- Zen Your Diet
- The 7 Practices of a Mindful Eater
- 1. Honor the food. Start the meal with the five contemplations, or with whatever traditional grace or prayer you prefer to use to express your gratitude.
- 2. Engage all six senses.
- 3. Serve in modest portions.
- 4. Savor small bits, and chew thoroughly.
- 5. Eat slowly and avoid overeating.
- 6. Don’t skip meals.
- 7. Eat a plant-based diet, for your health and for the planet.
- 8 steps to mindful eating
- What is mindful eating?
- How to Develop a Mindful Eating Practice
- Health Benefits of Mindful Eating
- General Principles of Mindful Eating
- Mindful Eating Practices
- Get The Little Book of Mindfulness
- 20 Mindful Eating Tips That Will Transform Your Relationship with Food
- 2. Sit down
- 3. Eat a little more slowly
- 4. Turn off the T.V. & Close your phone (and anything else)
- 5. Put down your utensil
- 6. Chew 30 times
- 7. Eat in silence
- 8. Take a moment to breathe
- 9. Switch hands
- 10. Be a food critic
- 11. Notice certain cues
- 12. Turn your fork upside down
- 13. Change your utensil
- 14. Eat food that takes work
- 15. Have a mindful drink
- 16. See giver, receiver, and gift
- 17. Cooking the Buddha
- 18. Look deeply into your meal
- 19. Change up what, or where, you eat
- 20. Designate a “mindful snack”
- It’s Time to Eat (Mindfully)
- 1. Mindfully explore your food issues
- 2. Remove addictive foods
- 3. Prepare for each meal by calming the body
- 4. Pause before beginning each meal
- 5. Be mindful about each bite
- 6. Pause sometime mid-meal
- 7. Reflect mindfully at the end of your meal
- 9 Mindfulness Tips to Eat Smart and Lose Weight
- What Is Mindful Eating?
- Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?
- 9 Mindfulness Tricks to Help You Eat Smarter
- 1. Pause before you eat to ask yourself why you’re eating
- 2. Chew each bite thoroughly and savor it
- 3. Drink water before meals
- 4. Eat vibrant, flavorful foods
- 5. Eat without distractions
- 6. Wait before getting seconds
- 7. When you feel the urge to snack, make a cup of tea first
- 8. Take note of your cravings
- 9. Eat with joy, not judgment
- How to Make Mindful Eating a Regular Part of Your Diet
Zen Your Diet
an excerpt from Savor: Mindful Eating Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
At home, reserve a time for dinner. Turn off the TV; put away the newspapers, magazines, mail and homework. If you are eating with others, work together to help prepare dinner. Each of you can help with washing the vegetables, cooking or setting the table. When all the food is on the table, sit down and practice conscious breathing a few times to bring your body and mind together, and recover yourselves from a hard day’s work. Be fully present for each other, and for the food in front of you.
After a few conscious breaths, look at each other with a gentle smile and acknowledge each other’s presence. If you are eating alone, don’t forget to smile to yourself. Breathing and smiling are so easy to do, yet their effects are very powerful in helping us and others to feel at ease. When we look at the food in such a moment of peace, the food becomes real and reveals our connection with it and with everything else. The extent to which we see our interrelationship with the food depends on the depth of our mindfulness practice. We may not always be able to see and taste the whole universe every time we eat, but we can do our best to eat as mindfully as possible
When we look at our food on the table, it is helpful to name each dish: “pea soup,” “salad” and so on. Calling something by its name helps us touch it deeply and see its true nature. And mindfulness reveals to us the presence or absence of toxins in each dish so that we can stop eating something that is not good for us.Children enjoy naming and recognizing foods when we show them how.
Being with our family and friends to enjoy food is precious. Many people are hungry and without family. When we eat in mindfulness, we generate compassion in our heart for them. With compassion and understanding, we can strengthen our commitment to helping nourish the hungry and lonely people around us. Mindful eating is a good education. If you practice this way for some time, you will find that you will eat more carefully, and your practice of mindful eating will be an example for others. It is an art to eat in a way that brings mindfulness into our life.
The 7 Practices of a Mindful Eater
One way to incorporate mindfulness into your meals is to simply use the breath. Before eating, make a practice of pausing. Breathe in and out a few times so that you can be one with the food you are about to eat. Mindful eating takes dedicated practice, and there are seven practices that you can develop to help you eat mindfully for good health.
1. Honor the food. Start the meal with the five contemplations, or with whatever traditional grace or prayer you prefer to use to express your gratitude.
The Five Contemplations
- This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard, loving work.
- May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
- May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
- May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
- We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.
If you are eating with others, steer mealtime conversations toward the food: Acknowledge the local farmer who grew your lettuce and tomatoes, thank the person who prepared the salad; or talk about other topics that help nourish your gratitude and connection to your food and each other. Refrain from hashing over work or the latest atrocities in the news. Refrain from arguing. This can help you make sure that you are chewing only your food, not your frustrations. In Vietnam it is a custom to never chastise anyone while they are eating, so as not to disturb their eating and digestion. We can learn from this very commonsense wisdom. Eating in this way, we have the opportunity to sit with people we love and to savor precious food, something that is often scarce for many people in the world.
At all Plum Village practice centers, we eat our meals in silence during the first 20 minutes of the meal so that we are fully immersed in the experience of eating. We encourage you to experiment with a silent meal at home — even just a silent cup of tea. But you do not need to eat every meal in silence to become a more mindful eater. You can start by simply unplugging from daily distractions during mealtime: turn off the television, the laptop, the cell phone, so there is no watching, no surfing, no texting.
2. Engage all six senses.
As you serve and eat your meal, notice the sounds, colors, smells and textures as well as your mind’s response to them, not just the taste. When you put the first bite of food in your mouth, pause briefly before chewing and notice its taste as though it was the first time you had ever tasted it. With more practice in engaging all of your senses, you may notice that your tastes change, increasing your enjoyment of what you may once have perceived as “boring” health foods.
3. Serve in modest portions.
Moderation is an essential component of mindful eating. Not only does making a conscious effort to choose smaller portions help you avoid overeating and weight gain; it is also less wasteful of your household food budget and our planet’s resources. Using a small dinner plate, no larger than 9 inches across, and filling it only once can help you eat more moderately.
4. Savor small bits, and chew thoroughly.
Consciously choosing smaller bites and chewing them well can help you slow down your meal as well as allow you to fully experience the taste of your food. It can also help improve your digestion, since the process of breaking down our foods begins with enzymes in the mouth. Chew each bite until the food is liquefied in your mouth; that may be 20 to 40 times, depending on what you are eating. Chewing well allows your tongue and palate to taste the food better. Once you have swallowed this bite, you will still be able to savor the wonderful taste that the food offers you.
