Updated November 8, 2023
“I got to be 275 pounds for a reason: I love to eat!”
That’s the story of Michelle Bachmann—she loved to eat but gained weight and became unhealthy.
Let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with loving to eat! However, you also want to love yourself while you’re eating and afterward, too.
One way to get to that healthy mindset is through mindful eating. Here’s what it is and why mindful eating is better than dieting.
Mindful eating is when you focus on your meal’s emotional and physical aspects. The taste of the food, the food’s texture and the way the food makes you feel are just a few aspects of the mindful eating experience.
Research into mindful eating is still fairly new, but one study analyzed multiple mindfulness eating studies. It found nine out of ten studies that include mindfulness in their body weight outcomes reported weight loss or maintenance. It also found that mindfulness gave participants better ways to handle bad eating habits and created a better relationship with food.
Mindful eating is better than dieting because you stop focusing on how much food and which foods to cut out and instead focus on the experience of eating. Eating while on a diet can create shame. Think of the popular phrase “cheat day,” which implies you’re doing something wrong by eating a certain food.
Meanwhile, mindful eating focuses on the experience of eating—not the outcome. It causes you to slow down and enjoy your meal. It creates a better relationship between you and the food you eat. You begin to naturally lose weight because you’re eating with a healthier, more intentional mindset.
No, there aren’t any real pitfalls with mindful eating as long as you don’t treat it as a clinical treatment. It cannot replace professional treatments for eating disorders, for example.
It’s also not meant to be a weight-loss technique on its own. It’s intended to be partnered with other helpful tools like improving your diet and exercising.
A mindful meal should take 15–20 minutes to complete. Of course, if you start to feel full before then, don’t force yourself to continue eating.
Here are eight eating exercises you can utilize while enjoying your meal:
A major part of “mindless eating” is not really acknowledging you’re eating. Eating a lot without realizing it is easy when your mind is on something else. So, instead, take time to engage all your senses while eating.
What do you see on your plate? Is it a rainbow of fruits and vegetables? Are there any interesting patterns that appeared in your meal after baking it?
What about what you hear? Is there a satisfying crunch or a subtle squish as you chew your food?
How many different smells can you detect in a single spoonful? How does it feel on your tongue?
Paying attention to your senses will help you naturally slow down.
A great way to prevent autopilot eating is using your non-dominant hand. Let’s say you’re right-handed; using your left hand to eat will force you to pay attention and slow down.
Eliminate all distractions while eating so you can focus on your food. Your phone, TV, laptop etc. make mindful eating more difficult.
As you’re eating, use pauses between bites to ask yourself questions. We cover several you can ask in the next section, yet there are many more to consider throughout your meal.
When we mindlessly eat, we tend to take large bites of food. Break this habit by deliberately taking smaller bites and chewing them thoroughly. This will make you slow down and eat less because your stomach has a chance to register it’s full.
If you need something to ensure you take smaller bites, describe each bite to yourself before going for a new one. You may be surprised at how each bite tastes differently when you’re paying attention.
How many of us tend to eat because we’re bored? It’s a typical habit, but if you take a few seconds to ask yourself if you’re really hungry, you’ll often realize it’s out of boredom and not hunger.
Ask yourself what you’re feeling; is your stomach growling? Is your body saying it’s hungry? Are you feeling mostly satisfied but maybe need a light snack?
Busy lives make it hard to keep up with everything, and mindful eating is no different. Keeping a mindful eating journal is a great way to keep yourself accountable and practice mindfulness simultaneously.
Write down your meals and what you experienced while eating them. Then, create a list of questions you’ve asked yourself and what questions you want to ask in the future.
As the journal fills up, start to notice patterns you can address to improve your eating habits.
Similar to figuring out if you’re really hungry, also try to figure out if you emotionally eat. This is not meant to be a shameful exercise. Instead, it’s designed to be a deep introspection of your feelings (and why you reach for food in troubling times).
If you can identify triggers, you can work around them and minimize your eating.
You can ask yourself similar questions that you asked yourself when figuring out if you’re hungry or not, but make sure to focus more on the emotional aspect. For example, will eating this make me feel better? Am I reaching for food out of stress?
Here are 18 examples of mindful eating questions you can ask yourself. Contemplating these questions will help you become a mindful eater, even without any previous experience:
For some, finding joy in food and loving themselves during and after a meal is the goal. Find the deeper why. Do you want to live longer, thrive in life, feel your best, keep up with your kids/grandkids? You get to decide what your own reasons for improving your health are. This will be your driving force behind mindfully eating.
If the mindful eating technique isn’t for you—that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be for everyone. If you’re still looking for weight loss solutions that don’t involve shame, try our simple starch-based mini diet.