Mindful eating

Mindful eating can support healthy eating behaviors, through nonjudgmental awareness.

Two people eating bowls of healthy food.
Photo: Mikhail Nilov/Pexels.

Mindful eating is “a nonjudgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating.”  General mindfulness practice has physical and emotional benefits and research shows that it can also encourage healthy eating.

The Annual Review of Nutrition explains that humans eat for nourishment, but also enjoyment, in social situations, at common meal times, out of stress, boredom and for other reasons. Food is embedded in many celebrations, traditions, and daily activities. The challenge presents itself when food-focused events detract from healthy eating goals. It is all too easy to eat an extra cookie, slice of pie, or helping of casserole while catching up with loved ones, feeling stress or being distracted by your to-do list.

Each season comes with a new terrain to navigate involving candy, baked goods, savory dishes, and traditional delicacies. Many of these foods evoke emotions that further complicate the idea of eating.

According to Nutrition Research Reviews, mindful eating can help support healthy eating behaviors.  Findings show that mindful eating is especially effective for emotional eating. Research indicates that mindful eating reduces calorie consumption, largely through paying attention. These results are particularly exciting because participants did not have specific training in mindful eating.

Tips to practice mindful eating:

  • Slow down by taking smaller bites, chewing thoroughly, pausing periodically and taking a drink of water. Eating quickly can lead to eating more overall.
  • Notice cues by practicing mindful awareness. Emotions can cloud hunger cues, so taking a moment to investigate the sensation of hunger can provide valuable information. Is the sensation hunger, thirst, sadness, happiness, stress or another emotion?
  • Start with small portions. Smaller sized plates or dishes can help with visual fullness cues. When making a plate at a gathering, consider a small bite of each of your favorites instead of a full serving.
  • Focus on the process of eating and put away other distractions. Phones, conversation, television and other factors can take our attention away from our present moment awareness of our bodies and food. Eating without awareness can lead to higher consumption.
  • Savor the experience by taking the time to enjoy the food with all the senses. Notice aromas, taste, texture, and visual components. Senses act as anchors to the present moment. While nutrition is important, the process of eating can be a pleasant practice in mindfulness.
  • Check-in with your hunger cues throughout the meal. Hunger may dissipate as you consume food, but that change in sensation can be missed without paying attention.

A key component in the definition of mindful eating is nonjudgment. Judgment is often automatic and the first response to a sensation, thought, or feeling.  Approaching sensations with a gentle curiosity may require a shift in perception and continual practice. Each meal, snack and morsel are new opportunities to practice mindful eating.

To learn more about mindful eating, join Stress Less with Mindfulness with Michigan State University Extension

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