Beginning a Mindful Eating Practice
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment. Mindfulness is a very useful tool for lowering stress, anxiety, improving mood, and creating a sense of calmness through meditation and other techniques. One area of our lives where mindfulness can be extremely useful for our health is when we are eating.
Think about some of your favorite mealtime traditions, such as enjoying your favorite foods on your birthday or celebrating a holiday around a big table with friends and family. Consider how present you may have been at these times. Can you remember the taste of your food and the feelings it produced? Although we cannot expect every meal to be given the same importance as that of a holiday or birthday celebration, some of this mindfulness and enjoyment can be practiced on a daily basis.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a practice that involves being fully present and non-judgmental while consuming meals and snacks. This practice incorporates all five senses and focuses on listening to hunger and fullness cues to determine how much to eat, rather than external cues, such as how much someone else is eating. Internal hunger cues can include signals, such as how full your stomach feels, whether or not your stomach is growling, and what foods sound good.
What are some benefits of mindful eating?
There are many benefits to practicing mindful eating. Mindfulness allows you to: increase meal enjoyment and satisfaction, better recognize when you are hungry or full, connect with your food and the people who you eat meals with, and improve eating behaviors. Research has suggested that mindful eating may be helpful for lowering stress and anxiety surrounding food, improving body image, and reducing disordered eating behaviors.
Mindful eating during the COVID-19 pandemic
Practicing mindful eating is a great practice to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may find yourself scarfing down breakfast in the morning, then hurriedly eating lunch while working from your desk space. Scheduling in time to be present with your meals and snacks can help reduce grazing throughout the day and increase meal satisfaction. Mindfulness can be an important practice to incorporate into family mealtimes.
Eight tips for eating mindfully
1. If you are new to this, begin with one meal at a time. Breakfast may be a great time to begin to start the day off with mindfulness.
2. Reduce distractions while eating. Turn off your computer and phone. Step away from your workspace. Find a designated place to eat meals and snacks, such as a kitchen table.
3. Give thanks to your food for providing you with energy and nutrients. Practicing gratitude is a great way to foster mindfulness.
4. Notice your likes and dislikes surrounding food without placing judgement. Being judgmental about your meals can distract from mindfulness and lead to increased stress and anxiety.
5. Observe your food. How does the food smell? What does your food look like? How does your food sound when you pick it up with your fork?
6. Focus on the taste and feel of your food. What is the flavor (sweet, sour, bitter)? What is the texture? What do you notice when you chew?
7. Eat slowly – don’t rush. Take time to enjoy and savor your meal. Try putting your fork down between bites and chew your food thoroughly.
8. Check-in with your hunger and fullness levels. While you are eating, pay attention to how you are feeling. Are you still hungry? Do you feel full? It may be helpful to think of this on a scale with 0 being extremely hungry to 10 being very full. This can help you check-in and determine when to eat more or less.
Looking for more resources around mindful eating?
Check out this article by licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Mandy Lu, on ways you can become a better listener to your body
Watch this recording on Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating with HMC Dietitians and explore nutrition and its role in societal pressure, mental health, and nutrition.
Mindful eating may seem overwhelming at first, but your practice will develop as you continue. While it is not realistic to expect a perfect, mindful experience every time you eat, increasing mindfulness experiences when you are able to will improve your awareness overall. With time, you will begin to reap the benefits of mindful eating.
The Center for Mindful Eating. Introduction to Mindful Eating. The Center for Mindful Eating. https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/page-1863947.
Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat Behav. 2014;15(2):197-204. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
Alberts HJ, Thewissen R, Raes L. Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite. 2012;58(3):847-851. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.01.009
Jessa Engelken is a second-year graduate student in the Nutritional Sciences Program and Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics at University of Washington. This school year, Jessa will begin her role as a dietetic intern and will graduate with an MPH in Nutritional Sciences.
Jessa follows a weight neutral approach to nutrition and has strong interests in the areas of feeding dynamics, maternal and pediatric nutrition, and nutrition education. She enjoys hiking, reading, and baking chocolate chip cookies during her free time.