How to practice mindful eating
Learn what mindful eating involves and what strategies you can take to adopt this healthy dietary approach every day.
Nowadays, we’re faced with endless food choices, excessive portions and constant distractions. Instead of focusing on what, why and how we’re eating, our minds often become fixated on computers, phones and televisions. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness can play a significant role in health and weight issues, which is why it’s so important to practice mindful eating.
This approach brings the concept of mindfulness to the kitchen table. By making an effort to be fully present at mealtime, you can trade the flurry of thoughts and interferences for a more enjoyable eating experience that is kinder to your body. So much more than a temporary diet, it involves permanently shifting your mindset around food.
In this article, we’ll explain what the mindful eating approach involves, its benefits to your body and mind, and how you can practice it in everyday life. Equipped with a better understanding of this healthy eating behaviour, you can support your weight loss and nutrition goals.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of paying complete attention when buying, preparing and consuming food. It is based on a type of Buddhist meditation that encourages you to notice and appreciate your physical and mental sensations. By taking the time to truly take in your eating experience, you can benefit from greater control and management over cravings and physical cues during meal consumption.
Mindful eating involves:
- Eating slowly in a distraction-free environment
- Recognising and reacting to physical hunger and fullness cues
- Differentiating between physical hunger and emotional triggers
- Taking time to experience the tastes, textures, smells and sounds of your food
- Eating for your general health and well-being
- Being aware of the impact of food on your mood and physique
- Enjoying your meals
In turn, these behaviours and attitudes enable you to swap automatic reactions or perceptions with more thoughtful, healthier responses. While we generally recommend following a Mediterranean diet based on fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, mindfulness can be practiced with any food – even sugary snacks. By genuinely concentrating on what you are consuming, you may find yourself reaching for these indulgences less frequently (and eating less if you do).
Benefits of mindful eating
There are many benefits to mindful eating is a common treatment for a variety of conditions, such as eating disorders, obesity, anxiety and depression. Below, we explain how this mindset can support physical and mental wellbeing.
Gain greater awareness of your body
The problem with eating too quickly is that it can take your brain as much as 20 minutes to register a full stomach. This lag in satiation signals can leave you eating more food than your actually body needs.
By slowing down and paying full attention to your meal, you can give your mind the time it requires to catch up with your body. In turn, you will likely end up eating less than you would have. Research suggests that eating with intention and appreciation for physical cues supports weight loss goals.
Being more cognisant of the triggers that tempt you to eat without hunger will also support tactics to prevent these provocations, giving you time to consciously react. For instance, you might remove crisps from your cupboard so that you don’t automatically reach for them when boredom strikes.
Curb binge, emotional and external eating behaviours
Mindful eating not only helps you to distinguish hunger and fullness cues, but also physical and emotional hunger.
Emotional eating involves using food as a means to mask or cope with your feelings. By adjusting your mindset, you will learn to replace negative emotions associated with food with greater awareness, stronger self-control and positive experiences.
What’s more, mindful eating practices ward off unhealthy eating behaviours by developing the skills required to manage your impulses. Instead of falling victim to your instinctive reactions, you can regain conscious control of your food consumption.
In fact, mindful eating has been reported to reduce the frequency and degree of binge eating episodes, which entails the uncontrolled consumption of a vast amount of food in a short time frame.
How to practice mindful eating
Learn how to practice mindful eating with the following tips from our expert dietitians:
Start with your groceries
When making your shopping list, consider how healthy each item is and how you will feel after eating it. Once you get to the supermarket, try to make an effort to avoid impulse buys – especially in the snacks section or any aisles with heavily processed foods.
Be hungry for your meal, but not starving
Never sit down for a meal starving. That’s because once you hit a certain level of hunger, your ability to control consumption is reduced. You’ll be so preoccupied with filling your stomach that you won’t take the time and care to slow down and enjoy the food.
Begin with a small portion
One simple step to curb overeating is to start your meal with a smaller portion. Limiting the amount of food in front of you physically removes the immediate temptation to continue eating even when your stomach is full.
Enjoy your food
Before you take your first bite, pause and take a moment to appreciate all of the effort and people that went into preparing your meal, from the farmer to the waitress! Note your feelings of gratitude and relish in the opportunity to experience tasty food, as well as the pleasure of enjoying it with family or friends if this is the case.
Be present in the experience
Make a conscious effort to recognise and appreciate the entire eating process with all of your senses. From shopping and cooking to serving and eating, you’ll experience all sorts of flavours, textures, colours and aromas. Take them all in to understand your preferences and their effect on your eating behaviour.
Stick to small bites
Try to avoid taking large bites, which can encourage swallowing before the piece of food has been chewed enough (more on this below!). Additionally, get into the habit of putting down your cutlery between bites. While subtle, this extra action will help to prevent automatic eating behaviours – particularly when you are faced with distractions.
Chew, chew, chew
Never swallow your food without chewing it properly. You should be able to taste every flavour first, which may take between 20 to 40 chews in total depending on the texture of the food you are eating.
Take your time to dine
As long as you’ve followed the above tips, you should find it easier to ensure that you don’t devour your food too quickly. Most importantly, remember to dedicate at least five minutes of distraction-free time to mindful eating, wherever and whenever you may be sitting down to a meal.
Get professional support with your mindful eating efforts from a registered dietitian
If you have undergone bariatric surgery and would like to receive expert advice and support with mindful eating, Newcastle Obesity Surgery Centre’s dietitians are here to help you stick with your dietary goals. Our trusted team provides monthly reviews, 24/7 contact, and personalised support groups.
To begin your journey with Newcastle Obesity Surgery Centre, please book an appointment through our contact form or get in touch on 02 4058 3936.