5. Eat slowly and avoid overeating.
Eating slowly may help you notice when you are feeling pleasantly satisfied so that you can stop before you have eaten too much. There is a difference between feeling that you have had just about enough to eat and feeling as though you have eaten all that you can possibly eat. Mindful eaters practice the former so that they are not overtaxing their bodies — or overtaxing the planet’s resources — by consuming more food than they need. In Chinese medicine, it is recommended to eat only until you are 80 percent full and never to “top off your tummy,” because this weakens the digestive power of your stomach and intestines, putting too much stress on them over the long haul. There is ongoing scientific research on the effects of caloric restriction on longevity, though the results are far from conclusive in humans. Of course, avoiding overeating is half of the secret to weight control.
One way to slow down is to consciously put your eating utensils down in between bites. Be aware of your body as you eat. When we eat mindfully, we are relaxed and calm. There is no rush to attend to other tasks; there is no hurry. There is only the present moment. To help you practice this, make sure to allow enough time to enjoy the meal. If your mealtime is short — for example, during your lunch break at work — plan on a smaller meal rather than cramming down a large meal quickly.
6. Don’t skip meals.
Skipping meals can make it harder to make mindful choices. When hunger consumes us, the strong forces of habit energy may lead us to grab whatever foods are close at hand — be they from a vending machine or a fast-food restaurant — and these foods may not further our healthy-eating or weight-loss goals. So-called grazing — moving from one food to another, a few bites of this, a few bites of that, without ever sitting down to a regular meal — can also work against your healthy-weight goals, because you may consume more food than you realize without ever feeling truly satisfied. So give yourself the opportunity to make mindful choices throughout the day; plan regular meals and, if it suits you, healthy snacks in between. It is also good to eat your meals at the same time each day, to help your body settle into a consistent rhythm. And give yourself enough time to fully savor your food so that you are aware of all the sensory delights your meals have to offer.
7. Eat a plant-based diet, for your health and for the planet.
When mindful eaters look deeply at the meal they are about to eat, they see far beyond the rim of the plate. They see the dangerous toll that eating some types of animal foods can take on their bodies — the higher risks of colon cancer from red meat and processed meats, for example, or the higher risk of heart disease from the saturated fat found in meat and dairy products. And they see the equally dangerous and destructive toll that meat production and dairy farming take on our environment. Researchers at the University of Chicago estimate that, when it’s all added up, the average American could do more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching from a Camry to a Prius. Even just switching from red meat and dairy to poultry or eggs for one day a week could have a measurable impact on global warming — and a bigger environmental impact than choosing locally sourced foods.
8 steps to mindful eating
Published: January, 2016
This ancient practice can transform the way you think about food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Like most of us, you’ve probably eaten something in the past few hours. And, like many of us, you may not be able to recall everything you ate, let alone the sensation of eating it. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we’re doing something else, too. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating. And this mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we’re consuming—may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” The tenets of mindfulness apply to mindful eating as well, but the concept of mindful eating goes beyond the individual. It also encompasses how what you eat affects the world. We eat for total health,” Dr. Cheung says. That’s essentially the same concept that drove the development of the 2015 pro-posed U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which, for the first time, considered sustainability of food crops as well as the health benefits of the foods.
Although the ideal mindful-eating food choices are similar to the Mediterranean diet—centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils—the technique can be applied to a cheeseburger and fries. By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may indulge in these types of foods less often. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. However, adopting the practice may take more than a few adjustments in the way you approach meals and snacks. In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life and companion website, www.savorthebook.com, Dr. Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest several practices that can help you get there, including those listed below.
1. Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid the center aisles—which are heavy with processed foods—and the chips and candy at the check-out counter.
2. Come to the table with an appetite— but not when ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.
3. Start with a small portion. It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.
4. Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.
5. Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to color, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.
6. Take small bites. It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.
7. Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.
8. Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won’t bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates.
For help getting started
An increasing number of nutritionists and programs offer instruction in the technique, ranging from spiritual retreat centers to hospitals and medical centers. A medically based program may even be covered by health insurance. The website of the Center for Mindful Eating (www.thecenterformindfuleating.org) lists coaches throughout the country.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
How to Develop a Mindful Eating Practice
“The core principles of mindful eating include being aware of the nourishment available through the process of food preparation and consumption, choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods, acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally, recognizing and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues, and using wisdom to guide eating decisions.” –Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD
Keeping up with a modern, fast-paced lifestyle can leave little time for tuning into your needs. You’re constantly moving from one thing to the next, not paying attention to what your mind or body is truly craving. Practicing mindfulness can help you become aware of those needs.
When mindfulness is applied to eating, it can help you recognize your patterns and behaviors, while bringing attention to bodily cues associated with hunger and fullness.
Stemming from the practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction, practicing mindfulness while eating can help you focus on the present moment rather than continuing habitual and unsatisfying behaviors. Mindful eating is a way to begin a path of looking inward to help you become more aware of your relationship with food, and use that awareness to eat with enjoyment.
The body carries a lot of knowledge and information, so when you apply mindfulness to the eating experience, you can start to make conscious choices, instead of falling into automatic—and oftentimes emotion-driven—behaviors. Once you become aware of these habits, you’re better equipped to change your actions.
People who choose to approach food and nutrition with mindfulness are encouraged to:
- Explore their own inner intelligence about food—likes and dislikes
- Choose foods that are pleasing to and nourishing to their bodies
- Accept particular food preferences without judgment or self-criticism
- Practice awareness of their body’s cues to start eating and to stop eating
- Understand that their food preferences and eating experiences are unique to them
Health Benefits of Mindful Eating
According to a six-week pilot study at the Oregon Research Institute, “eating focused mindfulness-based intervention can result in significant changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological distress in obese individuals.” Results also showed a decline in binge eating, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.
Practicing mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques can also help prevent weight gain, according to the Journal of Obesity.
General Principles of Mindful Eating
One approach to mindful eating is based on the guiding principles provided by Rebecca J. Frey, Ph.D., and Laura Jean Cataldo, RN:
- Listen to your body’s internal cues about hunger and satiety
- Identify personal triggers for mindless eating, such as social pressures, strong emotions, and particular foods
- Pay attention to the quality rather than the quantity of your food
- Appreciate the sensual or pleasurable, as well as the nutritional qualities of food
Mindful Eating Practices
With some basic guidelines in place, try putting mindful eating into practice. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Start with One Meal
Getting started with any new habit takes time. Creating mindful eating habits can be tough to do all the time, but you can practice with a single meal or even part of a meal. Try paying attention to hunger cues and your food choices before you begin eating or tune into the feelings of satiety at the end of a meal—these are great ways to begin an attention practice.
