A Step by Step Guide to Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the application of mindfulness techniques to eating. It involves being fully present when eating, and fully aware of your emotional state and physical condition.
In other words, this mindfulness practice means being in the present moment every time you eat. See, feel, smell, and taste the food; enjoy the experience.
In addition, mindful eaters have a nonjudgmental awareness of internal and external cues impacting the desire to eat. A mindful eater focuses on internal hunger and satiety cues and eats in response to physical signals (1).
Because mindful eaters are aware of all cues affecting their own eating behaviors and health, this technique can be a useful strategy to influence the food they eat to optimize health and achieve a healthy weight.
Mindful eating can help you heal your relationship with food, improving your everyday life.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
According to studies, mindful eating positively impacts diet quality, food choice, and weight management (2, 3). Moreover, this technique has been shown to be very effective in treating disordered eating patterns such as bingeing, uncontrolled eating, and impulsivity (4, 5).
Mindful eating can also help with emotional eating (6).
Key Components of Mindful Eating
Based on the Center of Mindful Eating and the mindfulness-based awareness training (MB-Eat), this blog author developed simple ways to practice mindful eating.
- Bring mindful attention and awareness to the eating experience.
- Make mindful food choices based on health and your food preferences.
- Be aware of your hunger and fullness cues.
- Cultivate awareness of your emotions and how you react to them.
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others
Component 1: Bringing Mindful Awareness to Eating Experiences
This component includes the practice of paying attention to your physical and emotional state during mealtimes or having mindful eating experiences. Furthermore, this component includes being aware without any reactivity or judgment.
It is simply the practice of mindfulness applied to meal and snack time.
Practical ways to create mindful awareness of the eating experience include creating an external and internal environment that focuses on the food experience during mealtime.
Create an external environment that leads to mindful eating
First, allow yourself enough time to eat in a peaceful place and sit down. Make sure that the place you eat is clear of clutter and move away from your work area.
Second, turn off all electronic devices, as electronic distractions during meals have been negatively associated with the emotional atmosphere of the meal and lower diet quality (7).
Last, turn on niece music or enjoy a conversation with co-workers, friends, or family.
Creating an environment that allows you to pay full attention to your food and your emotions is the first step to behavior change.
Create an internal environment that leads to mindful eating
Forget the diet mentality, guilt, or judgments about foods or yourself. Food is not good or bad, and you are not a better or worst person for enjoying food.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do if you are used to constantly dieting, but it is worth trying.
If you catch yourself judging what you eat, take three deep breaths and remember that all foods fit into a healthy diet.
Furthermore, enjoy every bite of food, take small bites, and chew thoughtfully.
An exercise to help you understand how this truly feels is to sit down and take a bite of food. Then think about the flavor and texture of the food.
Next, before you eat, look at the color, shape, and anything you can notice about the food. Then, close your eyes and take a bite. Notice the change in your perception of the food.
Also, don’t feel guilty about anything you eat. As you learn to enjoy all foods, you will effortlessly move to a more balanced diet.
As you stop mindless eating, you can start eating what you need to maintain a healthy weight without the struggles. You will also stop eating when you meet your physical needs.
Component 2: Making mindful food choices based on food preferences and health
While all foods fit into a well-balanced diet, it is important to keep your health and your goals in mind. In other words, be mindful of food selection.
Let me emphasize this: eating cookies, hamburgers, ice cream, and junk food is fine. In time, you will find a balance between eating the foods you like and foods that are healthy for you.
Last, to make it easier to eat healthy foods, some planning about your weekly meals might be necessary. This can include grocery shopping, finding new recipes, or identifying healthy and tasty foods in the restaurants you often visit.
In other words, be mindful about the food you put in your body, and make mindful food choices.
Component 3: Creating awareness of the hunger and fullness experience
Most children are born with the ability to regulate food intake. Babies and small children eat what they need, when they need it, and then stop. However, this ability is often lost over time if awareness of physical cues of hunger and fullness is often dismissed.
Mindful eating involves regaining the ability to listen to your body’s signals by paying close attention to your physical sensations and respond appropriately.
There are two cues that you need to identify: hunger and fullness. A good exercise to identify hunger cues is to ask yourself, before eating, how hungry you are. Use a 1-10 scale.
It is good to come to the table hungry but not starving. This will help you to be able to enjoy food without giving priority to simply satisfying hunger.
As you eat, ask yourself how full you are. Stop when you are full but you could eat a little more. Throughout your meal, take mindful bites, and make an effort to explore the flavors and textures of the food. Allowing yourself enough time to eat is key is being able to go through this mindful practice truly.
This seems very simple but is not easy to do if you are a person who is used to bypassing hunger and fullness cues. It takes time and effort to cultivate the ability to listen to your body’s signals.
Component 4: Cultivating Awareness of Emotions and Reactivity to Emotions
This is a key component of mindful eating, as emotions can trigger automatic or inadequate eating habits. For example, stress, anxiety, and depression have been associated with overeating.
Eating can become a way to soothe negative feelings, and this act can lead to guilt or shame after eating. This can potentially lead to cycles of excessive eating and weight gain.
When a person eats to alleviate negative emotions, it is possible to create a feeling of fullness (8). In addition, eating can be a way to avoid dealing with feelings.
A review of 38 studies connecting mindful eating and emotional eating showed that mindfulness-based approaches appear most effective in addressing binge eating, emotional eating, and eating in response to external cues.
Break emotional eating by creating a mindful eating cycle.
Component 5: Cultivating Compassion for Self
Picture a busy and stressful day, with very little time to prepare and eat a healthy meal. As a result, you order take out. You are busy and stress and your emotions lead you to eat more than you intended. Then, you feel guilty and end up eating ice cream to deal with your feelings.
Self-compassion can help you forgive yourself and move forward with your goals. If you forgive yourself for overeating, there are fewer chances that you ice cream. Even if you do, you will forgive yourself and continue to work on your goals.
The more understanding you are to yourself, the more motivated you are to take care of yourself.
Mindful eating is one of the best methods to nourish your body and mind while still reaching your health and weight goals. While it is important to emphasize that mindful eating is not a weight loss or healthy eating program, research shows that mindful eaters can achieve and maintain healthier body weight.
After all, the mind-body connection is powerful.
Trust your body, and you will live in harmony and see amazing results. Moreover, practice mindfulness in all aspects of your life. It is possible that you will improve other non-nutrition factors that affect weight loss, including stress and sleep.
A mindful approach to life, including the practice of mindful eating, can help you achieve a healthy relationship with food.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui is the former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.