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Are you a food-wolfer or, perhaps, a stress-eater? Are you constantly eating on the run or snacking in front of the TV? If you tend to gobble, gulp, and go more than dine, you may have lost sight of your inner wisdom about what to eat, how to eat, and how much to eat. This often leads to overeating, digestive problems, sleep problems, mood issues, and illness.
Fortunately, it’s possible to get reacquainted with your inner wisdom and to realign with your body’s true needs. This process, called mindful eating, makes you more inclined to make better choices around food and eating.
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What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully directing your attention and observing the unfolding of each moment as it takes place, in a non-judgmental way. When you eat mindfully, you make a conscious choice to engage in the present moment in its absolute entirety. As with other mindfulness practices, mindful eating is practiced with an attitude of non-judgment, trust, patience, acceptance, non-striving, letting go, and curiosity.
Mindful eating allows you to put your intellect on hold and pay attention to your intuition to tune into what you really need. Listening to your intuition about foods and eating requires practice. Pay close attention to feelings and hunches about what, where, when, and how you need to eat.
Since part of being mindful is staying open, curious, and flexible, mindful eaters stay open to variety in terms of what they eat, how they eat, and even when they eat.
Be open to new thoughts about food and eating, but feel free to let go of what doesn’t mesh with your intuition. You may pick up on intuitive insights through images, sounds, feelings, or smells. Do you feel like you need something green? Do have a hunch that you’d feel better if you ate more protein earlier in the day?
Seeing Your Food
Mindful eating begins before you’ve even taken a bite of food. Look at the food you’re about to eat. What do you see? Notice the healing colors and the food’s arrangement on the plate.
This act of really seeing our food before we eat allows the brain to start sending signals to the gut that food is on its way. This gets our gastric juices flowing and prepares our physiology in other ways for optimal digestion.
The next step is to slow down and become more tuned into the experience of your meals. Did you know that it takes 20 minutes before your brain begins to turn off your appetite after you start eating? It’s easy to take in much more food than you need in 20 minutes, which can lead to weight gain. It’s also bad for your heart and blood vessels (your arteries are less able to respond to momentary changes in demand for blood flow).
Part of slowing down may mean you need to allot more time to eating, allowing a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes for any meal.
Time to Chew
Slowing down also means taking more time to chew. If you’re eating quickly, your brain doesn’t receive the signal that the nourishment is adequate, so you end up eating more. If you eat more mindfully, your body will absorb the nutrients and will send a signal to the brain.
Chewing more before swallowing has been shown to significantly lower hunger, preoccupation with food, and desire to eat, and to facilitate absorption of nutrients.
How Full Do You Feel?
Paying attention to how full you feel is also part of mindful eating. Eating mindfully allows you to feel comfortably full instead of overly stuffed, which is stressful to many parts of your physiology. You get to experiencing eating a moderate portion of food while fully enjoying the meal and the experience of eating.
Mindful Eating Is Worth the Time
The overall time it takes to eat mindfully (intuiting, seeing, chewing, digesting, paying attention) is time well spent, given the pleasure and stress-relieving benefits associating with eating. Not only that, but the explosion in research on mindfulness over the last few years shows that practicing mindful eating and other forms of mindfulness improves weight loss, blood sugar regulation, eating disorders (especially binge eating), food cravings, emotional eating, and overall well-being, including anxiety and depression.[2-5]
For more ideas on how to eat mindfully, you may want to check out the suggested book list on the Center for Mindful Eating’s website. You may also want to work with a professional trained in mindfulness and mindful eating or attend a mindful eating workshop or retreat for more in depth training.
1. Br J Nutr. 2013 Jul 28;110(2):384-90.
2. Obes Rev. 2014 Jun;15(6):453-61.
3. Eat Behav. 2014 Apr;15(2):197-204.
4. J Behav Med. 2014 Nov 23. [Epub ahead of print]
5. Health Educ Behav. Apr 2014; 41(2): 145–154.
Originally published in 2016 and updated.