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Tired of restrictive diets (which fail most of the time), but equally tired of your less-than-optimal eating habits? Mindful eating may help you make peace with food.
Mindful eating a brain-to-plate approach based on mindfulness — which is all about being fully present in the moment.
What is mindful eating?
It’s an approach to eating that experts have built around:
- recognizing your hunger
- savoring your food
- paying attention to your body’s fullness cues
Mindful eating is not a diet plan. Instead, it’s a great way to reframe how you think about food and approach mealtimes.
Remember the last time you took a bite of some mouthwatering chocolate or a big, juicy burger? And it just dominated your brain for the entire time it was inside your face? And your friends laughed because of the quasi-orgasmic noises you made?
Mindful eating is a way of capturing that vibe and using it to form a different relationship with food.
So, how exactly do you nail mindful eating?
While it sounds like it would come naturally, you may actually have to work at it for a while — especially if you have a lifetime of distracted, emotional, and/or boredom eating to overcome.
As a society, we commonly multi-task and engage in “mindless” eating, while we work at the same time, scroll through social media, watch a show, etc. You’re def not alone in this habit. Most of us could be a little more mindful when it comes to mealtimes.
First, you gotta Marie Kondo your mealtimes. This means:
- Get rid of all clutter and distractions.
- Put the phone away.
- Turn the TV off.
- Sit down at the table (or whatever space you’ve designated for eating).
- Try to avoid eating while driving.
Next, choose the foods you WANT to eat. Mindful eating isn’t a diet, so you don’t have to skip the bread — or the butter, for that matter.
Continuing the Marie Kondo theme, you have complete and unconditional permission to fill your plate with foods that “spark joy.”
Finally, take your time:
- Chew slowly and thoroughly.
- Put your fork down between bites.
- Really savor your food.
By stopping to smell the roses (or bacon), you may be surprised to realize how often you eat without ever really stopping to enjoy it.
Listening to your body
Picking up on hunger and fullness cues can be really tough, especially when we’re used to eating in response to external cues (like boredom or stress) and often noshing so quickly that our brains can’t keep up.
Sometimes external cues — like the actual clock and designated mealtimes, like lunch at work — might get in the way of truly listening to what your body needs, and when.
Learning your body’s hunger and fullness cues are key to beefing up that mindfulness muscle.
Signs of real hunger include an empty or growling stomach and a lack of energy. We tend to tie boredom, stress, or anger to hunger, but these emotional triggers don’t fit the bill as physical symptoms of being hungry (although, being hangry is definitely a real thing).
When you’re really hungry, you may also have a headache and feel light-headed or shaky. But it’s always best to eat before you reach this point.
You usually don’t feel full right after eating — your brain may take a little while to send those signals. By the time they arrive, a fast or distracted eating style might mean you’ve already completely cleared the plate and gone back for seconds.
As a result, frequently eating too quickly may lead to overeating and undesired weight gain.
And while research on the impact of mindful eating is in its earlier stages, studies have suggested that eating slowly has links to a decreased risk of weight gain.
For this reason, eating slooooooowly enough for your brain to keep up is another key to mindful eating success.
Eating is a marathon, not a sprint. Except it’s more fun than both.
This exercise can help you understand how to approach each meal in a mindful way. If it feels kinda silly, that’s OK — embrace it!
All you’ll need is your favorite cookie.
- Pick up the cookie, and inspect it like you’re trying it for the first time —front and back, noting how it looks, how it feels, and how much it weighs in your hand. (Be like “Ooh, a cookie! Lookie!”)
- Now take a big whiff. What does it smell like? Does smelling it make your mouth water? Are you ready to take a bite? Make a note of these sensations and continue taking your time.
- Take a bite of the cookie and hold it in your mouth without chewing for a second. What does it feel and taste like? Can you pick up on some new flavors or textures that maybe you hadn’t noticed before?
- Now chew slowly and fully before swallowing, paying attention to any changes in taste or texture that occur while you’re chewing. Is it crunchy? Soft?
- Wait until after you’ve fully swallowed before taking your next bite.
So, can we agree that, 99 percent of the time, we’re not paying that much attention to our food? All that sauteing for nothing.
As you continue to practice mindful eating, this thoughtful approach toward your meal will become more automatic (and less awkward).
Mindful eating might help you work through your food hang-ups, be they food guilt from eating a carb, regularly eating when you’re not hungry, or binge eating.
Mindful eating and weight loss
While it’s not a diet, and some OGs in the game like Evelyn Tribole (dietitian and author of Intuitive Eating) would tell you that weight loss is not the goal, but mindful eating *might* help you manage your body weight.
A 2019 study compared mindful eating approaches to commercial diet programs. The authors found that practicing mindful eating may result in a similar amount of weight loss.
This makes sense. After all, if you’re paying closer attention to your internal hunger and fullness cues, you may naturally eat less than before.
Mindful eating and binge eating
Mindful eating may also be particularly helpful for people who binge-eat.
A review of 19 studies found that binging behaviors significantly reduced after the participants’ introduction to mindfulness and mindful eating concepts.
Healthcare pros have been using mindfulness more often as a treatment for binge eating disorder (BED), an eating disorder characterized by frequent binging episodes.
Binge eating disorder is no picnic
🚨 Big 🚨 Disclaimer 🚨
Binge eating disorder can have a serious and lasting impact on your mental well-being and overall health.
If you think you may have BED, you should seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.
Mindful eating and unhealthy behaviors
Finally, mindful eating may also help with other unhealthy eating behaviors like boredom eating, emotional eating, or even grazing (not you, cows, you do you).
That mental check-in before you eat can help you work out whether you’re truly feeling hunger, or if you’re responding to something else (boredom, your fave TV show getting canceled, a break up, a global pandemic, political uprisings, etc… y’know, normal everyday stressors in 2021) with a desire to eat.
If you’re stressed, rather than hungry, these de-stressing tips might help you unwind before reaching for the candy.
Ready to dive a little deeper? Get a mind full of mindful eating with these books:
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays
- Mastering Mindful Eating: Transform Your Relationship with Food by Michelle Babb
- Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers and Lilian Cheung
- Hungry For Happiness by Samantha Skelly
They’re available to purchase online.
Practicing mindful eating takes, well, practice. Here a few simple steps you can start putting in place at meal times to help get your mind right:
- Avoid distractions, like the TV, your phone, or being behind the wheel (although we’d argue that food is the distraction while you’re driving, not vice versa) (we really recommend not using cutlery while you zoom down the I-9).
- Eat slowly and chew completely before swallowing. Try putting your fork down between bites or taking a small sip of water between bites to help you slow down.
- Pay attention to the taste, smell, appearance, and texture of your food. How does it feel in your mouth? Where on your tongue does the flavor hit? Is it spicy, umami, or complex? What does it taste like? Even if you can’t work out the answers, just paying attention is the point.
Over time and with practice, mindfulness won’t require quite so much of your mental energy. And, soon, you’ll become the champ of chomp.
Mindful eating is food philosophy that centers around paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues instead of external and/or emotional cues to eat.
It involves removing distractions, taking your time, and having mental check-ins with yourself to assess your true hunger or fullness.
It’s *not* a diet. But mindful eating might promote weight management and help with binge-eating or other potentially harmful eating behaviors.