Mindful eating has the potential to transform our relationship to food and eating, and to improve our overall health, body image, relationships, and self-esteem.
Over the past 25 years, mindfulness practices have had a positive impact on many areas of psychological and physical health by reducing stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and heart disease. More recently, evidence supports the benefits of mindful eating for the treatment and prevention of obesity.
Based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness (which involves being aware of what is happening in the present moment) and mindfulness meditation, mindful eating is a slow, thoughtful way of eating and can help people make healthy food choices. Engaging in mindful eating practices on a regular basis helps people disengage from old habits and discover a far more satisfying relationship to food and eating.
Mindful eating involves being conscious and noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of food; choosing supportive company while eating; selecting pleasant atmospheres in which to eat; avoiding distractions like television; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food choices. It also involves being fully aware of feelings before, during, and after eating. (For example, it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register a feeling of satiety, or fullness. Eating too quickly can cause the brain to delay the feeling of fullness until after overeating.)
Mindful eating means enjoying your food. When you are eating, savor your food with your eyes and nose as well as your mouth. Let all of your senses enhance your enjoyment of your meal.
According to the Center for Mindful Eating, these tips will help you eat more mindfully.
- Use your awareness of hunger cues to make better choices about when to begin a meal and when to end a meal.
- Try drinking a glass of water before eating. Sometimes, thirst is mistaken for hunger. Drinking a glass of water before a meal fills the stomach and makes it easier to eat less.
- Learn to identify personal triggers for mindless eating (e.g., emotions, social pressures, certain foods, or certain activities).
- Choose quality over quantity when selecting foods (e.g., choose nutrient-dense foods, such as an apple, versus nutrient-empty/calorie-dense foods, such as potato chips).
- Appreciate the nourishing and sensual capacity of food.
- Feel deep gratitude from appreciating and experiencing food.
- Learn to consider the personal and/or social impact of food choices (such as organic food, humanely-raised meats, and locally grown foods).
- Take time to make your meals appealing to your eyes. Incorporate “rainbow foods” in every meal. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables not only to delight your eyes but to benefit your body, as well.
- Begin by eating at least one meal a day or week in a slower, more attentive manner. Then gradually add more meals a day as you practice mindful eating.
- Recognize why you are eating. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
- Use smaller plates to serve your meals upon and make at least half of your servings consist of fruits and vegetables. Place smaller portions on your plate.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you’re right handed, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth. This encourages you to use a different part of your brain and also tends to make you eat more slowly.
- Create a pleasant ambiance when you eat. If you are preparing food for yourself, make the experience inviting by setting the table, turning on music, and lighting candles.
- Eat silently for five minutes. Reflect on all that went into bringing this food to your plate.
- Take small bites and chew well. The aromas are carried from the back of your throat to your nose, enhancing the flavors.
- Keep a daily food and activity diary.