2. Remove Distractions from View
Place your cell phone in another room, or turn it off entirely. Turn off the television and computer and put away anything else—like books, magazines, and newspapers—that may distract you from the eating experience. Give your full attention to the meal in front of you.
3. Tune into Your Perspective
Become aware of your mindset when you begin this practice. Recognize that there is not a right or wrong way to eat, but simply different levels of awareness around the eating experience. Focus your attention on the sensations of eating. When you notice your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to the experience of eating.
4. Engage Your Senses
There are many ways to experiment with this practice. Try using all of your senses to investigate one food item. Notice the smells, textures, colors, and flavors when you place food in your mouth. Try noticing how the food changes as you chew each bite thoroughly.
5. Take Your Time
Mindful eating requires slowing down, which allows your digestive hormones to tell your brain you’re full before eating too much. Setting your fork down between bites is a great way to slow you down. Plus, you’ll be better able to enjoy the experience of your meal, especially if you’re with loved ones.
Practicing mindfulness in a busy world can be challenging at times, but you can find ways to more easily tune into your body by understanding and implementing these basic guiding principles and practices. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you discover just how much your relationship with food can change for the better—and this can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center’s Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Keeping up with a modern, fast-paced lifestyle can leave little time for tuning into your needs. To help, we invite you to join us for our 6-day Perfect Health program. During the program, you’ll feel the stress and tension melt away as our team of highly trained Chopra Center physicians, certified educators, and healing arts masters help you restore your mind and body back to balance and address any personal health and life concerns.
Get The Little Book of Mindfulness
Every day, we lose ourselves in the patterns of daily life. Our habit energy pushes and pulls us to and fro and we’re left with little opportunity for experiencing life in a way that we’re fully present for this very moment.
Some daily activities lend themselves more to this state of autopilot than others. There are some things in our life which we do so often that we become like drones, doing them in a mindless and habitual manner day in and day out. Those activities include walking, driving, certain types of work, as well as eating (among others).
But these activities also lend themselves to mindfulness practice because while these patterns are attractive to the pull of habit energy, they’re also the perfect thing to grab onto when we want to become fully present to our lives in any given moment.
Mindfulness is both the quality and the practice of becoming (and staying) fully present to our lives in this very moment. It’s mindfulness which allows us to break these habitual patterns and make a change for a more present and wakeful life.
Eating perhaps lends itself to mindfulness practice more than any other activity. This is because we find the flavors we experience when we eat often both interesting and varied and the act of eating enjoyable. And so it’s through the simple practice of mindful eating that we can become more awake to our lives and discover greater peace and joy in the process.
We can also, at times, develop bad habits in connection with food and the act of eating. These bad habits, some even considered disorders, can cause us a lot of suffering.
The practice of mindful eating can shine a light on our habitual patterns connected with eating and food itself. And in doing so, we can relieve much of the suffering we experience connected with the food on our plate.
The practice of mindful eating is simple. To eat mindfully, simply:
- Pause- Take a moment before eating to notice the aroma, visual appeal, and even texture of the food. Savor the various sensations which accompany your meal. This short moment will help your awareness open up so that you become more fully present to the act of eating.
- Eat mindfully- Be mindful of the lifting of your hand/fork/spoon and the act of chewing the food itself. Pay close attention to each flavor in your mouth and notice how the food feels and smells as you eat it. As your primary point of (light) concentration during mindful eating, be fully present for the act of chewing.
- Acknowledge thoughts, feelings, and sensations- When thoughts, feelings, or other sensations arise within your field of awareness, simply be mindful of them, acknowledging their presence, and then allow them to pass as if they were floating by on a cloud.
- Eat mindfully (again)- Then, bring your focus back to the act of chewing. You’ll lose your mindfulness constantly in the beginning. Don’t worry, this is normal for any form of mindfulness practice. Simply repeat the process from steps 2-4 and attempt to eat mindfully for as much of your meal as possible.
While eating with mindfulness remain open to any thought, feeling, or sensation that comes into your field of awareness and don’t attempt to push them away. Accept whatever arises openly and then bring your focus back.
The practice of mindful eating is simple, but there are many little tips and tricks you can take advantage of to help improve your ability to eat mindfully and to take your mindfulness practice further. Here are 20 mindful eating tips:
20 Mindful Eating Tips That Will Transform Your Relationship with Food
Many of us grew up in families (or knew someone who did) who prayed or gave thanks before meals, so this is one you’re likely familiar with.
But whether or not you’ve ever done it yourself, you can take a cue from that and do your own little practice of gratitude at mealtime.
Just take a moment to appreciate the meal in front of you. Cultivate gratitude for it by thinking of the huge amount of work it must have taken to get all of the various ingredients together for you to enjoy this wonderful meal (really, when you think about it, it’s pretty astonishing).
This practice isn’t just good for your well-being, it helps you center your attention on the meal in front of you, so it’s the perfect practice to start each meal off with.
2. Sit down
For some, this may sound obvious and a given. For others, this will be difficult!
Because mindfulness practice is about becoming fully present to our lives in the “now”, in this case through the daily activity of eating, it’s a bad idea to attempt to eat mindfully while being on the move walking (running?) or driving somewhere. Correction: it’s not going to happen (at least successfully).
Part of mindfulness practice is about doing one thing at a time, so do yourself a favor and respect meal time. Sit down, relax, and become present to the meal in front of you.
3. Eat a little more slowly
There is a misconception that you have to do something slowly to do it with mindfulness.
That’s not quite true, but it may be necessary at the beginning when you’re just getting the hang of mindfulness practice. The reason for this is that to do something slowly helps us focus mentally on the activity at hand.
The more quickly we move the more difficult it is for our mind to keep up with our body, so slowing down is an increased opportunity for mindfulness.
4. Turn off the T.V. & Close your phone (and anything else)
At this point, this one should seem like a natural progression from the first few points.
We’re trying to put our complete and undivided attention on the moment that we’re eating- both on the act of eating and on whatever arises within that moment of eating- so any electronic devices within eyesight can serve as distractions from our mindfulness practice.
Turn off your T.V., close your phone, turn away or at least sit away from your desktop computer, and away from anything else that could potentially distract you while you’re eating.
5. Put down your utensil
This is all about being fully present to each bite that you eat.
The way we usually eat, we take a bite and then immediately begin preparing another bite to eat as we’re chewing the original bite. This is a subtle version of multi-tasking, a habit you’re trying to undo with mindfulness practice.
