“The core principles of mindful eating include being aware of the nourishment available through the process of food preparation and consumption, choosing enjoyable and nutritious foods, acknowledging food preferences nonjudgmentally, recognizing and honoring physical hunger and satiety cues, and using wisdom to guide eating decisions.” –Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD
Keeping up with a modern, fast-paced lifestyle can leave little time for tuning into your needs. You’re constantly moving from one thing to the next, not paying attention to what your mind or body is truly craving. Practicing mindfulness can help you become aware of those needs.
When mindfulness is applied to eating, it can help you recognize your patterns and behaviors, while bringing attention to bodily cues associated with hunger and fullness.
Stemming from the practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction, practicing mindfulness while eating can help you focus on the present moment rather than continuing habitual and unsatisfying behaviors. Mindful eating is a way to begin a path of looking inward to help you become more aware of your relationship with food, and use that awareness to eat with enjoyment.
The body carries a lot of knowledge and information, so when you apply mindfulness to the eating experience, you can start to make conscious choices, instead of falling into automatic—and oftentimes emotion-driven—behaviors. Once you become aware of these habits, you’re better equipped to change your actions.
People who choose to approach food and nutrition with mindfulness are encouraged to:
- Explore their own inner intelligence about food—likes and dislikes
- Choose foods that are pleasing to and nourishing to their bodies
- Accept particular food preferences without judgment or self-criticism
- Practice awareness of their body's cues to start eating and to stop eating
- Understand that their food preferences and eating experiences are unique to them
Health Benefits of Mindful Eating
According to a six-week pilot study at the Oregon Research Institute, “eating focused mindfulness-based intervention can result in significant changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological distress in obese individuals.” Results also showed a decline in binge eating, anxiety, and depressive symptoms.
Practicing mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques can also help prevent weight gain, according to the Journal of Obesity.
General Principles of Mindful Eating
One approach to mindful eating is based on the guiding principles provided by Rebecca J. Frey, Ph.D., and Laura Jean Cataldo, RN:
- Listen to your body's internal cues about hunger and satiety
- Identify personal triggers for mindless eating, such as social pressures, strong emotions, and particular foods
- Pay attention to the quality rather than the quantity of your food
- Appreciate the sensual or pleasurable, as well as the nutritional qualities of food
Mindful Eating Practices
With some basic guidelines in place, try putting mindful eating into practice. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Start with One Meal
Getting started with any new habit takes time. Creating mindful eating habits can be tough to do all the time, but you can practice with a single meal or even part of a meal. Try paying attention to hunger cues and your food choices before you begin eating or tune into the feelings of satiety at the end of a meal—these are great ways to begin an attention practice.
2. Remove Distractions from View
Place your cell phone in another room, or turn it off entirely. Turn off the television and computer and put away anything else—like books, magazines, and newspapers—that may distract you from the eating experience. Give your full attention to the meal in front of you.
3. Tune into Your Perspective
Become aware of your mindset when you begin this practice. Recognize that there is not a right or wrong way to eat, but simply different levels of awareness around the eating experience. Focus your attention on the sensations of eating. When you notice your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to the experience of eating.
4. Engage Your Senses
There are many ways to experiment with this practice. Try using all of your senses to investigate one food item. Notice the smells, textures, colors, and flavors when you place food in your mouth. Try noticing how the food changes as you chew each bite thoroughly.
5. Take Your Time
Mindful eating requires slowing down, which allows your digestive hormones to tell your brain you’re full before eating too much. Setting your fork down between bites is a great way to slow you down. Plus, you’ll be better able to enjoy the experience of your meal, especially if you’re with loved ones.
Practicing mindfulness in a busy world can be challenging at times, but you can find ways to more easily tune into your body by understanding and implementing these basic guiding principles and practices. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you discover just how much your relationship with food can change for the better—and this can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.