5 things you can do to eat more mindfully
Infants and children tend to be great at eating intuitively or mindfully. They are often very inquisitive of different foods and will let you know if they are hungry, when they’ve had enough and what foods they like and don’t like. As adults navigating busy lives and living in an environment with lots of distractions, mindless eating habits can creep in.
Have you found yourself skipping meals as you’re too busy? Or eating when anxious or tired? Being aware of mindless eating behaviours like these can help you make changes and shift towards more mindful eating. This should help improve your food choices and help you feel better.
Why should you eat mindfully?
Mindful eating is the practice of being fully present and attentive to the process of eating, from selecting and preparing food to chewing and swallowing - all without judgement. Being aware of your thoughts and emotions and how you feel before, during and after eating can help you develop a healthier relationship with food. Engaging all your senses during an eating experience can help make eating a more enjoyable experience.
Practising mindful eating offers various benefits. Firstly, it can help alleviate emotional eating and foster a more positive connection with food . Secondly, it can aid appetite regulation and reduce the likelihood of binge eating . Additionally, by alleviating stress related to eating, it can contribute to improved digestion .
It takes time to become accustomed to the signals of hunger and fullness your body gives, as well as understanding the unique impact various foods have on your body.
Here are five things you can do to help you eat more mindfully:
1. Set the scene for eating more mindfully
Creating a mindful-eating environment doesn’t mean you have to meditate before every meal. It’s more about finding a mindful moment when you can. Find a comfortable spot at a table, free from any distractions. Put your phone out of sight, switch off the TV and clear the table of anything that may distract you when eating. Before you eat, take a few deep belly breaths. This can help ensure your body is in a ‘rest and digest’ state, rather than a ‘fight or flight’ state, which may be the case if you’ve been rushing around having a busy day.
2. Eat slowly
Take small mouthfuls and chew each bite thoroughly. Digestion starts in the mouth and chewing each mouthful about 20 times will help the mechanical break-down of food. It also allows the digestive enzymes in your saliva to start to break down the food.
A mouthful of bread will start to taste sweeter the longer you chew it and mix it with your saliva. This is because the digestive enzymes in your saliva are breaking down the long chains of carbohydrate molecules into simple sugar molecules like glucose – which is the sweeter taste you should start to notice after a while. To help slow down your eating, try putting your fork down for a bit between bites, or take a few deep breaths halfway through your meal.
3. Engage your senses
Eating is a multi-sensory adventure waiting to be explored! Notice the food’s appearance, its temperature and the sounds it makes as you eat it as well as the different flavours and textures. Focus on one sensory aspect at a time. Using all your senses when eating can help you notice how the food is making you feel and whether you find it satisfying, nourishing and enjoyable.
4. Distinguish different types of hunger
Identifying what type of hunger you’re feeling is useful. Physical hunger stems from your body’s genuine need for energy and nourishment. Psychological hunger is driven by cravings, emotions, feeling bored or being influenced by adverts or social media.
Physical hunger can feel different in each individual. You may first start to feel a sense of emptiness in your stomach, a bit of tummy rumbles or you may start to feel tired or a bit cranky. These sensations tend to gradually intensify.
In contact, psychological hunger arises swiftly and often creates a craving for a particular food. Perhaps you’ve just seen someone next to you eating a slice of gooey chocolate cake? Or you’ve just walked past a bakery and smelt fresh muffins and suddenly want one?
5. Consider where you are on the hunger scale
Imagine a scale from one to 10, with one being feeling starved, weak or dizzy, and 10 being extremely full to the point you feel quite sick, nauseous or pained. Aim to keep your hunger levels around the middle of the scale, between four and six.
Regular meals and healthy snacks will help provide a steady stream of nutrients and keep energy levels and blood sugar steady. This should also help prevent a negative impact on your mood and concentration, which may lead to emotional eating.
Remember that each of us is unique, and this approach may not suit everyone. If you are struggling with your relationship with food, don’t hesitate to seek support from your GP or speak to a nutrition professional.
If you’d like to learn more about mindful eating, check out my online course An Introduction to Mindful Eating or get in touch with me to find out how I can support you or your workplace to rediscover the joy of eating and create a positive impact on your well-being.
1. O’Reilly et al (2014) doi: 10.1111/obr.12156
2. Katterman et al (2014) doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
3. Cherpak (2019) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32549835/