Mindful Eating 101: What it is and How To Do It
I am a big fan of ditching the diet mentality and embracing food freedom through healthy food balance.
And one of the first steps to unlocking that door is by raising awareness around your day-to-day food habits with practices like mindful eating.
Do you often sabotage your healthy living goals with food?
At meal time do you find yourself going back for seconds (or even thirds), only to feel sick or stuffed later?
How often do you catch yourself mindlessly eating?
Mindful eating can help.
What is mindful eating? Mindful eating is a technique that helps you enjoy your food in a way that also gives YOU control over your eating habits.
Mindfulness is a practice that enables us to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, connected to our emotions and able to cope with them in a way that raises awareness and offers greater clarity and understanding.
Mindful eating helps us tune into our hunger, feelings of fullness, and increases overall food satisfaction. And regularly practicing it has been shown to reduce overeats, support weight loss, improve your food relationship, and boost feelings of satiety and satisfaction at meal time.
Mindless eating vs. mindful eating.
With mindless eating, your focus isn’t solely on your food and the eating experience. You might be eating while catching up on episodes of your favorite show or scrolling your phone. Or maybe you’re eating while you’re walking, driving, or chatting on the phone. The common factor in all of these scenarios? You’re eating distracted and often eating very quickly. This type of distracted eating often results in consuming more than you realize (or intended to), and in a short period of time. If you’re used to eating on-the-go or while multi-tasking, there’s a good chance that you have become accustomed to eating in a more mindless state.
Mindful eating is a whole different ball game. It’s about enjoying your food, every morsel, every bite and lick. Taking the time to enjoy your snack or meal, engaging your senses with every mouthful, soaking in the sights, scents, textures, and flavors of your food.
Why is slowing down and appreciating your food so important? Experts agree it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to register feelings of fullness. Eating more slowly helps support your ability to recognize these fullness cues by being more present with your food and your body, which is especially important in supporting a healthy relationship with food and your eat better goals.
When you eat mindlessly, it is much easier to scarf down a bunch of extra calories before your brain can really catch up, leaving you feeling stuffed rather than satisfied.
How can you make the transition from mindless to mindful eating?
Start with preparation.
You can start by using your food prep and cooking time as an opportunity to engage the senses and build a strong appreciation for what you’ll be eating.
Bringing your senses to the party is a huge part of eating mindfully, increasing satisfaction and satiety. You’ll want to immerse yourself in the visual elements of your food and the delicious smells that fill the room while it’s cooking. Don’t forget about how the food feels, noticing how the texture may change as it’s chopped, peeled or cooked. Even sounds are powerful… think about the sizzle of onions or garlic in a hot pan or the fizz of water as it begins to boil. Any opportunity to involve all of your senses is a win.
Before you even begin to prepare and cook your food, it can be helpful to set an intention about why you’re preparing the food and check in with your state of mind. How are you feeling as you get ready to prepare your meal?
Think about the ingredients you’re using and how they made it into your kitchen. Where did they come from? What was involved in their journey to get to you? How many people were involved in this?
Cut all outside distractions as you work. That means no television or radio on in the background and no YouTube videos or podcasts running. This allows you to give your full attention to being mindful and present in the moment.
Slow it down.
Slowing down the eating process is a key component of mindful eating, and one of the simplest ways to start is by chewing your food thoroughly.
Experts recommend that you chew each mouthful up to 25 times (and sometimes more). This might seem daunting if you’re used to swallowing your food quickly, one bite after the other, and after only one or two chews, but it is incredibly important for both healthy digestion and food satisfaction.
Let’s talk about 2 important roles chewing well plays in your health:
It’s often said that digestion starts in your mouth, not your stomach. This is because chewing your food well helps you break it down into smaller pieces that are much easier for your body to digest. It also makes it easier for nutrients to be extracted from the food you've consumed. If you notice you tend to struggle with digestive issues, chewing your food well could be a huge help.
Chewing your food well also helps you to feel satisfied vs. stuffed. This is largely due to the fact that chewing mindfully forces you to eat at a slower pace, allowing you to recognize feelings of fullness and enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction from your food. Whereas eating too quickly is strongly linked to overeating, which can leave you feeling uncomfortable, stuffed, or even sick.
According to the results of a study involving 30 women, eating at a slower pace meant that they ate less food and felt significantly fuller and satisfied.
And in another study, chewing thoroughly reduced intakes of sweet snacks, such as cookies and candy.
Eating alone vs. eating with others.
When you eat your meals, do you tend to do so in a social setting or alone by yourself?
Eating alone can make you more likely to engage in mindless eating behaviors, such as multitasking on your phone or sitting in front of the television. When this happens, it can be a recipe for overeating. And when it occurs on the regular, it can do a number on your health and your waistline.
When eating alone it may feel comforting to distract yourself with devices, but it's a recipe for mindless eating. Whether you're scrolling on your phone, eating at the computer or in front of the television, the distraction actually takes you away from the food itself, leaving you feeling less satisfied and ultimately setting the stage for overeating. But when you eat distraction free you give yourself the opportunity to connect with how you are feeling and truly enjoy your food. And you're better able to recognize your body’s hunger and fullness cues, so you can identify when you're eating out of physical hunger or feeding something else.
Pro tip: to make eating alone a mindful experience give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your food. If you find yourself repeatedly squeezing lunch into a few minutes, eating while walking or driving in the car, you are rushing through your food and setting some unhealthy habits that can be challenging to break later.
Eating with others can naturally slow the pace of food consumption, making you less susceptible to mindless eating behaviors. Conversations that ebb and flow will often cause you to put your fork down between bites, making it much easier to be mindful. The downside of eating socially is some people find that they actually eat more than they intended in group settings. This can happen due to the fact that we tend to stay at the table longer, grazing while sipping cocktails, eating food just because it's there and often past the point of actual hunger.
Pro tip: if you find yourself rushing through meals or drawn to continue snacking past your first plated portions, try putting the focus back on the moment, your environment, and the opportunity to connect with others. Are you there for the food or the social experience?
Take away - there’s plenty of ways in both situations to be mindful, so neither necessarily carries a strong advantage. It really is all about being mindful. Eating mindfully can help you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger, enabling you to better give your body what it needs. By raising awareness, you are better armed to respond to these cues in a way that promotes a healthy food relationship, supports your healthy living goals, and reduces self-sabotage or other unhealthy behaviors.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.