Mindful eating is a practice that combines meditation techniques with eating in order to improve wellbeing, reduce stress, and positively impact eating behaviors. 1 In order to understand mindful eating, you first need to know the basics of mindfulness practice.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a technique that can be applied to various different activities, including meditation, going for a walk, or eating a meal. Essentially, mindfulness is the meditative act of focusing closely on a particular activity, and keeping your mind fixed on the current moment by paying attention to your senses, thoughts, and breath. Research shows that regularly practicing mindfulness positively restructures the parts of the brain that deal with cognitive and emotional processing,and helps regulate the fight-or-flight response. 2 3
Integrating regular mindfulness practice into your routine has been shown to increase overall well-being and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. 4 Mindfulness can be particularly beneficial when applied to the act of eating.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
In addition to the general benefits of mindfulness practice, mindful eating has a number of its own specific benefits. Many people are not in tune with when they are actually hungry or full, but instead eat as an emotional response to boredom, stress, or happiness. Studies show that eating mindfully can help to reduce emotional and binge eating, as well as promote weight loss. 5 6 7 8
How to Apply Mindful Practice to Eating
Grocery shop mindfully. Don’t go food shopping when you are in a bad mood or hungry. Mindfully create a list of items that will support your health goals and stick to that list. When placing items into your cart or basket, pause and ask yourself if each item is supporting your health goals.
Eat slowly. Take more time with each bite, as well as with preparing your meal. Make a point of taking longer than usual to eat, and notice whether this is a difficult task for you.
Do not multitask, just focus on eating. Your meal time should be just that. It is tempting to eat while doing something else, such as answering emails, watching television, or reading. Multitasking takes away from your ability to really notice the flavors, textures, and aromas of your food. It also makes it more difficult to notice when you are full and results in consuming more calories 9 10 . Try doing nothing but eating at your next meal, paying attention to how it makes you feel and whether it improves your enjoyment of the food.
Chew thoroughly. Spend more time chewing your food thoroughly. Many people are in the habit of only chewing a little in order to eat faster, which makes it difficult to focus on your food.
Pay attention to when you feel full as opposed to when your plate is empty. As you slowly and mindfully eat, pay attention to how you feel after each bite. Are you still hungry? Keep eating. Are you full? It’s time to stop.
Notice and let go of judgment. Pay attention to any judgmental thoughts that may arise regarding food. These might include feelings of guilt over eating certain foods or having “too much” at a time. Observe these thoughts and allow yourself to let them go.
For more information on mindful eating and how to integrate it into your routine, speak to a naturopathic doctor. Your ND will collaborate with you to come up with a diet and lifestyle plan that includes a mindful eating practice tailored to your particular health goals.