What you’ll notice very quickly, if you’ve just begun your mindfulness practice (or even if you’ve been practicing), is that we don’t know how to properly focus on one activity. Some of the ways we multi-task are so subtle they’re difficult to detect. Mindfulness practice begins to change that, albeit slowly.
The next time you eat, make it a point to be fully present for the bite in your mouth. Leave your utensil on the table and experience that bite fully with mindfulness.
6. Chew 30 times
In 5 Powerful Ways Mindful Eating Will Transform Your Relationship With Food, I talked about how Zen Buddhist monks and nuns chew each bite of food no less than 30 times:
They do this to help improve their practice of mindful eating, therein emphasizing the act of chewing, the focal point in mindful eating.
The way most of us eat, we chew just a few times and swallow what are still larger pieces. Not only do we throw down our meal quickly and not leave much time to be present or much less rest ourselves in peace and quiet, we’re not very kind to our digestive systems.
By chewing each bite at least 30 times, we not only help promote mindfulness practice, but we’re kinder to our body and our mind as a result.
When you first practice this it can be difficult to fight the impulse to swallow your food, but with practice, it will become easier. It’s definitely worth making the effort.
7. Eat in silence
Aside from chewing each bite 30 times, Zen monastics also eat each meal in silence.
The reason for this is that silence itself, as blank and empty as it might seem when we think about it in our heads, in reality, is very nourishing.
Explaining why is difficult, but any form of activity, even a simple conversation, brings additional activity to the mind. And this activity, when constant and unrelenting as it so often is for us in our everyday lives, perpetuates a greater sense of chaos and confusion (however subtle).
This is OK for a time, but eventually, and regularly, we need a break. Silence allows us to go home to ourselves more easily, which is really what mindfulness allows us to do more than anything else. For this reason, it’s the perfect complement to mindfulness practice.
8. Take a moment to breathe
From time to time, you can stop eating and take a moment to become mindful of your breath.
You can either simply be mindful of the quality of your breathing right now or take 3 purposefully deep and mindful breaths. If you’re new to mindfulness practice, I’d suggest simply paying attention to the breath as it is.
This simple but powerful mindfulness practice will help recenter your focus as several minutes of doing the same thing can often lead to mindlessness and falling asleep (literally).
9. Switch hands
This might feel a little awkward, but by switching hands, you’ll compel yourself to eat with greater mindfulness because of the extra work your brain needs to do to keep up.
This is a really simple mindful eating tip that can help you in the beginning of your mindful eating practice.
10. Be a food critic
This is one of my favorite mindful eating tips on this list and one that can completely put you into the right state of mind in an instant, so it’s really helpful.
Act like you’re a food critic (whether your meal is fine dining or leftovers) and eat slowly and carefully while paying attention to every little flavor that arises while eating. Pay attention to every little sensation you feel as a result of each individual bite.
Of course, stop short of the damming restaurant review. That won’t be very helpful to you in your practice.
There’s really nothing more to it than that. That simple state of mind can often be all you need to bring more mindfulness and attentiveness to meal time.
11. Notice certain cues
While eating, certain sensations will arise such as the feeling of hunger, satisfaction, fullness, and sometimes overfullness! Be particularly on the look out for these cues.
By doing this, you make it easier to notice the other things which arise while being mindful and that will further sharpen your mindfulness and concentration.
12. Turn your fork upside down
This is an easy tip which helps keep you present while eating. The idea is as simple as it sounds. There are two ways to eat:
- Fork pointing up – Scooping motion, no need for accuracy. Laziness possible.
- Fork pointing down – Stabbing motion, accuracy, and attention necessary. Laziness not possible, for the most part.
That says it all: eating with your fork pointing down, with a stabbing motion to pick up your food, is the way to go (most of the time, at least) as it helps keep you more attentive and present while eating. And that helps your practice of mindful eating.
13. Change your utensil
This is another simple mindful eating tip which helps for much the same reason that switching hands and pointing your fork down helps.
By now you may have noticed that while you can do anything mindfully, mindfulness is improved greatly when we create the right environment for us to concentrate on our point of focus (in the case of mindful eating, that being the act of chewing, tasting, etc.).
The idea is simple: use a different utensil that makes it a bit more difficult to eat. This can be a variety of things, but the easiest and most accessible options would be chopsticks and a smaller spoon/fork.
Personally, chopsticks are very accessible and really help to improve my ability to stay present while eating. And they can be used to eat most things, so I’d suggest trying this out.
Of course, if you grew up using chopsticks this might not be the case for you. So, keep that in mind.
14. Eat food that takes work
This is obviously not something you can always take advantage of, but when possible eat a meal or snack that takes work to eat such as seeded grapes, pistachios, or an orange.
That little bit of work to avoid the seed, break the shell, or peel and separate the orange can not only mix up the act of eating and create more variety but help keep you attentive naturally.
Plus, we’re talking about eating more whole foods, which is always a good thing.
15. Have a mindful drink
As I mentioned earlier, some activities are better suited for mindfulness practice than others. Drinking is one of those activities. Particularly something very hot or cold.
You could make a regular practice of drinking a cup of tea or coffee each day mindfully before your breakfast or another meal. This is a highly nourishing practice in itself that also serves to make you more mindful before your meal, so it’s a win-win.
You can read how to practice a simple mindfulness tea (or substitute) meditation here.
16. See giver, receiver, and gift
May we with all beings realize the emptiness of the three wheels- giver, receiver, and gift.
Certain Zen practitioners chant the above simple phrase before every meal. The idea is to remind themselves that their meal was a gift and to see the true nature of life itself in the meal. Specifically, the oneness of giver, receiver, and gift.
By repeating this simple phrase, you can perpetuate a subtle shift in the way that you see the world. The shift from giver, receiver, and gift being separate to them being one constantly connected, interrelated, and even same entity.
Like looking deeply into the food that you eat (#18), this point doesn’t just enhance mealtime and make it a more nourishing activity, but it helps us bring more mindfulness to the activity at hand by focusing the mind.
17. Cooking the Buddha
As I mention in this and the next point, the practice of mindful eating can extend beyond just the eating of the food. Cooking the Buddha is about cooking and preparing your food mindfully so as to deepen your relationship with the food and emphasize mindfulness.
I originally wrote about this in my book, Zen for Everyday Life:
When you cook or prepare food, as you gather your ingredients, lay them out, cut them up, and put them wherever they need to go (a pot, pan, stove), be mindful of exactly what you’re doing in that very moment. You’re not cooking food to be eaten, you’re simply cooking the food, and you’re doing it with all of your being.
