As Registered Dietitians, one of the top tips we give our clients for healthy living is to practice mindful eating. It’s a fairly simple shift that can really make a difference. What exactly is mindful eating? According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Mindful eating focuses on your eating experiences, body-related sensations, and thoughts and feelings about food, with heightened awareness and without judgment.”
Before we explain more fully what mindful eating is all about, it’s helpful to think about how we’ve approached food in the past when we were NOT being mindful. Was there ever a time when you were mindlessly eating and didn’t realize you had finished? This can happen with foods like chips, M&M’s, or another favorite snack. Suddenly you realize the bag is empty, and you wonder how it happened. Unfortunately this is a common experience. Often we eat out of hunger or boredom, without taking time to give the eating experience our full attention.
What is mindfulness?
At the heart of mindful eating is the concept of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a way to “[pay] attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (1). We can use mindfulness practices to better manage things like stress, anxiety, depression, or sleep problems.
And of course we can also use mindfulness with regard to eating. In fact practicing mindful eating can come with many benefits. For starters, when we use a mindful approach to eating, the process of eating becomes more meaningful. As a result we may choose to eat less, choose healthier options, and even begin to enjoy our food more. Weight loss can also be an outcome, if weight loss is the desired goal for you. Regardless, mindful eating is a sustainable way of living. Diets dictate rules, but mindfulness carries freedom.
How to practice mindful eating
Here are the steps to follow if you want to engage in mindful eating:
- Decide whether you are hungry (this is described more in detail later).
- Sit, nonjudgmentally, looking at your food.
- Smell the aroma, observe the different colors and textures. If it’s warm food, sense the steam warming your chin.
- Take a small bite, unhurriedly.
- Chew slowly, feeling the texture. Are there juices? Is there a crunchy feel? Are there spices that stand out or hide?
- Before swallowing, wait until you have chewed enough to make it liquefy.
- Swallow and see how you feel.
- After each bite, ask yourself how hungry you are, or if you’re hungry at all.
Listening to hunger and fullness cues
It’s pretty easy to know when a baby is hungry. They feel their hunger, cry for food, and will stop when they are full. But as we get older, our hunger cues may start to fade. Instead of eating in a mindful way, we might eat because of emotions, stress, or boredom. It also gets easy to repeatedly eat past our fullness. Mindful eating can really bring us back to better recognize these cues.
Am I truly hungry? Or is it something else?
Are you letting your emotions dictate when and what you eat? As you learn to practice mindful eating, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions. Use the acronym SLAB:
- Do I feel STRESSED?
- Am I LONELY?
- Do I feel ANGRY or ANXIOUS?
- Am I BORED?
If you are eating for any of the above reasons, you may want to consider making another choice that’s more appropriate for that feeling. Instead take a quick walk, call a friend, do a five minute stretching routine, or engage in a hobby you love. However, if you ask yourself the above questions and you determine that you ARE in fact hungry, then follow the steps below.
Tips for mindful eating
- Intentionally choose what you will eat.
- Sit down without distractions. Yes, that means without TV, phone, or social media.
- Consider what it took to get that food on your plate, from farming to the grocery store.
- Give gratitude for the food you have.
- Savor that food! Remember the steps for mindful eating.
- After each swallow, notice how your body is feeling. You’ll notice if you’re starting to get full, or if you haven’t had enough. Honor those feelings by acting accordingly.
Get expert guidance
Learning to practice mindful eating can be challenging. It is tough to form this habit, and also tough to apply it every time you eat! However, the benefits far outweigh the cost. Our Registered Dietitians can teach you how to practice mindful eating. Schedule an appointment and learn how to eat mindfully, to improve your relationship with food and the eating experience. We accept most major insurance, and you may find that your sessions are fully covered!