Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits.
It has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, and help you feel better.
This article explains what mindful eating is, how it works, and what you need to do to get started.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations.
It’s used to treat many conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and various food-related behaviors.
Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings, and physical cues when eating.
Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:
- eating slowly and without distraction
- listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full
- distinguishing between true hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating
- engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures, and flavors
- learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food
- eating to maintain overall health and well-being
- noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure
- appreciating your food
These things allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, healthier responses.
Mindful eating relies on mindfulness, a form of meditation. Mindful eating is about developing awareness of your experiences, physical cues, and feelings about food.
Why should you try mindful eating?
Today’s fast-paced society tempts people with an abundance of food choices.
On top of that, distractions have shifted attention away from the actual act of eating toward televisions, computers, and smartphones.
Eating has become a mindless act, often done quickly. This can be problematic, since it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full.
If you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much. This is very common in binge eating.
By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.
What’s more, by increasing your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, you are able to distinguish between emotional and true, physical hunger.
You also increase your awareness of triggers that make you want to eat, even though you’re not necessarily hungry.
By knowing your triggers, you can create a space between them and your response, giving you the time and freedom to choose how to react.
Mindful eating helps you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. It also increases your awareness of food-related triggers and gives you the freedom to choose your response to them.
Mindful eating and weight loss
It’s well known that most weight loss programs don’t work in the long term.
Around 85% of people with obesity who lose weight return to or exceed their initial weight within a few years.
Binge eating, emotional eating, external eating, and eating in response to food cravings have been linked to weight gain and weight regain after successful weight loss.
Chronic exposure to stress may also play a large role in overeating and obesity.
The vast majority of studies agree that mindful eating helps you lose weight by changing your eating behaviors and reducing stress.
A 6-week group seminar on mindful eating among people with obesity resulted in an average weight loss of 9 pounds (4 kg) during the seminar and the 12-week follow-up period.
Another 6-month seminar resulted in an average weight loss of 26 pounds (12 kg) — without any weight regain in the following 3 months.
By changing the way you think about food, the negative feelings that may be associated with eating are replaced with awareness, improved self-control, and positive emotions.
When unwanted eating behaviors are addressed, your chances of long-term weight loss success are increased.
Mindful eating may aid weight loss by changing eating behaviors and reducing the stress associated with eating.
Mindful eating and binge eating
Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, mindlessly and without control.
It has been linked to eating disorders and weight gain, and one study showed that almost 70% of people with binge eating disorder are obese.
Mindful eating may drastically reduce the severity and frequency of binge eating episodes.
One study found that after a 6-week group intervention in women with obesity, binge eating episodes decreased from 4 to 1.5 times per week. The severity of each episode decreased as well.
Mindful eating can help prevent binge eating. It can both reduce the frequency of binges and the severity of each binge.
Mindful eating and unhealthy eating behaviors
In addition to being an effective treatment for binge eating, mindful eating methods have also been shown to reduce:
Emotional eating. This is the act of eating in response to certain emotions.
External eating. This occurs when you eat in response to environmental, food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food.
Unhealthy eating behaviors like these are the most commonly reported behavioral problems in people with obesity.
Mindful eating gives you the skills you need to deal with these impulses. It puts you in charge of your responses instead of at the whim of your instinct.
Mindful eating may effectively treat common, unhealthy eating behaviors like emotional and external eating.
How to practice mindful eating
To practice mindfulness, you need a series of exercises and meditations.
Many people find it helpful to attend a seminar, online course, or workshop on mindfulness or mindful eating.
However, there are many simple ways to get started, some of which can have powerful benefits on their own:
- Eat more slowly and don’t rush your meals.
- Chew thoroughly.
- Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone.
- Eat in silence.
- Focus on how the food makes you feel.
- Stop eating when you’re full.
Ask yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re truly hungry, and whether the food you chose is healthy.
To begin with, it’s a good idea to pick one meal per day to focus on these points.
Once you have the hang of it, mindfulness will become more natural. Then you can focus on implementing these habits into more meals.
Mindful eating takes practice. Try to eat more slowly, chew thoroughly, remove distractions, and stop eating when you're full.
The bottom line
Mindful eating is a powerful tool to regain control of your eating.
If conventional diets haven’t worked for you, this technique is worth considering.
Have you ever practised mindful eating? Or are you keen to do it? Let us know!
Written by Adda Bjarnadottir registered nutritionist, Healthline