18. Look deeply into your meal
In 5 Powerful Ways Mindful Eating Will Transform Your Relationship With Food, I talked about contemplating on the true nature of the food you’re eating:
We can take mindful eating one step further by contemplating on the nature of the food in front of us.
Like taking a magnifying glass to something, contemplating on the true nature of our food is the practice of looking deeply into each individual piece of food on our plate and seeing not only where it comes from but also what it’s made up of.
Looking, or seeing, deeply is a simple exercise made popular by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh which involves essentially picking an object, particularly a natural object such as a whole fruit, vegetable, or plant, and working backwards to the “origin” of the object and seeing all the countless factors or “ingredients” that allowed that piece of fruit to exist as it is in this moment.
This exercise can really deepen your experience with the food in front of you and turn each meal into a chance to nourish your well-being.
19. Change up what, or where, you eat
Another simple thing you can do is to simply change up what you eat, or where you eat, from time to time.
This is simple, but, changing up anything, from what you have for breakfast from cereal to fresh fruit to eating next to your bedroom window as opposed to your kitchen table, can help compel you to greater mindfulness.
This won’t last forever, but often all you need is a little switch up to further promote your mindfulness practice and help make it more of a daily habit.
20. Designate a “mindful snack”
One thing I often talk about for those new to mindfulness practice is designating a single major everyday activity and focusing on that for a week or two (at least). Make it the one and only activity you place any focus on for that time.
The idea there is to develop mindfulness as a daily practice, and it works great in this case as well.
About 2 years ago I did this with watermelon juice. My wife makes incredible watermelon juice, so my sons and I would often request it- especially during the summer- to the point where we drank it every week. I decided that would be my “mindful food/snack” and so I simply focused on being mindful of that with regards to everything I ate and drank and nothing else (aside from my tea in the mornings).
That might sound like a weird thing to do this with, but I enjoyed it so much and the color and fragrance were so strong that when I drank it I’d naturally be compelled to some greater state of mindfulness, so I decided to use that to my advantage.
Preferably, do this with a snack you really enjoy and whose flavor and/or fragrance or visual appeal is strong so that it helps compel you to greater mindfulness. Do this for a week or two and you’ll find yourself practicing mindful eating more often throughout each day. This is a powerful strategy and definitely one of my favorite mindful eating tips on this list.
It’s Time to Eat (Mindfully)
No matter how you choose to bring the practice of mindful eating into your life, know that it’s both highly nourishing and a simple and easy mindfulness practice to start with. And if you’ve practiced mindfulness for some time but just haven’t given it a try yet? It’s a powerful practice for bringing more mindfulness into your life.
I hope these 20 mindful eating tips help you not only live with more mindfulness but bring greater peace and happiness into your life as a result.
Mindful eating is about allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your inner wisdom.
It also practices using all of your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. Along with acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes, or neutral) without judgment, you become aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
Eating mindfully involves:
- Acknowledging that there is no right or wrong way to eat
- There are varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food
- Accepting that everyone’s eating experiences are unique
- Directing your attention to eating on a moment-by-moment basis
- Recognizing how you make choices that support health and well-being
- Becoming aware of the interconnection of the Earth with living beings, and cultural practices and the impact of your choices on those.
- To promote balance, choice, wisdom and acceptance.
Once you’ve got the hang of this, mindful eating will become more natural. Then you can focus on implementing this method into more meals!
Do you want to create a better relationship with food?
Maybe you follow the standard recommendations for healthy eating, but they don’t seem to work for you—and you’re always fighting off cravings. Or maybe you’re constantly distracted by technology and overwhelmed by busyness, too scattered to find pleasure in your meals.
Learning to listen to your body’s reactions to food can do much more than just help you lose weight. Research suggests that mindful eating—a nonjudgmental awareness of the complete experience of eating—can contribute to weight loss, a decline in negative emotions, and a healthier relationship with food. It can also help you find a deeper connection to the foods you eat, nourishing you in ways you may never have experienced before.
Eating healthy can become both easier and more enjoyable because you are finally in sync with your body.
To get to know how your body really reacts to food, you first need to listen mindfully. This includes being aware of what’s happening inside your body, inside your mind, and in the world all around you as you eat. It might involve paying attention to the entire timeline of eating: where your food comes from, how it is prepared, and how it is digested. And it might involve paying attention to the dynamic process of eating—for example, what changes occur in your body when you eat a particular food, a particular amount of food, or a food prepared in a particular way.
When you fully listen to your body’s reactions to food, you pay attention not only to your five senses—taste, smell, touch, sight, sound—but also to subtler bodily sensations, emotions, and food triggers. By honing this type of awareness, you can discover how different foods impact your body, mind, and day-to-day experiences.
You might discover that a certain food always makes you groggy and that another food energizes you. Or you might realize that you only eat a particular food when you’re anxious or only overeat when you’re sad. The goal is simply to listen, learn, and then take actions that better support the body’s needs.
If you are able to fully embrace mindful eating—becoming aware and accepting of your relationship with food—it can become a superpower. Try these seven strategies to learn how to listen to your body.
1. Mindfully explore your food issues
Shira Lenchewski, a registered dietitian and author of the new book The Food Therapist, suggests that there are five dysfunctional habits that many of us have around food. We may have just one of them or we may have them all. These food habits are:
- Having trust issues (you just can’t stop yourself from eating)
- Being a “pleaser” (you cave in to other people’s food choices)
- Fearing the mundane (you think eating healthy would be way too boring)
- Craving control (you beat yourself up for tiny diet “mistakes”)
- Having a hot-and-cold pattern (you yo-yo diet and quickly go from “all in” to “all out”)
By becoming aware of your food habits, you can better explore the reasons behind them and put in place strategies to change them. For example, if you’re like me and you crave control, you might work on practicing self-compassion or acceptance so that you’re not so hard on yourself when your diet is imperfect. If you’re a pleaser, you could practice assertiveness, perhaps by requesting to meet a friend at a healthier restaurant. Or if you fear the mundane, you could get a new cookbook and learn some fun, creative ways to cook healthy meals.
2. Remove addictive foods
Paying attention to anything is harder when you’re distracted. Your smartphone makes it harder to pay attention to others; your workplace stress makes it harder to pay attention to your family; and it turns out that craving addictive foods distracts your attention, too.
What you miss out on are important signals from your body. Food addictions—especially to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol but sometimes also to dairy, carbs, and chocolate—can scream louder than true hunger, nutrient deficiencies, and food intolerances. When you try to listen to your body, you may simply hear, “Candy, candy, candy, candy!”
Once you remove addictive foods, you might start to crave things you never expected. For example, when I cut out all addictive foods, I noticed an intense craving for cantaloupe, spinach, and avocado (foods all high in potassium). Being able to identify which foods my body really needed and then eating them created a truly amazing experience—the cantaloupe even gave me goosebumps!
