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Aug 13, 2021
5 min read

What is mindful eating: 7 benefits and how to practice

Mindful eating is a type of mindfulness meditation practice that focuses on increasing your awareness during meals. Mindfulness practices may help improve symptoms related to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and stress. A mindful eating practice helps promote healthy eating and reduce overeating, while also improving mental health. Reducing distractions and slowing down during meals are a few ways to increase your awareness while eating.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Multitasking while eating has become the new normal. Watching TV, scrolling through social media, or working at your desk are all common ways to pass the time during a meal. But this often leads to less satisfaction with meals, less awareness of your food, and often, overeating. 

Mindful eating is a technique to help you slow down, increase your awareness of your food, and promote healthy eating behaviors, while building a healthy relationship with food. This article covers what mindful eating is, its benefits, and how you can start practicing today.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a type of mindfulness exercise. A mindfulness practice is a form of meditation to help you increase awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in the present moment. Research shows a mindfulness meditation practice may help improve depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions (Behan, 2020). 

The purpose of mindful eating is to slow down during mealtime to pay full attention to your food. You can use mindful eating to gain control over eating habits and reduce mindless snacking by replacing automatic actions with more conscious choices. 

Mindful eating is a technique commonly used by intuitive eating dietitians and others to help people learn their hunger and fullness cues. 

Benefits of mindful eating

Here are 7 benefits of practicing mindful eating:

1. Increased awareness of hunger and fullness

When you eat without distractions by following the mindful eating steps, you learn how your hunger and fullness cues feel. It can take time for the stomach to register that you’re full, so slowing down allows time for your body to tell you when you’ve had enough. 

Instead of hurrying through all of the food on your plate, you will start to learn how much of that food you really want to eat vs. emotional eating or just eating what’s on your plate because it’s there. 

Hunger may feel like increased irritability, fatigue, and a grumbling stomach. Fullness cues may feel like less enjoyment of the food, a comfortably full stomach with some pressure in the area, and loss of hunger. 

2. Weight loss

Mindful eating helps you stop eating when full, intentionally change your food choices, and decrease mindless eating. Since mindful eating helps reduce overeating, this may result in weight loss and help regulate body weight (Mantzios, 2015).  

One study suggests a mindful eating practice assists with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight even without calorie counting (Robinson, 2013).

3. Stress reduction

Cortisol is sometimes called the stress hormone, and it’s involved in the body’s “flight-or-fight” response. When feelings of stress are high, cortisol levels are often high as well. Research suggests mindfulness-based exercises, including mindful eating, help reduce cortisol levels (Sanada, 2016). 

4. Better digestion

Digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are affected by stress levels. Research suggests that mindful eating may help improve digestion by lowering stress levels, reducing overeating, and slowing down meals (Cherpak, 2019). 

5. Reduced overeating and binge eating

Mindful eating provides a framework to help people pause their eating and check in with themselves. This pause helps break the cycle of overeating and binge eating by helping people slow down. 

Research shows mindful eating reduces binge eating and emotional eating (Katterman, 2014). This could be related to the positive effects mindfulness-based practices have on reducing anxiety and depression (Behan, 2020).

6. Increased satisfaction with food

When you’re distracted while eating, you’re more likely to eat more food than while eating mindfully (Robinson, 2013). Research suggests mindful eating practices increase your awareness of your satisfaction cues (Cherpak, 2019). Over time, this could help reduce overeating while feeling fully satisfied after a meal, making it easier to maintain a balanced diet. 

7. Healthier food choices

When you’re more aware of how food makes you feel, you may choose more nutritious foods. You can also increase your self-compassion to reduce emotional eating and focus more on foods that help you feel more energized. So instead of feeling overly full, bloated, and sluggish after meals, you may make food choices that help you feel better. 

How to practice mindful eating

It takes time to learn mindfulness techniques, so try not to feel too frustrated if it’s challenging at first. When you’re used to a hectic pace, especially at mealtimes, slowing down feels difficult. 

If you’re having trouble slowing down for meals, first start with a short deep breathing exercise. Take a few slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of your ribs) before your meal begins.

During your meal, use these tips for practicing mindful eating:

  1. Turn off all devices and notifications.
  2. Spend at least 20 minutes eating (you can set a timer for this if you need a reminder).
  3. Start with a small portion on your plate, so you don’t feel obligated to finish it all.
  4. Take small bites, and try consciously savoring each bite. Chew slowly and appreciate your food.
  5. Most importantly, check in with your senses by noticing what you see (the food’s colors, texture, appeal), smell, feel (the food’s texture and temperature in your mouth), the taste of the food, and the sound each bite makes in your ears. Notice also the sensations of your jaw and tongue moving as you chew and, ultimately, swallow it down your esophagus and into your stomach.
  6. At the beginning, middle, and end of your meal, assess your hunger and satisfaction with your meals. Checking in with your physical hunger and satiety cues helps you start to learn your body’s signals. 

Mindful eating tips

Try these other tips to help you eat more mindfully:

  • When you first start mindful eating, try eating alone and in silence. This can help you be completely free of distractions to make it easier to start this practice. Don’t worry if you can’t be entirely free of outside distractions or if it’s difficult to sit in silence. Just do what you can to be more mindful while eating.
  • Phones provide many distractions, from phone calls to social media to games. Keep your phone out of sight with all sounds turned off to avoid these distractions during your meal. 
  • Take notes or journal about what you do or don’t like about the foods you’re eating or the experience of eating them. You can also write down what you notice about your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction with meals to track what you notice over time.
  • Be sure to stop all other activities during meals—that means no working, writing, reading, or anything else during mealtime. 

It may take time to get the hang of a mindful eating practice. Be patient and compassionate while you learn this new skill and change old eating behaviors. Over time, mindful eating may help to reduce overeating or binge eating and increase well-being.

If you’re struggling with these techniques, some people find it helpful to meet with a dietitian or nutritionist or use a mindful eating program.

References

  1. Behan C. (2020). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(4), 256–258. doi: 10.1017/ipm.2020.38. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32406348/
  2. Cherpak CE. (2019). Mindful mating: a review of how the stress-digestion-mindfulness triad may modulate and improve gastrointestinal and digestive function. Integrative Medicine, 18(4), 48–53. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219460/
  3. Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, & Corsica JA. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197–204. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24854804/
  4. Mantzios M, & Wilson JC. (2015). Mindfulness, eating behaviours, and obesity: a review and reflection on current findings. Current Obesity Reports, 4(1), 141–146. doi: 10.1007/s13679-014-0131-x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26627097/
  5. Robinson E, Aveyard P, Daley A, Jolly K, Lewis A, Lycett D, et al. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 728–742. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.045245. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607652/
  6. Sanada K, Montero-Marin J, Alda Díez M, Salas-Valero M, Pérez-Yus MC, Morillo H, et al. (2016). Effects of mindfulness-based interventions on salivary cortisol in healthy adults: a meta-analytical review. Frontiers in Physiology, 7, 471. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00471. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5069287/