Mindful eating is the practice of bringing all your attention to your food by engaging your senses to find true joy in the eating experience. It is an exercise in self-nourishment that has its foundation in Buddhist teachings.
Key Principles of Mindful Eating
Through the practice of being present with your food and enjoying every bite, proponents of mindful eating believe you can reduce your cravings, lose weight, and improve digestion.
- Choose food that is nourishing for your particular body. Be conscious of where your food is coming from. Would your great-grandmother recognize it as food? Evaluate if it will contribute to your physical and emotional health or detract from it.
- Prepare your food in a mindful way. Connect with your food through the process of preparing it. Remember how Mom's chicken soup had that special something that is hard for you to replicate? That's from her mindful practice of putting healing energy and love into your food. Work to put love, nourishment, and inspiration into the food you prepare for yourself and your family.
- Remove distractions. Eating mindfully means avoiding eating while watching TV, talking, driving, working, or reading your email. The best way to practice this is to pick a time when you will be eating alone. Some retreat centers offer silent group mealtimes to facilitate being fully present while you eat.
- Engage all five senses while eating. Be present with your food. In his popular 'raisin consciousness' meditation exercise, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. shows you how to engage not only your senses of taste and smell when you eat, but also your senses of touch, sight, and sound.
- Chew your food well. Oftentimes we inhale our food without really thinking about it. Try chewing each bite 20 to 50 times as a practice. It may seem difficult, but it might just awaken your taste buds, illuminate how quickly you normally chew, and increase your appreciation of your food.
- Eat slowly. This goes hand-in-hand with chewing your food well. Try putting your fork down between bites. This way, you will naturally tune in to the feedback from your body about when you are hungry and when you are full.
Benefits of Slowing Down and Savoring
According to a study conducted in August 2013, mindful eating helps reduce portion sizes. Since it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that your belly is full, when you eat slower and chew your food really well, you will feel full on less food. This supports your weight loss or other health goals, like reducing and preventing digestive upset.
Engaging all your senses before starting to eat improves digestion of your food. Have you ever smelled onions cooking in oil or a delicious tomato sauce simmering and started to salivate? This gets your salivary amylase flowing, which is a digestive enzyme that begins to break down the food in your mouth. Chewing your food well, especially whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats, helps you to better assimilate nutrients.
Mindful eating particularly benefits people suffering from digestive disorders such as acid reflux and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
When you are present with your food and use all your senses while you eat, you will feel satisfied with less. Ever notice how when you are having an in-depth conversation or working while eating you look down and all of a sudden your food is gone? Where did it all go? You just missed out on the experience of appreciating your food. When you enjoy each bite, you'll be less likely to crave more food.
According to Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, mindful eating is a powerful process that helps you tune in to your cravings and hunger levels. It brings awareness to what you are really craving. For example, you might be craving chocolate after lunch because it is a habit, or because you feel lonely, or want more sweetness in your life. Through the practice of mindfulness you can zero in on if you are really hungry or if you can soothe yourself without food.
Simple and Quick Mindful Eating Exercises
First, minimize distractions: turn off the TV, sit at the table, only discuss positive topics, and resist the urge to work or go on the computer, phone, or iPad while eating.
- Put your plate in front of you and don't touch your fork.
- Look at your food and examine it.
- Sit with your food and place your hands over it to feel its energy.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath and smell your food. Think about what it will taste like, the love put into making it, and the people who harvested your food and got it to the supermarket.
- Open your eyes.
- Take a bite, and remember to chew your food slowly and mindfully.
- Put your fork down in between bites to force you to eat slower.
- Use chopsticks to slow down your eating.
- Light a candle before cooking dinner or before sitting down to eat.
- Place flowers at the dinner table to encourage a beautiful environment in which to dine.
Overall Health and Well-Being
According to the Center for Mindful Eating, a person who eats mindfully "gains awareness of how they can make choices that support health and well-being." In a culture that is suffering from the ill effects of fast food in all senses of the term, the mindful eating movement is gaining steam as a lifestyle choice that helps guide its practitioners toward vibrant wellness.