3. Prepare for each meal by calming the body
Your body’s voice won’t be as reliable if you’re stressed, though. Stress makes all of your digestive processes go haywire, leading your body to react poorly to everything. As a result, you may have a harder time identifying the specific foods your body wants and doesn’t want. That’s why calming the body before eating is so important.
To calm the body before each meal, take a few deep breaths. If you’re cooking dinner, make a habit of playing calm music while you cook and breathing deeply. Or if you’re picking up fast food on the way home, pause for a few deep breaths when you get out of the car.
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To create calm specifically around food, it can also be helpful to periodically do short, food-focused mindful meditations.
4. Pause before beginning each meal
When you sit down with your food, Dr. Jan Chozen Bays recommends that you ask yourself which types of hunger you’re currently feeling:
- Eye hunger: Did you see food and then want to eat?
- Nose hunger: Did you smell food and then want to eat?
- Ear hunger: Did you hear food cooking or being eaten and then want to eat?
- Mouth hunger: Did you taste food and then want to eat more?
- Stomach hunger: Did your stomach feel empty or growl and then you wanted to eat?
- Mind hunger: Did you realize it was a certain time of day or think that you “should” eat more of a particular kind of food and then want to eat?
- Emotional hunger: Did you feel sad, lonely, or anxious and then want to eat?
- Cellular hunger: Did you get an intuitive craving for a specific food and then want to eat?
For example, your mouth hunger might want something crunchy, or your mind hunger might need some vegetables. When you really experience and begin to understand all of your hungers, you can finally learn how to satisfy them. You may find that if you address the type of hunger you are experiencing, you’ll achieve the type of fullness you seek.
5. Be mindful about each bite
To stay open to your body’s signals as you eat, focus on each bite using all of your senses. Ask yourself questions to more fully experience the meal. For example, ask yourself: Is it warm or cold? Is it savory or sweet? Is it crunchy or soft? Explore even further by trying to identify the exact flavors. Ask yourself: What herbs or spices are in this food? Does the food have any added sugar or salt? What other ingredients are in the food?
Next, explore the food emotionally. By tuning in to the effects of different foods on our emotions, we may start to see ways we use food to regulate and generate certain emotions.
So ask yourself: Does eating this food evoke any emotions—for example, happiness, calm, excitement, contentment, anxiety, anger, sadness, loneliness, shame, or guilt? If so, dig a little deeper and see if you can figure out why.
6. Pause sometime mid-meal
Pause after you’ve eaten enough food that it has reached your stomach and the digestive process has begun. During this pause, listen to your body to see if you can experience how it’s receiving the food. Pay attention to things like tummy rumbling, sweating, tiredness, nasal congestion, tingling, goosebumps, or any other bodily sensations.
Next, check in on your stomach hunger. Ask yourself: Is your stomach feeling full? Does your body want to keep eating? Or are you still trying to satisfy other types of hunger? There are no right or wrong answers. Rather, aim to be more aware of what’s happening inside your body so you can better understand the habits, drives, and experiences you have in relation to food.
7. Reflect mindfully at the end of your meal
Once you decide to stop eating—whether this be mid-meal, when your plate is empty, or after you’ve eaten several helpings and dessert (no judgment!)—take a moment to reflect on the entire experience. Start by asking yourself if each of the eight types of hunger (eye, nose, ear, mouth, stomach, mind, emotional, and cellular) have been satisfied. Make a mental note or scribble on a piece of paper the hungers that were not satisfied by this meal.
Spend an extra few minutes reflecting on each of the hungers that were not satisfied. Ask your body what it would need to satisfy each hunger. You may not get all the answers you’re looking for on the first try, but once you start listening to your body regularly, you’ll likely start to notice trends. And as you gather these insights, it becomes easier to eat in ways that are more satisfying and filling.
Listening to how your body reacts to food requires some effort—namely, a willingness to be aware, open, and accepting. It also takes time and attention—you probably won’t play calming music before every meal, notice all the emotions you’re having, or take mindful bites all the time.
With that in mind, practice mindful eating when you can and see if you can take just one insight from each mindful meal. In time, hopefully you’ll discover what nourishes your mind, body, and soul.
Can mindful eating help me lose weight? Maybe, but we’re missing the forest for the trees. Mindful eating isn’t a weight-loss tool, and I’m here to tell you why.
I believe that mindful eating is an excellent tool to add to your arsenal when trying to change your relationship with food. I use it with my clients every single day, and research tells us that it can be an extremely effective approach to helping people unlearn fear around food and come to a more peaceful place with food and their bodies.
But because we live in diet culture, mindful eating, which is a non-judgemental approach to food that encourages us to become fully present and aware in our eating experiences, has been wielded by some health professionals as a weight-loss gimmick. Rather than helping guide you through unlearning food rules and helping you to come to a more neutral place with food, these mindful-eating-for-weight-loss practitioners twist the original intent of mindfulness with food, and use it to try and sell you yet another weight-loss diet plan. Many of them will say things along the lines of, if you eat slowly and mindfully, the weight will just naturally fall off or, if you eat mindfully, you’ll naturally gravitate towards “healthy” foods. These messages are misleading and damaging, and ultimately misrepresent what mindful eating is all about.
So, I’m here to set the record straight. Here are my thoughts on why mindful eating isn’t–and shouldn’t be used as–a weight loss plan.
- If we’re focused on weight loss, we can’t be truly unbiased in our relationship with food: Mindful eating is a way of eating that focuses on being present with the eating experience, and being curious about how we experience all different kinds of foods. This is why I use it as a tool to help people make peace with their eating habits, and in its original, non-weight-focused form, it’s a super useful perspective! But when we keep the dream of weight loss alive, we inherently will be conscious of what we eat, and how we think certain foods will impact our weight. If we’re thinking about how food impacts our weight, we won’t be able to truly give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods, which ultimately will bar us from experiencing the process of true mindful eating, which is meant to be a nonjudgmental experience.
- Research shows us that long-term weight loss just isn’t sustainable for the vast majority of people: We have a lot of good research that shows us just how virtually impossible sustainable weight loss is for the majority of the population. We also have research that shows us that focusing on weight loss, and dieting in general, is a huge risk factor for developing disordered eating. And we also know that, if there are certain health risk factors that you’re personally worried about, there are various means to take care of yourself and your body that have nothing to do with weight loss. With all of that in mind, I can’t ethically promote any program that promises weight loss. It might happen, and it might not. Either way, if we focus on how our bodies feel, rather than how we look, we can support our health and respect wherever our weight ends up.
