How Mindful Eating Improves Your Health

By Dietetic Intern Caitlin Galli, MS and Eleanor Baker, MS, RDN, LDN

Our lives have revolved around food for centuries.  Eating is more than just providing our bodies with nutrients and energy to keep us going.  Food is cultural and is linked to traditions, memory and emotion.  But so often we do not sit down and take the opportunity to enjoy food.  Instead, we are in a rush and find ourselves going through the motions of eating and drinking while we are preoccupied with something else.  Next thing we know, our food is gone, and we have missed any feelings satisfaction or satiation.

Has this ever happened to you? Think of your last meal or snack.  Can you describe the flavor?  What about the taste or texture of the food?  If you are having difficulty remembering, then you may not have even given your food a single thought at that moment.

It’s time that we put down the distractions.

It’s time to reunite with the satisfaction of a good meal.

It’s time to practice – mindful eating.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is bringing awareness and non-judgmental attention to food.  It encompasses both the internal and external environments.  It teaches you to be aware of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. It reminds you to touch-base with yourself on what you’re experiencing.  Are you hungry or merely bored?  When it comes to mindful eating, it teaches you to pay attention to yourself and your food.  What does the food smell and taste like, what texture is the food, how does it make you feel?  Mindful eating allows you to be aware of the sensory experiences that come with eating, but are so often overlooked.  Mindful eating can cause a shift in power.  No longer will food control you, but with practice you can gain control over what you eat.

Why does mindful eating matter?

Research is growing in the field of mindful eating. Studies are finding that more mindful eating can help reduce weight problems and help us to select healthier choices and less processed foods. Some suggest that mindful eating can be a way to relieve stress and reduce blood pressure as well as chronic gastrointestinal distress.

How to Eat Mindfully

  • Be aware

Before you start eating take a moment to think about how you feel. What is your hunger level?  Are you actually thirsty? Think about what you want to eat and what your body needs. Are these different or do they match up?  By spending a few minutes checking in with yourself, you can make an informed decision on what, how much, and when you want to eat for a satisfying experience.

  • Turn off the distractions 

Turn the TV off. Put the phone and computer away. Technology is very good at capturing our attention. Put it to the side and keep your attention on what you are eating. Allow yourself time to sit down at a set table to enjoy a good meal. Refrain from on the go. If you are focused on getting somewhere, whether it be walking or driving, then you are not focused on eating. 

Work on your meditation practice to improve mindful eating.
  • Focus

Take a moment to look at your food. Observe the colors, textures, shapes and sizes. Breathe in the sweet scent of your apple or the savory smell of a slow cooked stew. Can you taste the meal through its scent?

Take a bite. Slowly chew your food and try to break down what each flavor tastes like. Is your stew savory from the spices you used or sweet from the tomatoes?

  • Slow down

It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full.  It is easy for us to overeat if our brains still think we are hungry, even when our stomach is full.  To slow down, try to chew each bite 30 times.  Doing this will also allow you to enjoy the flavors before swallowing. While chewing, put your utensils down. If you are preparing your next bite during your current bite you will not be focusing as much on what you are eating.

Take the time it takes to enjoy your meal and it will take less time to reach your health goals.

  • Cancel Your Clean Plate Club Membership

Many of my clients, were raised with a lifetime membership to the clean plate club.  With parents pushing them to not let their food go to waste as children, we have found that this habit is letting that extra food go to “waist” instead. It’s time to cancel your membership and stop letting the food on your plate be the guide to how much you need to eat. Our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs and it is easy to pile the plate high. Start by cutting your usual serving in half and see how you feel. Still hungry? You can always go back for more, just be sure to check in to see if that really is hungry calling you back for seconds.

Incorporating Mindfulness to the Holidays

Holiday celebrations are built around food and overeating is common.  If you are feeling stressed or nervous about going into this season and undoing all the progress you have made to reach your goals, challenge yourself to pause and take a deep breath.  One day (or holiday) will not set you back months of hard work.  However, continuing the holiday style eating over the course of a month or more may will have unwanted consequences.  Start practice mindful eating at every meal. When a holiday or a big event comes, you will be a mindful eating pro and can worry less about over eating and focus more on having a wonderful time!

The holidays are a time for celebration, enjoy every moment!

  1. The Center for Mindful Eating.
  2. Mindful Eating. HarvardHealth Publishing. 2011.
  3. 10 tips for mindful eating—just in time for the holidays. HarvardHealth Publishing. 2015.

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