Mindful Eating | What it is and How to Practice it

Written by Hyde Phillips

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The principles of mindful eating can be applied to any type of dietary approach. It’s not necessarily about what you eat, although the practice of mindful eating can help you to make better food choices. Whether you’ve adopted a plant-based approach to eating or you’re more of a meat-eater, you can enjoy the benefits of mindful eating.

Mindful eating is not a diet and it doesn’t matter whether you count calories or macros, or take more of an intuitive approach to eating. Let’s take a look at what it’s all about, how it can be beneficial, and some practical tips for mindful eating.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating involves paying attention to your food, on purpose, moment by moment, and without judgement. A branch of the mindfulness philosophy, mindful eating is about being in the present moment.

Mindful eating requires the observation of any thoughts, emotions, and sensations that you are experiencing in each moment. While you are eating mindfully you will notice the aroma and taste of your food, physical sensations such as fullness, and any emotions that arise. You can also extend your mindful eating practice to the actions of buying and preparing food.

If you’re hearing about this approach for the first time, your initial reaction could be doubtful. Perhaps you’re thinking “of course I taste my food properly”!

But how many times have you unconsciously and hurriedly shoveled food into your mouth because you’re in a rush to get out the door? And how many times have you perhaps eaten more than you needed to because you were watching a YouTube video and you just didn’t realise how much you were eating?

Mindful eating is an approach centered on gentleness and awareness. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it can form part of a holistic approach to nutrition.

The benefits of mindful eating

Mindful eating can have both physiological and psychological benefits. It can help you to gain control over your eating habits and instill a feeling of connectedness.

Mindful eating can improve digestion

Eating slowly is a core concept of mindful eating. The very nature of slowing down allows your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to become more dominant. This branch of the nervous system is often called the “rest and digest” system, for good reason. When the body is in a balanced and relaxed state, optimal digestion can more easily occur.

Mindful eating can help you develop healthier eating habits

Mindful eating can be a useful approach for healthier eating on several levels. It can be helpful for:

  • Addressing problems with binging and emotional eating
  • Managing food cravings by learning to pay attention to hunger cues
  • Increasing awareness of healthy portion sizes by eating the amount that feels right for your body (i.e. learning to eat when you are hungry and stop when you have had enough)
  • Making nourishing food choices more often
  • Developing a better relationship with food so that you can savor and enjoy it without feelings of guilt
  • Understanding how different foods affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally
  • Deeper relationship connections as you sit and enjoy the present moment during meals together without unnecessary disruptions

As a result of the points above, mindful eating can also form part of a weight management plan.

[Find out more about healthy eating habits in “The best healthy eating tips for busy people”].

Mindful eating can help you appreciate your food on a deeper level

It’s easy to forget where your food has come from and how many steps it has taken to reach your plate. Mindful eating can help instill a sense of gratitude. It can help you feel more connected to the natural world and to the people who have been part of the process to bring food to your table.

Essentially, mindful eating can help you to make better food choices not only for your own personal health but also from a sustainability perspective.

Mindful Eating. What it is and how to practice it. Holding fresh load of homemade bread

How to eat mindfully

Eating mindfully simply requires you to focus all your attention on what is happening right now. If you feel your thoughts moving elsewhere, gently bring them back to the present meal. Use all your senses to enable you to fully experience mindful eating. Some of the observations you can make while you are eating include:

  • Things you can see – from the food on your plate to the action of your knife and fork, to the people around you
  • The taste, texture, and aroma of the food
  • Any physical sensations – from the movement of your hands to the connection of your food with your mouth, and any physical sensations as you swallow and digest your food
  • Thoughts and feelings that arise during and after your meal. How does your food make you feel and how does it affect your mental and emotional state?

Mindful eating principles and tips

Take note of the following important mindful eating tips. When you embrace the entire philosophy of mindful eating you will be able to fully experience and appreciate the benefits of this practice.

Distinguish hunger cues from emotional ones and eat when you are hungry

Physical hunger cues can include things like feeling hungry or low on energy. It’s common for people to eat in response to emotions. These emotions could be anything from boredom, to anger or sadness. Learn to find other outlets for emotional comfort and get to know and respond to your true hunger cues.

Eat slowly and chew properly

Satiation signals can take time to reach the brain. That’s why it’s easy to overeat and subsequently feel overfull if you eat too quickly. Slowing down to eat offers the body a chance to catch up to the signals from the brain. Another tip for slowing down is to aim to be the last person at the table to finish your meal. Chewing properly also helps you to slow down and it is necessary for optimal digestion.

Single-tasking and planning

Always sit down to eat, and make sure the dinner table is free from distractions. This means no eating in front of the TV and no devices at the table.

Plan and prepare for healthy eating to minimize the chance of mindlessly looking in your fridge or cupboard for something to eat.

[Find out more about setting your kitchen up for healthy eating habits in “Tips for setting up your home environment with health and fitness in mind”].

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