In our fast-paced and often hectic lives, it’s easy to rush through meals and snacks without truly savoring or appreciating them. Enter mindful eating, an approach to eating that goes far beyond simply counting calories or tracking macronutrients. Mindful eating is a practice rooted in mindfulness, encouraging us to cultivate awareness around our eating habits and our body’s signals of hunger and fullness.
When you practice mindful eating, you are also practicing a form of mindful meditation. If we’re currently experiencing a state of high stress, mindful eating can help reduce that stress. If you eat more mindfully, you’re more likely to notice when you’re over or under eating in response to stress triggers. This can be a signal to work on addressing those triggers or making time for self-care, meditation, or other stress management techniques.
Mindful eating can also help you not sabotage your healthy eating efforts since you’ll notice when stress is affecting your eating habits and get back on track.
Most of us eat on a regular schedule, but do you ever ask yourself if you’re actually hungry when mealtimes arrive? If you aren’t truly hungry, you don’t have to eat, even if the clock says it’s time for a meal. On the flip-side, there should be no guilt in honoring your body’s hunger signals, even if it isn’t “time to eat.”
Many of us grew up hearing our parents say “clean your plate” or “don’t waste food.” These aren’t necessarily bad messages, but they can promote mindless eating and overeating. If you always clean your plate, are you really eating because you’re hungry for everything that’s in front of you, or are you only doing it for the sake of cleaning your plate?
Halfway through your next meal, ask yourself, “am I hungry for the rest of this?” Take a pause to really feel how full or hungry you are. If this feels challenging, it may be easier if you serve yourself a smaller portion initially. You may find that the amount in that first serving was enough to satisfy you, or that you only want a small amount more.
If you are out to eat, try asking for a to-go box as soon as your plate hits the table. Restaurant portions are often larger than what we would eat at home, so immediately removing some of it from the plate can help us stay in tune with our true hunger, especially if we tend to keep eating until the food is gone.
When you are checking in on your hunger or fullness, it can be helpful to use a scale and assign a number to how you feel before and after eating.
When you start eating, aim for a feeling around 3 or 4. When you check in on your fullness, aim to be at a 6 or 7. If you wait to eat until you are extremely hungry (1 or 2), you may accidentally overeat and then end up so full you feel sick! When you are feeling that hungry, you may be more likely to overeat high calorie foods to feel satisfied, rather than a well balanced meal or snack.
When you start feeling hungry, ask yourself what sounds good. Eating a salad may be good for your health, but if you’re eating a salad in place of something you would much rather eat, you’ll likely find yourself craving what you really wanted later on, anyway. It’s important to balance good nutrition with food you enjoy. Watch portion sizes and consider adding in something with fiber, healthy fat, or protein to help make that treat you’re craving more satisfying. Like half a brownie and a small handful of cashews instead of a whole brownie. Could that still satisfy your brownie craving? Try it next time and find out!
This may seem like a challenging idea. After all, watching TV or movies and eating seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, many of us immediately pull out our smartphones or even a book if we are eating a meal on our own. Research done on this subject shows that mixing screens and distractions with our meal leads to a ‘dulling’ in our perception of hunger and fullness cues. In other words, we stop paying attention to whether or not we are getting full, which can lead to overeating. If you tend to watch a show or surf the internet while you eat, consider ways to do so less often. Try sharing a meal with a friend or co-worker (conversation doesn’t dull our fullness cues), or just focus on the pleasure and taste of the food in front of you for a bit.
Being mindful is all about being in the present moment. When eating, take the time to really be aware of both your surroundings and your food. Make meals intentional by plating up your food and sitting down to eat (no eating over the sink!). Limit distractions by silencing your phone. When eating, think about how the food tastes and how it feels to be eating it. What flavors and textures are in that meal? Does eating it spark some emotion?
Mindful eating is a valuable tool to utilize on your health journey. Not only can it help you manage your weight and keep your blood sugar stable, it also helps reduce stress and handle your emotions better. It can even help with chronic disease prevention and management. It’s not just about what you eat; it’s about feeling better in your body and mind, making it a great path to overall health.
Harris, C. (2013, March). Mindful eating — studies show this concept can help clients lose weight and better manage chronic disease. Today’s Dietitian, 15(3), 42. Retrieved from https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030413p42.shtml.
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.