- Mindfulness is about trusting our body, not trying to override it: When we focus on weight loss, we are focusing on trying to change and manipulate our body. The core of mindfulness though is reconnecting with our internal cues and wisdom; it’s about honoring what our body needs, not what outside forces try to impress upon it. When we let go of the desire for weight loss, or at least shift it away from the focal point of our minds, we give ourselves the opportunity to trust our bodies again. And that’s when the magic happens.
If you enjoyed this blog post, be sure to check out the Facebook Live episode I did on the same topic!
9 Mindfulness Tips to Eat Smart and Lose Weight
Mindfulness, the practice of directing your awareness to the present, is the latest buzzword in the wellness community — and for good reason. Not only can you use mindfulness to boost empathy, sleep better, and reduce your stress levels, you can also use it to better your relationship with food.
That’s right — mindful eating is a real practice, one that can help shape your body as much as it shapes your eating philosophies.
Read on to learn how to harness the power of mindfulness to choose healthier foods, lose weight, and actually enjoy the process of eating — no guilt or self-judgment necessary.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating, which is sometimes called intuitive eating, is the practice of being present as you eat, says Krista Haynes, R.D. and OpenFit Nutrition Manager. It’s about giving your full attention and focus to noticing the way your food tastes, smells, looks, and how it makes you feel.
Josh Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and co-host of “The Web” radio show, adds that mindful eating is about “appreciating that the process of eating is complex and highly fulfilling.”
Klapow compares mindful eating to mindful existence: “It’s not unlike taking a minute to look at a flower or experience being in nature,” he says. “We can either rush through it with a passing appreciation, or we can spend several minutes and take the entire environment into our senses. Mindful eating is the exact same thing.”
Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?
“By itself, mindful eating is not a weight-loss cure, but as part of an approach or tool it can catapult healthy eating and weight loss,” says Klapow.
That’s because being conscious of what you’re putting in your body is key to choosing healthier, more nourishing foods. Haynes says mindful eating shifts the focus from calories and numbers to how certain foods make you feel. “You begin to understand how food is energy and nourishment versus a passive event void of pleasure,” she adds.
Limiting distractions also plays a big role in what and how much you consume. When you eat while distracted, you’re more likely to overeat, make poor food choices, and ignore signs of physical discomfort or fullness.
Mindful eating helps you eliminate these distractions so you can become more in tune with your body, says Paige Benté, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.. “This can help you establish a healthy relationship with food, lose weight, and avoid the deprivation-binge cycle,” she says.
9 Mindfulness Tricks to Help You Eat Smarter
1. Pause before you eat to ask yourself why you’re eating
A big component of mindful eating is the quest to understand why you’re eating. Before you reach for the chips and salsa or dive into your lunch at 10 a.m., take a moment to notice how your body feels.
Is your stomach gurgling? Do you feel lightheaded or tired? Are you thirsty? Consider your environment as well. Are you bored? Do you feel the urge to procrastinate on work?
“Because so much of eating happens without awareness, the pause itself allows us to make eating purposeful,” says Klapow.
2. Chew each bite thoroughly and savor it
Before you roll your eyes at this one, consider the fact that there are times when you inadvertently slurp, scarf, or completely inhale your food, either out of extreme hunger or bad habit.
Not only can this hinder proper digestion (and potentially scare your dinner guests), it also means you miss out on the complex textures and flavors of your food, Haynes says.
When you chew well, on the other hand, you register each salty, sour, or sweet flavor as it hits your mouth, which helps you savor your food more thoroughly.
“ allows you to get more out of each bite while also slowing down the eating process,” says Klapow.
Resist the urge to wolf down your food; instead, focus on eating one small bite at a time and chewing it completely before you swallow it.
3. Drink water before meals
Preliminary research has shown that drinking water before a meal may prevent you from overeating (not to mention help you stay hydrated), but the simple ritual also has the power to shake you out of autopilot mode and bring you into the present.
“It can prevent the automatic eating cycle by slowing down your mind prior to eating, allowing for concentration and focus on the process of eating to come,” says Klapow.
4. Eat vibrant, flavorful foods
Whenever possible, choose colorful, fresh, unprocessed foods for your meals and snacks in the proper portions. Since mindful eating teaches you to notice the subtle flavors in foods by slowing down and taking small bites, you’ll develop a better taste and appreciation for naturally healthy, whole foods.
“This could ultimately entice you to choose carrots with a natural sweetness over a sugary treat, or whip up some vegetables because you love the flavor instead of drowning them in dressing or cheese,” says Haynes.
5. Eat without distractions
Close your laptop, switch off the TV, and step away from your desk. Mindful eating is about focusing solely on the food in front of you, not your emails, a magazine, or the latest episode of New Girl.
Even listening to music or podcasts can be too distracting — research shows that the noise your food makes when you eat can significantly influence how much food you consume. This “Crunch Effect” suggests you’re likely to eat less if you’re aware of the sounds you make as you eat. When you drown out that noise with earphones, though, you can end up consuming more.
“Think of it like meditation,” Klapow says. “It’s hard to meditate when people are talking to you, standing in front of you, or when your thoughts are drawn away.”
In the same vein, it’s challenging to eat mindfully — to savor your food and notice your body’s satiety signals — if your attention is scattered. The research agrees: Eating while distracted can lead to overeating, while attentive eating can help you lose weight.
6. Wait before getting seconds
It takes your brain about 20 minutes to receive the signal from your gut that you’re full. It’s easy to overeat in that small window of time, which is why it’s a good idea to take a break before loading up your plate for round two.
This waiting period gives you time to process the food you’ve eaten, Klapow says, and allows you to make a conscious choice about whether or not to get a second helping, rather than heading back to the kitchen out of habit.
7. When you feel the urge to snack, make a cup of tea first
According to Klapow, “urges to eat are often urges for oral sensation fulfillment.” In other words, oftentimes you aren’t actually hungry, you’re just craving the ritual of indulging in something.
When this is the case, make yourself a cup of tea. Try black or green tea for a boost of caffeine, peppermint or unsweetened hibiscus for a strong flavor, or rooibos tea with fresh lemon, ginger, and apple cider.
The process of boiling the water, steeping the tea, and sipping it usually cancels out the snacking urge, Klapow says.
8. Take note of your cravings
If you’re practicing mindful eating for the first time, Benté recommends using a journal to record how you’re feeling, identify your cravings, and make note of when and where you’re eating.
Recognizing your cravings when they happen, Klapow says, allows you to make a conscious decision whether to indulge or not. Not just that, but taking note of your eating habits and environment can help you figure out what you need to adjust to eat more mindfully.
