What Is Mindful Eating, and How Do You Practice It?

Learn all about mindful eating from a dietitian. This article is packed with tips and practical strategies, from how to practice it to how it can benefit your mental and physical well-being.

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Published:
April 23, 2024
March 11, 2024
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Mindful eating involves paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues and responding accordingly. It is the practice of being aware of your sensory experience while eating and has little to do with calories, carbs, fat, or protein.

Studies show that mindfulness and mindful eating can improve physical and metabolic health, as well as mental and emotional well-being. As a registered dietitian, I am constantly working on mindful eating with my clients.

If you’re always eating on the go, while working, or while watching TV, chances are you aren’t practicing mindful eating. Don’t worry, though – after reading this article, you’ll know how to practice mindful eating so it becomes a habit, and you’ll learn why it’s so important.

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What Is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is the opposite of mindless eating or distracted eating. Mindless eating, or eating without awareness, occurs when you are eating while doing something else. For example, eating while working, watching TV, scrolling through social media, or while driving. Eating when you are not physically hungry may also be considered mindless, depending on whether the choice to eat was a conscious, purposeful decision. 

Unlike mindless eating, mindful eating is the act of being in the present moment while you’re eating. It involves being aware of your sensory experience before, during, and after a meal. This includes paying attention to how your food looks, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels.

Mindful eating is also paying attention to how your body feels before, during, and after a meal. This means honoring physical hunger by eating when you feel hungry and stopping the meal when you feel comfortably full.

Some mindful eating practices include:

  • Eating slowly
  • Eating without distractions
  • Listening to physical hunger cues and eating until you’re comfortably full
  • Being present in your food experience, noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors
  • Eating to support health and well-being
  • Noticing how different foods affect how you feel, both mentally and physically
  • Appreciating and enjoying your food

Mindful eating is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, along with eating healthy foods. 

Benefits of Mindful Eating

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Research shows that mindfulness can have positive benefits in many aspects of life, but mindful eating can promote healthy digestion, good physical health, and a positive relationship with food. Paying attention to how you feel when you eat can prevent overeating, which, when done too often, can negatively impact health. 

Promotes Better Enjoyment and Appreciation for Food

When you eat mindfully, you can better enjoy and appreciate your food. Being present and giving attention to the sensory experience makes eating more enjoyable. 

When you eat while doing other activities or while your mind is elsewhere, you may not be consciously aware of the taste and mouthfeel of the foods you are eating. This may make it more difficult to realize when you are no longer enjoying your food. 

Helps Curb Cravings

Eating mindfully helps you respond appropriately to your innate hunger and fullness cues. Cravings often occur when the body has gone too long without food. If you skip meals or wait too long to eat, you may have intense cravings that are hard to ignore. 

Cravings may also occur when the body craves dopamine

When you eat mindfully and consistently provide your body with adequate energy throughout the day, you are less likely to have cravings. 

Improves Your Digestion

Avoiding distractions and eating mindfully often slows down the pace of your meals, which means you have time to chew your food thoroughly. Thoroughly chewing your food is important for proper digestion. When you eat slowly, you also swallow less air, decreasing the amount of gas and bloating that occurs after eating. 

Responding appropriately to fullness cues also positively impacts digestion, as overeating makes it more difficult for the body to digest food. 

Helps Regulate Eating Patterns

A regular eating pattern is eating consistently throughout the day, roughly every 3-4 hours, based on your body’s physical hunger and fullness. 

There are different types of hunger: emotional hunger, external hunger, and physical hunger. 

  • Emotional hunger: a desire to eat in response to emotions
  • External hunger: the desire to eat in response to external stimuli such as the sight or smell of food
  • Physical hunger: a desire to eat due to the body’s physical sensations that it needs fuel or energy

Mindful eating is an effective treatment for binge-eating disorder (BED), and other unhealthy or disordered eating patterns. Mindful eating gives you the skills to choose how you respond to hunger consciously.

Supports Weight Management

More and more research shows that weight loss programs and restrictive diets are not successful long-term. Some research suggests that many dieters regain about half of the weight lost two years later. 

A review of 10 studies on mindful eating showed it to be just as effective as conventional weight loss programs. Another study on mindful eating resulted in weight loss, and participants also had increased self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. 

Mindful eating changes your thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs about food and dieting. It doesn’t restrict your calories or cut out certain food groups. Instead, it teaches you to tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues and pay attention to how certain foods make you feel after eating them. It has also been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating, all of which make it more difficult to manage your weight.

