The Mindful Eating Movement – What is it and Should You Do it?

What Is Mindful Eating and Why People Practice It

If you’re like most people, chances are you rush through your day ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. If so, you’re not alone. Most of us forget to focus on the present moment.

Unfortunately, when you’re in this all-to-common distracted state, you miss out on the present and increase your stress levels. And that’s where mindfulness comes in, and there’s no doubt you’ve heard the word, but may you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.

What is Mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is an increasingly popular method of self-care. You probably see this word everywhere – from yoga studios to magazine covers to blogs. 

You may not know mindfulness meditation has deep roots in Buddhism and Hinduism and dates back thousands of years as a religious and spiritual tradition. American professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, introduced mindfulness to Western society when he founded the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine in 1979. Since then, there have been many clinical trials on the effectiveness of mindfulness to manage weight, chronic stress, and pain. 

John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

What is Mindful Eating? 

Mindful eating is paying attention to your food while you eat. You’re “eating with intention and paying attention, without judgment.” Mindful eating isn’t a diet; there are no rules about serving sizes, types of foods, or macronutrients and micronutrients. It merely focuses on the eating process rather than the outcome.  It’s an approach that brings your sensual awareness to your food, your body’s response to it, and your overall eating experience. Your intention is to fully savor the moment, enjoy the pleasures of food, and allow your body’s inner wisdom to guide your food choices. Each meal can be a different experience, and that is a wonderful thing. 

Benefits of Mindful Eating

There’s no doubt as to the physical and mental benefits of mindful eating. Mindful eating is popular because it’s an effective tool to reduce fad diets’ background noise and bring peace to the eating experience. It is enormously helpful because there are lots of conflicting nutrition messages, and that’s facilitated weight cycling, binge eating, and restrictive behaviors in people. The goal is to let go of judgments around food and let your body be your guide. By being fully present and conscious, without judgment, mindful eating can help you achieve: 

  • Awareness of your body’s internal hunger and fullness cues
  • Increased joy and satisfaction for new and old foods
  • The ability to identify and address emotional and stress eating behavior
  • A healthier relationship with food and your body

These many benefits play a foundational role in wellness, long-term behavior change, and disease management. Mindfulness and mindful eating can help you reduce emotional eating, address disordered eating patterns, manage diabetes, and lose weight. If you slow down and enjoy your food, your digestion will improve significantly

Mindful Eating and Weight Loss

Think about your eating behavior this week. Have you had dinner in front of a TV? Did you finish a whole bag of chips without noticing, or hit the drive-through after a stressful day at work? 

If so, you’re engaged in “distracted” and “emotional eating.” You’re not alone, it is typical in modern western societies. Unfortunately, this eating pattern may cause you to feel depressed or gain weight. 

If you practice mindful eating, you’ll eat in a way that’s in direct contrast to distracted eating. Mindful eating focuses on your internal hunger cues, instead of external cues like TV or negative emotions. In other words, you’ll learn to eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re satisfied, which will help you with portion control. 

Even though mindful eating doesn’t specify the type of foods you should eat, it doesn’t deny that certain eating patterns can increase your risk of disease. It encourages you to listen to your body, which will send you signals about which foods make you feel good or bad. 

Ask yourself if you feel more energized from a hamburger or a high-protein grain bowl? If you stay aware and listen to your body, it can have a profound impact on your eating behavior. 

A Step-By-Step Guide to Mindful Eating

A Step-By-Step Guide to Mindful Eating.

To help yourself become a mindful eater, ask yourself these questions before your next meal. You may notice that these are the meal details you have to track in Simple Meal Tracker, since it’s based on the mindful eating concept.

  • Why am I eating? Am I physically hungry? Or am I eating because of emotion?
  • What am I eating? Will this food make me feel good and energized?
  • How am I eating? Am I scarfing my meal without chewing, or slowly savoring the taste?
  • When am I eating? 
  • How much am I eating? Am I eating more than what I need to satisfy me?
  • Where am I eating? In front of the TV or at my dining room table?