If you always eat lunch in front of your computer, for example, then wind up feeling uncomfortably stuffed, you can try trading your screen time for 20 minutes of eating in peaceful silence.
9. Eat with joy, not judgment
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to become so concerned with what and how much you eat that you forget to actually enjoy your food.
Of course, it’s important to understand the nutritional value of the things you’re putting in your body, but if you’re overly preoccupied with counting calories, you’re likely to experience a lot of self-imposed guilt and judgment.
Instead of approaching meals with dread or fear that you might overeat, approach them with a sense of joy and excitement. Savor each delicious, healthy bite and revel in the process of nourishing yourself and taking care of your body.
When you’re kind to yourself and take genuine pleasure in eating, Benté says you’re more likely to honor your body and eat only to the point of fullness.
How to Make Mindful Eating a Regular Part of Your Diet
Let’s be honest: Mindful eating isn’t easy. Sure, you might *know* that you should stop labeling foods “good” and “bad” and that it’s better if you tune in to your physical hunger cues rather than just eating a meal at a certain time by default. But these things are definitely easier said than done. That said, implementing a mindful eating style has tangible benefits, including a healthier relationship with food and weight loss. (See: I Changed My Approach to Food and Lost 10 Pounds) But what qualifies as mindful eating, and how can you get started? Here’s what nutrition and mental health experts want you to know, plus how you can try it for yourself.
What Is Mindful Eating, Exactly?
“When you eat mindfully, you slow down and notice your emotions and your hunger so that you eat when you’re hungry and taste the food in your mouth,” says Jennifer Taitz, Psy.D., an LA-based psychologist and author of End Emotional Eating and How to Be Single and Happy. Two of the biggest benefits of conscious eating are that it reduces a lot of the stress around eating (after all, you’re only eating when you need to!) and can help people enjoy their food more, she says.
Another huge plus: “You can use it with any eating style because it’s not about what you eat; it’s about how you eat,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D., New York Times bestselling author of EatQ and a mindful eating expert. That means whether you’re paleo, vegan, or gluten-free, you can learn how to practice mindful eating to not only help you stick to your desired eating style, but also enjoy it more than you might otherwise.
Lastly, mindful eating is all about improving your relationship with food. “It helps break the hold food can have on a person,” says Amanda Kozimor-Perrin R.D.N., a dietitian based in LA. “It starts to help eliminate the idea of food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and hopefully stops endless yo-yo dieting.” Being mindful and present can also help to reduce stress overall by introducing new practices like meditation, exercise, and baths, which replace emotional eating.
How to Know If Mindful Eating Is Right for You
Not sure if this is the right eating style for you? Spoiler alert: Mindful eating is for everyone. “Everyone is a candidate for the mindful eating style,” says Amy Goldsmith, R.D.N., a dietitian based in Frederick, MD. “Most individuals lose their hunger and satiety intuitiveness around the age of 5, or when they enter the education system, simply because they switch from eating when they need energy to eating when they have a designated time allowance.” Think about it: You were probably told from a young age when you were supposed to eat, whether you were hungry or not! Obviously, this makes sense logistically when you’re a child, but one of the best things about being an adult is that you can do what you want when you want, right?! That can and should include eating. (Related: Why Do I Lose My Appetite When I’m Stressed?)
Now, that doesn’t mean practicing mindfulness and eating will be easy. “It won’t stick if you’re not ready to make lifestyle changes,” Kozimor-Perrin says. “All of us, when introducing a new behavior or trying to alter our current ones, need to be ready for that change so when it gets hard we push through.” Just like with any diet change, you’ll need to make a commitment in order to see the changes you’re looking for—regardless of whether they’re emotional or physical.
How to Eat Mindfully
One of the best things about learning how to be a mindful eater is that you can define what it means for you as an individual rather than conforming to set standards. “Think tools, not rules,” Albers says. But mindful eating’s abstract nature can also make it tougher to implement than a more restrictive eating style focused on rules. This can sometimes be discouraging for people used to knowing exactly how they’re supposed to eat. Luckily, there are lots of strategies you can try out on your own to get started.
Be an observer. “People are surprised when I give them step one: Do absolutely nothing different,” Albers says. “Spend a solid week just nonjudgmentally observing your eating habits. That means just noticing without adding any commentary (i.e., ‘how could I be so stupid.’) Judgment shuts down awareness on a dime.” You’ll probably be surprised at how many eating habits you have that you didn’t even realize were habits, she says. “For example, one of my clients said that she kept a mindful eye open for a week. She learned that she ate mindlessly only when in front of screens. She became very aware of this habit. This awareness was life-changing for her.”
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. “Sit down when you eat,” Albers advises. “It sounds easy, but you’ll be surprised at how often you eat while standing. We eat 5 percent more when standing. Slowing down helps breaks down the food and gives you time to contemplate each bite.” If this is tough for you, she recommends eating with your nondominant hand, which will force you to take slower bites. Savoring means using all your senses when you eat. “Don’t just shovel in the food; determine if you actually really like it.” Simplify means creating a mindful environment around food. When you’re done eating, put food away and out of sight. “This reduces the temptation to mindlessly pick at food just because it’s there.” Lastly, “smile between bites,” Albers says. It might sound weird, but it will give you a moment to determine if you are truly satisfied.
Step away from the screens. Make it a policy to ditch screens when you’re eating. “Put away your phone, sit down, and slow down,” Taitz says. “To be mindful, you need to be present, and you can’t be present when you’re scrolling or rushing.” (BTW, here are three ways to stay healthier while watching TV.)
Schedule time for your meals and snacks. On a similar note, try to keep working and eating separate. “We work in a society that works through breakfast and lunch, has long traveling times to work, or skips snack and lunch breaks altogether,” Goldsmith says. “Add breaks to your schedule and allow yourself to honor them.” You can spare 15 minutes, right?
Try the raisin experiment. “I encourage everyone I meet with to do the raisin experiment,” Kozimor-Perrin says. Essentially, the raisin experiment walks you through the basics of mindful eating by noticing every tiny detail of one small raisin. “It feels very uncomfortable at first, but it helps you realize all the aspects missing to be present during a meal, leading to a lightbulb going off in your brain. It helps you to see how you should be taking your time with food and how to begin understanding your relationship with each food item you eat.”
Make sure you have access to foods you like eating. While mindful eating doesn’t dictate the types of food you should eat, you’ll probably feel best if you focus on wholesome, healthy foods most of the time-although there’s absolutely room for enjoying indulgences. “Ensure you have groceries to make meals or pack them,” Goldsmith says. “If that’s not possible, choose restaurants that provide you with the proper fuel you need, like a mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.”