How to Eat Mindfully

Do you ever struggle with overeating? Or have the feeling like you just can't get full after a meal? This is a common issue that mindful eating can help with.

What is Mindful Eating?

You've likely heard the word "mindfulness" given it is a little bit of a buzz word these days. Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism and has been defined by Jon Kabat-Zin, PHD, as "paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally"(1). This practice has has been used to help people mange chronic pain, depression, disease, sleeping problems, and anxiety (1). When used with eating, mindfulness can help to change eating behaviors and gain awareness of our eating experiences (1).

The intent behind mindful eating is to help you savor the moment and food by encouraging you to be present with eating. The main focus of mindful eating isn't necessarily weight loss, but it can be a result (1).

Mindful Eating Benefits (1,2,3):

  • Enjoy your food more

  • Helps prevent overeating

  • Improves digestion

  • Can result in weight loss

Mindful Eating & Weight Loss

Have you ever felt like because you went out with friends and ate something that wasn't allowed on your diet that you "failed"? This is a common feeling for people on diets and can create a sense of shame and hopelessness. Because mindful eating is focused on the process instead of the outcomes, there is no "failing" mindful eating. Thank goodness! Nobody deserves to feel like a failure!

If you've ever wondered why there are so many diets out there, it's because most of them don't work. Unfortunately, they often result in temporary weight loss that tends to come back with vengeance. This is because most diets only look at what somebody is eating and forget to look at the "how" or "why" of eating behaviors. By looking at the "how" and "why", you can identify where behaviors need to change which results in lasting instead of temporary improvements .

You may be wondering what the "how" or "why" of eating even is. These are all the behaviors surrounding your eating that if not looked at closely, can contribute to the yo-yo diet trap (where you are stuck in a cycle of gaining and losing weight while trying a different diet each time). Next time you eat a meal or snack, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why are you eating right now?

  • How did you decide to eat what you are eating?

  • Are you eating it because it actually sounds good or because you think it is the "healthy" choice?

  • Are you actually hungry when you eat?

  • Or are you bored, sad, stressed, anxious, etc.?

  • Do you ever eat just based out of habit?

  • i.e. eating at 12pm because it's "lunch time" or eating when you sit down on the couch at night even if you aren't hungry.

Have you ever wanted something to eat and went to the kitchen to pick out the "healthy" food only to find yourself going back for more? You may even end up back in the kitchen several times before you feel truly satisfied. This is likely because you forced yourself to eat something that complied with the rules you have around food, not what you were truly craving. This can lead to eating more food than if you just went for the food you really wanted to begin with. Instead, what if you went for the food you really wanted, ate it mindfully, truly enjoyed it, and moved on with your day? Doesn't that sound lovely??

Mindful eating is more about reconnecting with yourself than following a set of rules or food restriction (3). It is about appreciating food rather than restriction and rules about when and what to eat (1).

You may have noticed that mindful eating doesn't focus on calories, carbohydrates, protein, etc. That's because most of us know what foods would be considered "healthy" but instead struggle with our behaviors around food. Lasting weight loss and having a healthy relationship with food results from combining food changes with behavior changes.

4 Steps to Practice Mindful Eating Today

1. Check in with yourself before and after meals

Before eating, take a moment to check in with yourself. Is it physical hunger you are feeling or are you stressed, bored, angry, lonely, or sad? If you aren't responding to physical hunger, try and do something more appropriate for that feeling.

Do the same after meals. Did you enjoy what you ate? Are you still hungry? Are you overly full? Try and answer those questions without judgement. This can be a good learning experience for the future.

2. Pay attention while eating

Have you ever eaten a meal in front of your computer and looked down and the meal is gone without even realizing it? When this happens we may not be as satisfied with the meal meaning and we are more likely to go back for seconds or graze throughout the afternoon even if we are no longer physically hungry.

Practicing more mindful eating meaning eating without phones, TVs, computers, etc. This is a tough one but I think we can agree that most of us have been a victim to distracted eating at some point or another.

3. Eat slowly and savor your food

You may realize that you don't actually like some of the things you had been eating. If you do like your food, slowing down and savoring will make it that much more enjoyable.

4. Learn your body's personal hunger signals

Often times we eat because we think we should (i.e. eating at 12pm because it's "lunch time") or because we are responding to emotional triggers. Try and tune into what your true hunger feels like and eat based on those cues.