Mindful eating is a mindfulness-based practice that is aimed at generally being aware of our eating habits.
By eating mindfully on a frequent basis, we are not only able to make better food choices but also feel fulfilled with what we eat and how we eat it.
This beginner’s guide to mindful eating looks at this practice in-depth and covers key areas such as what mindful is and what it isn’t, how it works, the benefits, how to eat mindfully, and many more.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is defined as intentionally paying attention to our food, moment by moment without making judgments or forming opinions about it (1).
Working with mindfulness helps us be aware of our entire eating experiences, from when we buy the foods we intend to eat, to when we prepare them, serve them, and then consume them.
It helps us be aware of our desire to eat, what we choose to eat after acknowledging the desire, how we eat what we’ve chosen to consume, and being aware of our general eating patterns and activities.
It also allows us to engage our smell, taste, hearing, and seeing and feeling senses to interact more with the food. Taking note of the flavor and smell of our foods among other things helps us appreciate the food more.
That’s why we are encouraged to take our time with our food, eat it slowly without mixing the activity with other things like watching TV or using our phones.
Ideally, we aim to bring our whole attention to the activity eating and our thoughts and feelings towards it without doing anything about it. We simply become aware.
Constantly engaging in mindful eating allows us to be aware of the things we do right as well as those we do wrong when eating and have a natural desire to want to change the bad habits into healthier and more rewarding ones.
Just as it is said, acknowledging is the first step to solving a problem, being aware of our negative eating habits makes the first step towards improving our lifestyles and well-being.
How Mindful Eating Works
Mindful eating is often falsely perceived as a set of rules that we should follow to eat food, which weighs us down and keeps us from enjoying what we are eating, which is quite the contrary.
This practice is actually about appreciating what we eat and savoring the moment from when we think about food to having our last bite.
To achieve the goal of mindful eating, all we have to do is be aware of how we normally go about the process of eating without altering anything or forming opinions along the way.
It begins with the desire to change how we approach our food, taking an intentional step towards that direction and adding a commitment to that change so we can see results from it.
Then we make a mindful observation of how we think and behave as far as food is concerned.
Before doing anything food-related, we take a minute and observe how we feel. We take note of any emotions we may be experiencing such as feelings of boredom, sadness, stress, anger, happiness, or any others.
We then see if these feelings are pushing us to want to eat or if we are genuinely hungry. We observe how we think about the feelings and the decisions we make.
If we are in fact hungry, we go ahead and prepare something to eat. And as we prepare we make an effort of considering the ingredients and their origin before they got to our kitchen. How they were grown, manufactured, and delivered to our places.
After preparation, we sit down with our food, making sure we put away any forms of distraction that might keep us from being present with our food as we eat it. We pay attention to each bite we take, being aware of our feelings and senses.
After a couple of bites, and we feel we are full, we go ahead and do other things we have planned, whether it’s having dessert, or doing other activities.
The main features of mindful eating are:
- Having a newbie’s mindset – As we eat, we should approach our food as if we have never eaten it before. Just like a beginner observes everything there is about something as they get into it for the first time, we should also observe the taste of the food, its smell, sound, texture, and its look. We let go of our previous experiences with the food so we are able to experience it afresh.
- Avoiding judgment – As we having our time with our food, it is easy to fall into the temptation of labeling the food as sweet, sour, or bitter or judging other aspects of it like the appearance. We need to be aware of our judgmental thoughts and redirect our attention to the nonjudgmental awareness of the food.
- Having no expectations of a certain outcome – Most of the time when we pay attention to our eating experiences, we are looking forward to a certain result like losing weight. However, with mindful eating, there is no result we should expect. Our experience with the food is all there is, so we make good use of that without having strings attached to the end goal.
- Having patience – Mindful eating requires more time than the usual way of eating we are used to. Unlike those times we just have a couple of spoonfuls in our mouths and chew as we think about different areas of our lives or while observing the environment, mindful eating requires us to be there in the moment and to be aware of every moment and every bite. This means we need to spare more time and be patient so we can have a full experience.
- Having acceptance – As we eat, we should be willing to accept whatever we observe. We should accept the good and bad sides of our eating experiences and habits. We should acknowledge that we are often too judgmental as well as appreciate our strong preference for foods we feel make us happy as we have them. This acceptance allows us to have trust in ourselves as this is our reality.
What Mindful Eating is Not
As we have seen, mindful eating asks for more attention and concentration when eating.
Unlike mindless eating where we are not keen on the signals the body gives off for eating, and where we eat junk foods that give us emotional comfort as we multitask, mindful eating involves a more invested and careful approach to eating.
Mindful eating is also often confused with intuitive eating, however, these are two entirely different practices.
Intuitive eating is the kind of eating that focuses on listening to our bodies. Here, we eat when we feel hungry and quit eating when we are full.
It goes against what the modern-day diet experts have created for people to work with as part of their diet plans which often overlook this basic yet crucial factor in eating.
Intuitive eating has similarities to mindful eating in that they both encourage us to be more careful with the food we eat and when we eat it.
However, mindful eating is more inclined towards replacing our current lifestyles to adopt more mindful ones that allow us to appreciate the beauty and benefits of the present moment.
Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is aimed at discouraging the trendy unhealthy eating being promoted across the world, which ends up ruining our lives and making eating a complicated process.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
The benefits we get from eating mindfully include:
- Being able to determine if we’re really hungry. More often, we find ourselves eating food when we are not really hungry. We are led on by our feelings to want to eat more even when we don’t have physical hunger that requires us to eat. This ends up making us waste food, fail to feel fulfilled from the emotional eating, and even adds extra weight that could have been avoided. Mindful eating allows us to discern the real hunger signs as well as signs that show we are full, which contribute to healthy eating.
- Motivates us to eat healthy foods. By taking time to be aware of what we eat, we get to recognize the kind of foods we put in our bodies. This awareness makes us feel more inclined towards eating healthier foods rather than fast foods that give temporary fulfillment and later on cause trouble in our lives, health-wise. Mindful eating helps us drop the unhealthy eating habits which promote weight loss (2).
- Reduces binge eating. Thousands of people across the world struggle with binge eating which is associated with various eating disorders. Mindful eating is known to reduce how often we binge eat as well as how much we do in a single eating session (3).
- Improves our relationship with food. As we learn to eat when we are truly hungry and also take time with our food, we get to appreciate our food more, find more pleasure in consuming it while involving our senses and awareness and build a strong relationship that benefits us in the long term.
How To Practice Mindful Eating
There are many approaches to mindful eating which have been developed by various experts.
Some give a basic understanding of the practice while others go in-depth to help you learn almost everything in this area for more rewarding results.
If you’d like to get a good foundation for this practice, attending mindfulness seminars or workshops or taking online mindfulness courses is a good place to begin.
Getting mindfulness or mindful eating training from credible organizations within your locality or online will help ground you well in the practice.
If you would like to have a feel of what the basic but slightly more effective version of the practice is, you can work with the practice below.
It is easy to do it and can help with getting started with mindful eating as you progress to found yourself and maintain it in your life.
Here are the steps to take:
Step 1. Assuming you are eating raisins, take a plate of them and put it in your dining table or where you normally have your food, and sit down as you prepare to eat them.
Step 2. Imagine this is your first time on planet Earth. You have just landed from another planet and everything you are seeing around you is completely new. Being in this state, you have no past experiences with anything including the raisins so you have no mental image of the taste, smell, or any other aspect of the raisins.
Step 3. Breathe in and out deeply 3 to 5 times and then pick a raisin and look at it, feel the weight of it. Explore it as you would, considering you are seeing it for the first time in your life. Take a good look at its shape, texture, and smell.
Step 4. Take note of your reaction as you do this.
Step 5. Play around with it in your fingers or hands and be aware of the sounds that come from doing that.
Step 6. Observe your feelings about the raisin. Then take it in your mouth but first place it between your lips and let it sit there for a couple of seconds to minutes as you take note of your feelings and sensations.
Step 7. Play with it in your mouth without chewing it and notice the taste, your feelings, and desires and also how your body reacts as you do this.
Step 8. Take a small bite and be aware of how you feel. Then start chewing slowly as you remain aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Step 9. Keep chewing until the raisin is ready for swallowing. Swallow and then take time to observe what you feel and what effects the swallowing has brought within you.
Step 10. Rinse and repeat this process until you feel you are full. Then hold for a moment and notice what you feel after you are done and what thoughts and sensations are persistent.
Step 11. Make a mental note that you are done and then take your plate back to the kitchen as you go on with your day normally.
Tips to Make Mindful Eating More Effective
To have a more fruitful experience with mindful eating, here are some rewarding tips we should keep in mind:
- We should get rid of all the distractions that might prevent us from attending to our food with full concentration
- We should have small bites and take our time to chew and do it slowly and thoroughly. Since our brains take about 20 minutes to catch up with our bodies and send satiation signals, we should ensure we eat slowly and put down our forks and knives, chopsticks, or spoons as we chew.
- Before we eat, we should also consider where we get the food from and the process it took to get it on our table so as to create more bonds with it.
- We should ensure not to skip meals so that we are not super hungry when we sit down to eat mindfully as this can make us eat fast to fill the void and in turn miss out on the chance to eat mindfully in the best way possible.
- We should begin doing mindful eating a couple of times per week and slowly increase the number of meals we eat mindfully in a day as we get more comfortable with the practice.
- We should keep practicing regardless of the different experiences we may have with every meal or session. We are always making progress even though we may not necessarily feel it.
- We should set a specific time for eating our meals and be consistent with them. By having a specific time we eat when we are at home, at work, a time frame for eating when traveling and when doing other things, we are able to follow through with the practice much easier than if we didn’t have a plan.
- We should also try to remain mindful before our time to eat mindfully as well as after so we can have an easy time getting to our next meal mindfully. This means we can try other mindful practices such as mindful speaking and listening, mindfulness meditation, mindful walking, and mindful working to help us be more mindful throughout our day and make an easy transition to eating mindfully.
In summary, mindful eating allows us to become aware of what we eat and how we eat it. This leads to more self-awareness which then allows us to eat healthier foods and also be aware of the amounts we consume in regard to our fitness goals.
Mindful eating is fairly easy to practice. We just need to avoid any distractions that keep us from focusing on our food and then regularly be aware of our eating process during our mealtimes.
By starting small with this practice and improving our level of mindfulness when we eat slowly by slowly, and by redirecting our attention when we drift off into distracting thoughts, we get better at mindful eating every time we make use of it.