Mindful eating is a holistic approach to eating that’s becoming an increasingly popular component of many wellness routines, especially as an alternative to restrictive dieting. The practice is based on the general principles of mindfulness, which asks the participant to bring their attention fully to the present moment — without judgment.
Mindful eating means focusing on the present moment while consuming food. The idea is to become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations while eating. When eating mindfully, you might think about the following without passing judgement:
- How does the food taste? Is it bland? Sweet? Spicy? Acidic?
- Can you taste individual ingredients or a mixture?
- What is the texture and temperature like?
- Are you enjoying the food?
- How does your stomach feel? Full? Bloated? Still empty?
- What emotions are you feeling as you eat?
- Do you associate memories or feelings with certain foods?
A common pro of mindful eating is a more positive relationship with food, but that’s certainly not the only upside. Here are some of the most significant benefits of practicing mindful eating.
The benefits of mindful eating
Deeper understanding of fullness cues
Mindful eating can be an effective tool for managing weight, whether you want to maintain your current weight, make changes, or simply get rid of bloating. When you eat mindfully, you become more aware of the food you’re consuming, how it makes you feel, and the signals your body sends when you’re hungry or full.
Before eating, you might assess the way you feel. Maybe your stomach is grumbling, or maybe you feel lightheaded or grumpy. As you eat, do so slowly, allowing yourself to receive signals. You’ll notice fullness indicators like pressure in your stomach and less enjoyment.
Learning to recognize the ways your body indicates hunger or fullness can help you make healthy food choices and avoid eating too much or too little.
When you eat mindfully, you take the time to chew your food slowly and thoroughly. When your food is broken down into smaller pieces, your digestive system can work more efficiently. This, in turn, can help reduce bloating, gas, and other digestive issues. Breaking your food into smaller pieces also helps your body absorb better nutrients.
Improved mental health
Being aware of your thoughts and feelings regarding food can help you identify negative thought patterns and develop more positive ones. Here are a few examples of how eating mindfully can potentially improve your mental health.
Eating can be a major source of stress for many reasons, weight-related or not. You might stress about the lack of vitamins or vegetables in your diet, or maybe you think you drink too much alcohol or coffee.
When you’re eating (and drinking) mindfully, you’re focusing on the experience of the present moment. You may notice feelings of stress, but the idea is to observe the feelings with a neutral, non-judging eye. In time, this can help you make the changes you need to eliminate stress — whether that’s a lifestyle change, like cutting back or eliminating alcohol, or accepting without guilt that your morning cup of coffee makes you feel prepared and energized.
On the positive side, mindful eating can help you discover which foods make you feel good — and that’s not exclusive to traditionally healthy foods. Allowing yourself to enjoy any food that brings you pleasure, from a green smoothie to ice cream, is part of a healthy, mindful diet that can help you form a positive relationship with food.
Mindful eating can also help you savor your food and enhance your enjoyment of eating. By paying attention to the sensory experience, you can fully appreciate the flavors and textures of your food and feel more satisfied after meals.
When you pay attention to your internal monologue before, during, and after eating, you may notice a lot of negative self-talk. When you identify these thoughts in the moment, you can make the choice to replace them with neutral observations or positive reminders. Over time, these changes in self-talk can help you develop a more positive relationship with your body.
Increased overall mindfulness
You can practice mindfulness at any point in your day — not just when you’re eating. But mindful eating is a simple way to start incorporating mindfulness into your everyday routine. Here’s why: Mindfulness is a skill, and repetition is key to learning any skill.
Generally, you have three meal times built into each day, and they tend to be somewhat short in duration, maybe 15 minutes to an hour. Using that time to connect with yourself each day can help you build the habit. You can then bring the focus and thinking patterns that you learn into other moments throughout your day.
Keep this in mind when mindful eating
The goal of mindful eating is to nurture a positive relationship with food, promote overall health and wellness, and enhance the pleasure of eating. Although mindful eating isn’t a diet, it may result in changes to your eating habits, so always check with your doctor before making any drastic alterations to your diet.