How To Start Eating Mindfully
Healthy eating is not just about what you eat, but also how you eat.
Most people don’t think about, or even enjoy, the taste of what they eat. They are simply focused on the next bite, on finishing the meal and moving onto something else, or are distracted by what is happening in their environment (the TV, computer, driving, reading, etc.).
Taking a mindful eating approach can help you refocus on the food you consume.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is something we can do to bring our focus back to the food we are eating. There are three main facets of mindful eating.
- Focus on your food. Look at the food on your plate. Notice how each bite feels and tastes. Take time to enjoy the taste and smell of the food.
- Create a calm eating environment. With less stress or chaos, you will be able to pay attention to what you are eating. Turn off the TV and computer, put away newspapers, books, magazines, and try not to eat on the run.
- Learn to refocus on your food after a distraction. Although it is ideal to eat without distractions such as the TV, computer, phone calls, etc. there will probably be times when you will be interrupted by someone or something. These are the times that you need to remind yourself to refocus on your food.
The benefits of mindful eating
There are many reasons to incorporate mindful eating.
- It can lead to positive and lasting change because eating mindfully is not about restrictive diet choices.
- Food becomes something to enjoy, rather than a temptation or regret.
- It slows down the pace of your meals, allowing your brain time to hear the “I’m full” signals from your stomach, which may help with weight loss.
- It helps as you learn how to ignore the urges to snack that aren’t associated with hunger.
- It optimizes digestion. Some research has shown that when our attention is not focused on eating, our digestive process is 30–40% less effective than it should be, which leads to gas, bloating, and discomfort.
- Mindful eating with family and friends can foster deeper connections.
- It also allows you to model healthy eating behaviors for the people around you.
An introductory exercise
It may be easier and more fun if you do this with a friend.
- Take one bite of an apple slice (or food of your choice) and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet. Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature, and sensation going on in your mouth.
- Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
- In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
- As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
- Take a deep breath and exhale.
- What did you notice while chewing?
- Why did you swallow?
- Was the food no longer tasty?
- Did it dissolve?
- Were you bored?
Each bite does not need to be consumed as meticulously as in this exercise. Do this with the first bite of each meal, and you will lay the groundwork of mindfulness for the other bites too.
More ways to eat mindfully
Here are several straightforward ways you can slow down your meals and be more mindful.
- Eat with chopsticks.
- Eat with your non-dominant hand.
- Eat while sitting down.
- Eat without a TV, newspaper, or computer.
- Put down your utensils for 10–15 seconds after a few bites.
- Take sips of water (or non-calorie beverage) after every few bites.
- Go around the table and each say something you are grateful for. This is a great activity for kids!
- Before you eat, sit quietly for at least 30 seconds. Smell your food and think about where it came from. Picture it growing or roaming in its environment. Think about the steps that food took to end up on your plate growth, harvesting, processing, transportation, purchase, and preparation. Give thanks.
- Concentrate on your arm movements as you bring your food to your mouth.
- Chew your food 10–15 times per bite. Pay attention to taste and texture and how it changes. Swallow when the food is uniformly smooth.
- Put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The US Department of Veterans Affairs