that will help you slow down between bites, and remind you to stop eating when you are no longer hungry. $1.49.
Mindful Eating Research
Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating concluded that mindful eating can reduce the amount of food you eat.
The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women concluded that eating mindfully was effective in promoting weight management in perimenopausal women.
Mindfulness-based eating awareness training for treating binge eating disorder: the conceptual foundation shows that evidence to date supports the use of mindful eating in decreasing binge episodes, improving one’s sense of self-control with regard to eating, and diminishing depressive symptoms.