Mindful eating is a practice that allows you to be more intentional with your eating habits while also maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
Slowing down and bringing more mindful awareness to what you’re eating and how you’re feeling before, during and after meals is one of the best practices you can have for finding what works for you and creating healthy eating habits.
There are no restrictions on food when practicing mindful eating, and this helps you create more awareness, positive thoughts and emotions surrounding food and eating.
By becoming in-tune with our bodies and honoring our personal likes, dislikes, wants and needs, you can develop a more sustainable approach to eating that supports you in your daily life.
Here at Nutrition Stripped, we believe there are two important aspects of eating well every day: what you eat and how you eat. The concept of mindful eating is more about how to eat rather than what or how much you are eating. It’s all about putting the focus back on your experience at mealtimes.
In order to eat mindfully, we must listen to our hunger, taste and satiety cues.
When eating mindfully, food that was once labeled as “off-limits” or “bad” that would instigate binge eating episodes, no longer holds any power over you.
Let’s do a deep dive into the specific principles behind this way of eating.
Eating quickly has become a part of our culture. Whether it’s an on-the-go breakfast as you’re running out the door or a fast lunch so you can get back to your work — everything seems to have been sped up.
When eating mindfully, it’s important to slow down the pace of your eating. Take a pause or a deep breath between bites, then fully chew and swallow before taking the next bite.
Slowing down the process of eating allows you to be present in that moment and truly assess – am I still hungry or am I just mindlessly eating?
Eating mindfully also means when you’re eating, you’re just eating. That way, you can really focus on your food, enjoy it and truly experience it.
When you do these things, you’re able to more consciously experience your food — the way the food tastes, how it feels, what it looks like and how it smells all contribute to the experience of eating.
Who else grew up hearing about the clean plate club?
It’s very common for people to believe if food is on their plate, they have to finish it. There can sometimes even be a sense of guilt or shame when food is left untouched.
If you truly are hungry and want to clear your plate – go for it!
Your hunger cues are your body’s way of telling you that it needs energy. When eating mindfully we just want to ensure that our hunger cues are guiding our eating, rather than situational or environmental cues.
It’s also important to listen to hunger and satiety cues when determining when to eat. Instead of eating on a strict, rigid schedule, mindful eating means recognizing when your body says you are hungry or full, and eating accordingly in response.
Truly utilizing hunger and satiety cues will give you the power to determine non-hunger triggers for eating so you can better understand your relationship with food.
If you’ve ever struggled with eating when bored, stressed, or feeling other emotions, this skill can help you navigate those situations and cope with your emotions.
Nourishing yourself with foods that are nutrient-dense and ensuring that you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs to function properly is essential.
But food is far more than just fueling our physical body. Food is about connection, pleasure, fun, experience, culture, celebration, tradition, and artistic expression especially when cooking.
Your likes and dislikes should guide your food choices and your eating habits. Eating food that you actually enjoy is mindful.
Don’t judge yourself based on your likes and dislikes. Everyone is different and it’s perfectly acceptable to want and enjoy the taste of something that may not necessarily be considered to be nutrient-dense – as I like to say, it can be good for the soul.
Find foods that are nutrient-dense that you enjoy and also don’t feel guilty for enjoying foods that you like that aren’t as nutritious.
When you sit down to eat – think about all of the different components of that meal and express gratitude for what you have.
The more you appreciate and truly experience your food, the more mindful and in the moment you will be with your actions and choices.
We say this all the time, but perfect doesn’t exist. Even those that have been practicing mindful eating for years may act mindlessly here and there — and that is OK — that’s expected!
The goal here is just to recognize when this happens and acknowledge how you feel. If you aren’t eating mindfully and following your hunger cues, why are you eating? Maybe it’s out of stress or boredom. Or maybe you just ate to the point of discomfort.
Whatever the scenario, learning to be aware and reflect on situations such as these will help you to understand yourself even further.
Now that we know the major components of mindful eating, why should we bother giving it a go?
A healthy relationship with food is vital for absolutely everyone.
When we say a healthy relationship, that means one free from food rules, guilt or judgment; food freedom if you will.
Whether you’ve struggledwith an eating disorder, disordered eating habitsor chronic dieting, creating a healthy relationship with food through mindful eating can make all the difference in your recovery.
For example, many studies have shown that the use of mindful eating has proven successful in minimizing binge eating disorder episodes, emotional eating and triggered eating (1), (2), (3), (4).
A lot of times our eating habits or food choices can be made from environmental cues — like those chips in the office break room or what your friends are ordering when you go out to eat — or emotional cues — like stress or boredom or grief.
We want to instead make food choices based on our hunger and satiety cues, and mindful eating can help you practice that.
Mindful eating guides you to tune into where you are with your hunger levels and what your body needs and wants.
