You’ve probably heard about mindful eating with its popularity has grown more and more in recent years. Mindful eating has been around for years. Researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn made mindfulness popular across the globe in the 1970’s so the principles of mindfulness have been around for many decades. However, mindful eating has picked up in popularity.

Mindful eating has become a way of allowing people to improve their relationship with food, understand what they should be eating and with the added benefit of losing weight as a side effect. Mindful eating isn’t a diet but more a way of eating that allows you to become present during meals. It’s a helpful way to identify what makes you feel good, what fills you up and when you should stop eating.

A 2013 study showed that 38% of Americans overeat and that number is likely even higher in 2022. We overeat due to stress, comfort, sadness and loneliness. Much of the time we don’t know how much food we should be eating to nourish our bodies.

For example, before I practised mindful eating I had no idea how little food I actually needed each day. I was quite surprised how little I needed to stay lean whilst also feeling full up.

Examples of mindful eating

Below are examples of what mindful eating is and isn’t.

Mindful eating

  • Choosing food full of nutrition at the store
  • Cooking your own meals from scratch
  • Becoming aware of where your food was grown
  • Understanding the nutritional value of your food
  • Observing your food
  • Eating slowly and chewing properly
  • Noticing how your food feels as it goes down
  • Noticing when you’re full and need to stop
  • Noticing how you feel once you have stopped eating

Mindless eating

  • Eating anything and everything
  • Eating pre-prepared foods
  • Ignoring the nutritional value of your food
  • Grabbing food on the go
  • Choosing junk foods too often
  • Rushing your meals
  • Eating too often through boredom
  • Ignoring your full stomach

Mindful eating VS intuitive eating

Mindful eating and intuitive eating are often compared as similar ways of eating. However, the two are rather different at their cores. Intuitive eating is a way of eating that allows you to eat what you want without feeling guilty. It is the practice of rejecting diet culture and instead eating what you like whenever you feel hungry with the idea that if you’re hungry it must mean you need to eat something.

Mindful eating is different in the sense that you become more aware of what you’re putting in your mouth, when and why. Mindful eating helps you to not overeat whereas intuitive eating is much looser and more relaxed. Mindful eating isn’t strict however, it’s simply a way of slowing down and noticing how food makes you feel.

Mindful eating is not a diet

Diets are often time-sensitive in nature making them short-term ways to lose weight. This leads to a high failure rate among those who choose to start diets. 97% of those who start diets regain all of their original weight and then some within three years of stopping their diets.

Mindful eating isn’t a diet plan, it’s a conscious lifestyle choice. You don’t have to buy any diet books or diet plans, you simply have to stick to some key principles and it starts before you even sit at your table to tuck in.

What are mindful foods?

The truth is, there are no mindful foods. There are no particular food groups that constitute mindful foods. Mindful eating is about paying attention to how you feel when you eat and removing distractions from the present moment to improve your relationship with food. It is a way of eating rather than a specific diet.

The benefits of mindful eating

There are many potential benefits of eating mindfully. Here are some of the key benefits.

  • Increased awareness of hunger and fullness
  • Weight loss (ideally fat loss)
  • Stress reduction
  • Better digestion
  • Reduction of overeating and binge eating
  • Better relationship with food
  • Healthier food choices
  • A better understanding of food group roles in health

The research is limited when it comes to the benefits of mindful eating but from my own experience in becoming more mindful with food, I have a better relationship with it and I’ve improved my understanding of what each food I eat contains and how that can improve my mood and body composition.

Mindful eating habits

There is no rigid way of mindfully eating but there are some key habits that will help you to become more mindful during your meals.

1. Become mindful of your weekly meals

The first step to mindful eating is to bring awareness to your weekly meals. This begins with your shopping list. A good way to do this is to research your meals before you go to the store so you stick to your list and aren’t tempted by cheap snacks as you shop.

2. Focus your awareness on food labels

When I first started to be more mindful of my meals I did so primarily because I wanted my food to make me feel good, not tired and sluggish as my poor existing diet had done. This meant I had to understand the ingredients in my foods better along with their caloric density.

3. Remove distractions

To truly be mindful during your meals, you need to free yourself from distractions like your cell phone or your TV. To be present you must create an environment that allows you to be focused on your food.

4. Pause before you eat

Rather than tucking in quickly when you set your plate down, take a moment to pause and appreciate the food in front of you. If you mindlessly eat you’re more likely to overeat and feel overfed.

5. Use your senses

The whole idea of mindfulness is to become more present from moment to moment. The best way to do this is to use your senses to ground yourself. Take in the smell of your freshly cooked meal, examine it and all its colours and shapes, and listen to the sounds around you as you sit and feel the hard sensation of your utensils before you get stuck in.

6. Practise gratitude

Become grateful that you have a meal to nourish your body. Think about where your food came from and where it was grown. Bring awareness to who may have planted it in the ground and how it came from the earth to your plate.

7. Chew your food properly

It’s easy to throw your food down your neck, especially when you feel very hungry. However, it’s important to chew your food properly when eating mindfully. Not only will it help you to eat slower but you’ll be able to notice the flavours on your tongue and appreciate them more.

8. Pay attention to your stomach

When you chew your food slowly you notice when you’re full a lot easier. This is important because you should always stop eating when you’re full up. It’s easy to overeat when something tastes delicious but stopping when you’re full helps you avoid bloating and discomfort, not to mention weight gain. I used to stuff my face and felt awful afterwards but after implementing mindful eating I often find myself leaving a half or a quarter of a big meal.

Mindful eating checklist from Yum: Mindful Eating Worksheets

Making mindful eating a habit

To make mindful eating a habit you need to start small. Instead of applying mindful eating to every meal, start by applying it to one meal a day, for example, your dinner. If you have busy mornings and quick lunch breaks it may be more manageable at first to do it in the evening when there’s less pressure.

Try applying the above habits for only a couple of minutes before you eat. This is an easily achievable target that can get you on the right track. Once you have implemented mindful eating into at least one meal a day it’ll become easier to do it during all of your meals.

1. Create a good environment

Make mindful eating easier for yourself by creating a good environment. Habits are much easier to stick to when you shape your environment to your habit. For example, if your cabinets are full of biscuits and chips, you’re more likely to grab a snack on the go and mindlessly graze.

To make mindful eating easier you need to remove all distractions from your environment. This means limiting snacks that you could be tempted to grab instead of mindfully preparing meals.

2. Sit down at your table and eat

Another way of removing distractions is to sit down at your table to eat, away from your TV. Eating in front of your TV is easy enough to do but you end up prioritising the TV and not your food. The key to mindful eating is to be as present with your food as you can be and to treat eating your food as an important event that is worth paying attention to.

3. Eat your meals at the same time each day

Eating your meals at the same time each day isn’t always easy if you do activities in the evenings but it’s important and useful if you can. If you eat at the same time each day you create a sense of discipline around eating instead of mindlessly eating whenever you want.

4. Prepare your ingredients ahead of time

One of the most important things you can do is to prepare your ingredients ahead of time so you know what you’re eating each day. This makes mindful eating easier but it also stops you from mindlessly grazing from your food pantry.

5. Get something from it

There’s no point in doing a new habit if you get nothing from it. One of the key ways to keep a habit is to make sure it’s rewarding. This also applies to mindful eating. This is tied to why you’re pursuing mindful eating in the first place. If you’re doing it to improve your relationship with food and it works for that outcome, that is your reward. If you don’t find the experience rewarding in any way it’s unlikely you’ll keep it up.

Download mindful eating worksheets

Download mindful eating worksheets to make mindful eating easier.

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