Positive Attitude Toward Food

Restrictive diets and the pursuit of weight loss often have a negative effect on attitudes and feelings toward food. Food becomes something to avoid – a source of guilt, anxiety, and uncertainty. 

With mindful eating, food is a way to nourish your body and give it energy. Eating becomes an act of conscious self-care that supports your health and well-being. 

Eat In a Healthier, More Balanced Way

Mindful eating requires paying attention to how you feel – emotionally and physically – when you eat certain foods. Whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to thrive. 

Other foods, while tasty and enjoyable, don’t provide the same nutrition. When these foods are eaten in excess, they can negatively affect the way you feel. Eating these foods mindfully allows you to enjoy and appreciate them in a balanced way. When you savor your food, you are better in tune with the moment when you’re no longer enjoying it, which can prevent overeating. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="emotional-eating">Emotional Eating: Stop the Cycle and Regain Control</a>.</p>

5 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

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At first, mindfulness can be challenging, but as you continue to practice, it becomes more and more natural. General mindfulness practices in everyday activities can help to cultivate a habit of awareness, which is key to eating mindfully. You can practice mindfulness when cooking, doing laundry, or showering. 

Mindfulness and mindful eating help you make food choices that support your mental health and physical well-being, including your metabolic health

Some people find it helpful to take an online course or read a book on mindfulness. Here are some simple ways to get started: 

1. Slow the Pace of Your Meals — Eat More Slowly

Eating slowly allows your brain time to catch up with your brain. Digestion is a complex process, and eating at a slower pace allows time for your stomach to send fullness signals to your brain. 

2. Eliminate Distractions

When you eat, turn off the TV and put down your phone. Stop the multitasking, take a break from working or any other activity you might be doing, and allow yourself some time to eat your meal. Take a deep breath before you start your meal. 

3. Get to Know Your Body’s Physical Signs of Hunger

Mindfulness allows you to reconnect with your body and become more aware of its signs of physical hunger. Signs of physical hunger include the feeling of emptiness in your stomach, stomach growling, headache, low energy, and irritability. 

4. Stop Eating When You’re Full

There are different levels of fullness. For example, you can have room for more, be comfortably full, uncomfortably full, or so full you feel sick (think Thanksgiving full). 

Your body will tell you when it needs energy (hunger) and when it’s had enough. If you’ve been eating past fullness or restricting your food intake for a long time, knowing when you’re comfortably full can be difficult. 

Mindful eating will help you become aware of these different sensations and reconnect with your body’s signals. When you notice you feel comfortably full or are no longer enjoying your food, it’s a good time to stop eating. 

5. Understand Your Motivations

Ask yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re truly hungry, and how your food choices might make you feel. Try to distinguish between physical hunger, emotional hunger, and external hunger. Most often, you should only eat in response to physical hunger. 

Mindless Eating vs. Mindful Eating

Mindless eating, or distracted eating, is eating without awareness. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to sit down with a large bag of chips while binge-watching Netflix, and before they know it, they’re reaching into an empty bag. 

Another example is working through lunch. Many people eat lunch at their desks while continuing to work, not paying attention to their eating experience, how they feel, or when they’re full. 

If you’ve ever found yourself in the kitchen shoveling handful after handful of cereal straight from the box into your mouth after a long, stressful day, you’ve been subject to mindless eating. 

If, instead, you eat mindfully in this scenario, after your first handful of cereal, you might ask yourself, “Why am I eating?” “Am I physically hungry?” “Is this going to make me feel better or worse?” 

Based on your answers to those questions, you make a conscious decision as to how to proceed. 

Mindful eating gives you power and autonomy over your food choices, health, and well-being. 

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition With Signos’ Expert Advice

Nutrition and eating habits significantly impact your health. Your food choices and behaviors can affect how you feel physically and emotionally.

Visit the Signos blog, written by a team of health experts who compile evidence-based nutrition and health information to help you improve your health and wellness. 

Signos CGM empowers you to improve your health by keeping track of your diet, exercise, sleep habits, and blood sugar. Knowledge is power, and a CGM can give you specific information about how your habits affect your health.

Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="workout-meal-plan">Workout Meal Plan: 7-day Custom Diet to Boost Gains</a>.</p>

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References

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About the author

Victoria Whittington earned her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama and has over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

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