How to Start Eating Mindfully

Mind Your Meal

When was the last time you ate a meal without scrolling through your phone or answering a work email?

It happens to the best of us – we lead busy lives, and unfortunately, mealtime often becomes a rushed, mindless affair. Even more unfortunately, this mindless eating could be having a negative impact on your health.

woman eating mindfully

That’s where mindful eating comes in. Here, we discuss what this practice is and how you can incorporate it into your daily routine.

What is mindful eating?

Chances are, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the concept of mindfulness – being fully present in the moment, free from distraction. Mindful eating takes mindfulness and applies it to the experience of eating; essentially, it’s being fully present during meals. This involves paying attention to your thoughts and feelings while eating, as well as physical cues such as hunger and fullness.

Part of what makes mindful eating so appealing is how accessible it is. No matter your age, weight, dietary restrictions, or dietary preferences, you can practice mindful eating anytime, anywhere.

Why is mindful eating beneficial?

By paying closer attention to how you feel when eating, you can learn to distinguish between your body’s hunger and fullness cues – leading to increased satisfaction at the end of a meal. Eating mindfully can also help ease stress and anxiety, and the slower pace of the meal will do wonders for your digestive system. Not to mention, you’ll get greater pleasure from the foods you eat when you’re able to fully focus on your meal.

Mindful eating can also promote healthier eating habits, as well as help heal unhealthy relationships with food. For example, the practice has been used to help prevent binge eating, which involves consuming an excessive amount of food in a short time frame. Observing how your body feels after you eat different foods – and different amounts of food – can teach you how to best care for your body and keep it in tip-top shape.

How do you practice mindful eating?

While it may take some time to feel like a mindful eating pro, there are a few simple steps that can get you started in the right direction.

  • Respond to your body’s hunger signals. You should ideally be starting your meals with an appetite, but not to the point of ravenous hunger – otherwise, it’ll be more difficult to enjoy your food. 
  • Remove distractions before starting a meal. This means turning off the television, putting aside your phone, or stepping away from your work computer, allowing you to focus on the task at hand.
  • Watch your portion sizes. For those who tend to eat with their eyes instead of their stomachs, try plating smaller portions at the beginning of the meal. Once you’ve finished everything on your plate, you can check in with your body’s cues to see if you’re still hungry. 
  • Take smaller bites. Not only will small bites help prevent you from rushing through your meal, but it also makes it easier to taste and savor what you’re eating.
  • Chew thoroughly. Depending on who you ask, you should chew each bite of food between 20 and 40 times – or until it’s ground into a fine paste – before swallowing.
  • Engage all of your senses. Be intentional about noticing the color, aroma, and texture of your food as you’re eating. You might make a mental note of qualities you do and don’t enjoy for future reference.
  • Express gratitude for your food. At some point during your meal, take some time to reflect on where the food came from and how it was prepared – then feel appreciative of the opportunity to be eating a delicious meal.

Keep in mind that realistically, you won’t be able to practice mindful eating 24/7. A deadline will come up, a toddler will demand your attention, or a dinner out with friends will require you to participate in the conversation – not spend five minutes contemplating your grilled asparagus. Try to incorporate as many of these mindful eating exercises as you can, and if and when life gets in the way, show yourself some compassion. We’re all doing the best we can!

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