6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind to discern between mindless and (more) mindful eating.

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Eating as mindfully as we do on retreat or in a mindfulness course is not realistic for many of us, especially with families, jobs, and the myriad distractions around us. This is not to mention that our friends, family, and colleagues might not have the patience to eat with us as we take five minutes with each bite. So have some self-compassion, and consider formal mindful eating on retreat and special occasions, as well as informal mindful eating in your daily life.

What I want to offer is what I call more mindful eating, perhaps “informal” mindful eating as opposed to formal mindful eating. Especially during the stress and extra food of the holidays, that Halloween to New Year stretch when we are more likely to eat mindlessly than mindfully. Here are six simple guidelines to keep in mind to discern between mindless and (more) mindful eating, and bring our bodies and minds back together.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating, or conscious eating, is the practice of being fully attentive to your food, your feelings, your hunger, and your satiety cues. It’s about eating consciously, engaging all senses, and acknowledging responses, feelings, and physical cues like hunger or fullness.

Incorporating mindful eating habits into our daily routine isn’t just about eating slower or choosing healthy foods; it’s about nurturing a more intimate and conscious relationship with what we eat. By learning how to eat slower and more mindfully, we can not only enjoy our meals more but also become better attuned to our body’s needs, leading to improved well-being and satisfaction.

6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating helps in making healthier food choices and developing habits that benefit both physical and mental health. Here are six mindful eating tips to get started eating more mindfully:

1) Let your body catch up to your brain

Eating rapidly past full and ignoring your body’s signals vs. slowing down and stopping when your body says it’s full.

Slowing down is one of the best ways we can get our mind and body to communicate what we really need for nutrition. The body actually sends its satiation signal about 20 minutes after the brain, which is why we often unconsciously overeat. But, if we slow down, you can give your body a chance to catch up to your brain and hear the signals. Simple ways to slow down might include following many of your grandmother’s manners, like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 25 times (or more), setting your fork down between bites, and all those old manners that are maybe not as pointless as they seemed. 

Ask yourself: What are some ways you can slow down eating and listen more deeply to your body’s signals?

2) Know your body’s personal hunger signals

Are you responding to an emotional want or responding to your body’s needs?

Often we listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might discover more wisdom by tuning into our bodies first. Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals, which may be different for each of us, be they stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or even just boredom, we can listen to our bodies. Is your stomach growling, energy low, or feeling a little lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is actually listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger.

Ask yourself: What are your body’s hunger signals, and what are your emotional hunger triggers?

3) Cultivate a mindful kitchen for mindful eating

Eating alone and randomly vs. eating with others at set times and places.

Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets, eating at random times and places, rather than just thinking proactively about our meals and snacks. This slows us down for one thing, but prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains for new cues for eating that not always ideal. (Do you really want to create a habit to eat every time you get in the car, or other situations?) Sure, we all snack from time to time, but it can boost both your mind and body’s health, not to mention greatly helping your mood and sleep schedule to eat at consistent times and places. Yes, that means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container, and using utensils not our hands. It also helps to eat with others, not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you also slow down and can enjoy the food and conversation more, and we take our cues from our dinner partner, not over or undereating out of emotion.

Having a mindful kitchen means organizing and caring for your kitchen space so it encourages healthy eating and nourishing gatherings. Consider what you bring into your kitchen and where you put things away. Are healthy foods handy? What kinds of foods are in sight? When food is around, we eat it.

There are many reasons that the raisin eating it is such a powerful exercise, but one is that when we slow down and eat healthy foods like raisins, we often enjoy them more than the story we tell ourselves about healthy foods.

You don’t have to plan your food down to each bite, and it’s important to be flexible, especially at special occasions, but just be aware of the fact that you might be changing your eating habits at different times of year or for different occasions. And when you do plan ahead, you are also more likely to eat the amount your body needs in that moment than undereating and indulging later, or overeating and regretting it later.

The classic advice is to also not shop when hungry, but the middle path applies here as well. A psychological effect known as “moral licensing” has shown that shoppers who buy kale are more likely to then head to the alcohol or ice cream section than those who don’t. We seem to think that our karma will balance out and we can “spend” it on junk food, or other less-than-ideal behaviors.

4) Understand your motivations

Eating foods that are emotionally comforting vs. eating foods that are nutritionally healthy.

This is another tricky balance, and ideally, we can find nourishing foods that are al