When you eat, pay attention to your food. In particular, notice the:

  • Flavour. Is it bitter, sweet, salty, buttery, light? Does the flavor change as you chew? 
  • Texture. How does the food feel in your mouth? Are there ridges, is it smooth, chewy, hard, or soft?
  • Temperature. Is it hot? Do you prefer it cold, or room temperature?
  • Smell. Smell dramatically impacts the flavor.
  • Visual appearance. Colorful, bland, plated nicely or thrown together.

These questions will bring awareness to your eating experience. Remember mindful eating isn’t an exact science; it’s individualized. You’ll find a method that works best for you.

Some additional tips to practice mindful eating:

  1. Chew thoroughly. Chewing supports your digestion. As you chew, notice if anything changes. 
  2. Eat slowly. Eating is more enjoyable when you don’t rush. 
  3. Take small bites. Try to have a different combination of food in each bite. Compare and contrast, enjoy!

Exercises to Develop Mindfulness

Some additional tips to practice mindful eating: eat slowly.

It can take time to integrate mindfulness into your life. These quick, relaxing exercises can help – they’re especially effective on a stressful day. It takes time and practice, but you will get the hang of it! 

Breath Exercise 

Chances are you were never taught to breathe effectively. So, focusing on your breath is an excellent mindfulness activity. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe through your nose deeply and slowly into your belly. Count to four. Hold seven seconds, then slowly exhale out of your nose for another eight seconds. 

Body Scan

If you tend to ruminate at night and struggle with insomnia, you may find doing a quick “body scan” can help you relax and calm your mind. Lie on your back with your legs and arms extended, palms facing up. Bring your awareness to your feet. Squeeze the muscles of your feet and then relax. Then move up from your feet and squeeze and relax every part of your body, from toe to head. Notice any sensations, emotions, or thoughts that surface as you focus on each part. 

Mini-Environmental Scan

If you feel anxious, distracted, or unsettled, you may find it’s beneficial to do a “mini environmental scan”. Stop what you are doing. Focus on your immediate surroundings and pick out three background noises like the wind, traffic, or a ticking clock. 

Then choose two objects to focus on like a tree or the details on a windowpane. You may find occupying your hands can help you focus. If you feel the need, squeeze a stress ball while doing the mini-environmental scan. 

Live in the Moment

Find joy and satisfaction in the simple pleasures of life. Slowly enjoy your morning coffee, and savor the taste. If it’s sunny outside, go for a mindfulness walk – maybe you will notice something new and exciting in your neighborhood. 

Mindful Eating Questionnaire

Are you a mindful eater? Respond to each statement with:

  • Never = 1
  • Sometimes = 2
  • Often = 3 
  • Always = 4 

  1. I taste every bite of food I eat.
  2. If I’m at a buffet or potluck, I leave feeling satisfied and comfortable.
  3. I appreciate the way food looks on my plate or in my bowl.
  4. My thoughts stay focused on my meal when I eat.
  5. I use mindfulness exercise or activity to cope with stress.
  6. I enjoy the food I eat.
  7. I take time to eat away from my workspace or TV.
  8. When I eat a pleasant meal, I notice I’m relaxed.
  9. I notice when foods are too sweet or salty.
  10. I stop eating when I am full if a restaurant portion is too big.

The higher your score, the more mindful you are when you eat. But, don’t feel bad if your score is low – remember mindful eating is a process, not a destination. 

Be patient, sometimes it will be easier to eat with enjoyment and peace than other times. Self-compassion and non- judgment are essential to your success. Try to take twenty minutes a day to pay attention to your meal, it can have a profound impact on your mental and physical health.

Author's bio

Trista Chan, RD, MHSc

Trista Chan, RD, MHSc

Trista is a Registered Dietitian with her Master of Health Science in Nutrition Communication at Ryerson University, Toronto, and holds an Applied Human Nutrition degree and a graduate certificate in Workplace Wellness. Trista has diverse work experience in organizations both big and small. ...