Sometimes that may help you say, you know what, “I don’t want those chips right now,” or “I don’t really even like those chips in the office, I would rather have a piece of my favorite chocolate when I get home later and fully enjoy it.”
Other times, it may help you say, “I’m not that hungry, but I would actually enjoy that dessert right now. I’ll see if someone wants to share so I don’t feel overfull.”
Or maybe it would be, “I notice that I’m not actually hungry, but I really want a snack. I think it’s because I’m bored right now. What could I do instead?”
By bringing awareness to what you’re feeling and the choices you’re making, you can gain little insights about yourself — like that you tend to snack while watching TV or you don’t really like the snacks at the office but eat them anyway.
Whatever it may look like for you, this awareness can help you make choices that better align with what you want to feel and what your body needs and wants, rather than being influenced by external factors.
Eating mindfully can bring your attention back to yourself and your eating habits.
Taking the time to pause, eat slowly and without distractions can show you where your external food triggers are and allow you to become more in-tune with your hunger and satiety cues.
Mindful eating also allows you to determine any negative associations or feelings that you may have with food.
Once you’re able to acknowledge and understand these parts of yourself, mindful eating can help you to create more awareness, positive thoughts and emotions surrounding food and eating.
Sometimes when we have long-term habits, it can be difficult to identify them in the first place, never mind begin to change them.
The following are some of the more common signs of mindless eating:
Mindless eating is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m willing to bet absolutely everyone has experienced one or more of these signs at one point in their lives.
Simply acknowledging the act of mindless eating already sets you on the right path to becoming more mindful and intentional with your eating habits.
If any of the above-stated signs resonate with you, here are some actionable steps you can take to start eating more mindfully.
Before and after eating, stop and ask yourself, “How do I feel?”.
Determine if you’re hungry or full, relaxed, stressed or emotional. By doing this, you can also determine why it is that you’re eating. Ideally, we’re only eating when we’re hungry, but this isn’t always the case.
By practicing this self-check-in, over time you can become self-aware and better understand your relationship with food. You can develop the habit of being mindful of your food and eating habits.
Mealtime distractions can quickly take away the mindfulness of eating.
Take some time to actively think about all of the distractions you generally have while eating. This maybe your phone, tv or even work tasks during your lunch hour.
Remove these distractions and really focus on just eating. This brings the attention back to your meal and you’ll be much more likely to acknowledge and notice your hunger, satiety, taste and the overall experience of your meals.
I know this one seems obligatory, but chew your food thoroughly!
When we’re in a rush or simply eating quickly out of habit, food ends up passing through to the esophagus barely chewed. Not only is this disadvantageous for mindfulness, but it can also cause digestion complications like bloating and gas.
The more we chew our food, the more time the brain has to cognitively recognize exactly what we’re doing and eventually react accordingly with satiety.
When you sit down to eat – think about all of the different components of that meal. How does it taste? What is the texture? What does it look like? How long did it take to prepare?
The more you appreciate and truly experience your food, the more mindful and at the moment you will be with your actions and choices.
Another mindful eating practice is to nourish your body by eating a variety of foods. A simple framework I use is the Foundational Five.
The Foundational Five is my simple system of ensuring you’re nourishing your physical body throughout your day by eating an abundance of plant-based and whole foods. The five includes: protein, non-starchy carbohydrates, starchy carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a flavor factor.
When you eat the Foundational Five, also change up the colors and textures of each element. This helps to ensure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals.
When you can create a delicious meal that you thoroughly enjoy using nutrient-dense ingredients, you can develop the skill of
We’re meant to experience our food; the way the food tastes, how it feels, what it looks like and how it smells all contribute to the experience of eating.
When we use our senses and really experience our food, we’re mindful and present at that moment.
Sitting at the table is another great practice, especially since so many of us can get accustomed to eating at our desks or eating on the couch.
By simply dedicating your table or counter — wherever you eat — to actually eating, you’re using your environment to train your brain and recognize that it’s time to slow down and eat.
Journaling can be exceptionally beneficial for an abundance of different scenarios, especially mindfulness.
Taking a moment to journal about what you would like your relationship with food to be or what your food struggles are can help to resolve mindlessness over time. It doesn’t have to be formal or regulated, just start writing and see where your mind takes you.
Journaling can help shed a light on your pain points and struggles, especially when presented in a tangible manner.
Meditationplays a big role in mindful eating. Meditation is all about gaining awareness and perspective. It allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment.
The goal of meditation directly coincides with that of mindful eating. When used in tandem, you can learn to understand your eating habits and tendencies and make mindful shifts without judgment or guilt.
Practicing mindful eating can make a significant positive influence in your life. That’s why it’s such a big part of the Nutrition Stripped philosophy and why we teach it to our coaching clients and members of The Method, our online nutrition and mindful eating program.
You’re next step is to put this into practice. What’s one thing you can take away from this post that you can try today and practice everyday?