Mindful Eating: Enhancing Your Relationship with Your Food
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way. On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Left to itself, the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts—including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts, we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and towards some “anchor,” we decrease their effect on our lives and we create instead a space of freedom where calmness and contentment can grow.
What Is Mindful Eating?
There are many reasons to incorporate mindful eating into a Personal Health Plan. For example:
- It can lead to positive and lasting change, because eating mindfully is not about restrictive diet choices.
- Food becomes something to enjoy, rather than a temptation or regret.
- It slows down the pace of your meals, allowing your brain time to hear the “I’m full” signals from your stomach, which may help with weight loss.
- It optimizes digestion. Some research has shown that when our attention is not focused on eating, our digestive process is 30%-40% less effective than it should be, which leads to gas, bloating, and discomfort.
- Mindfulness can increase your awareness of the source of your food, which encourages buying local and/or organic if you are able.
- Mindful eating with family fosters deeper connection. It also allows you to model healthy eating behaviors for your children. (No “clean plate” club!)
Mindful Eating: An Introductory Exercise
It may be easier and more fun if you do this with a friend.
- Take one bite of an apple slice and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet. Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature, and sensation going on in your mouth.
- Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
- In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
- As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
- Take a deep breath and exhale.
Reflect: What did you notice while chewing? Why did you swallow? Was the food no longer tasty? Did it dissolve? Were you bored?
Each bite does not need to be consumed as meticulously as in this exercise. Do this with the first bite of each meal, and you will lay the groundwork of mindfulness for the other bites too.
More Ways to Eat Mindfully[6,10]
Here are several easy ways you can slow down your meals and be more mindful:
- Eat with chopsticks.
- Eat with your nondominant hand.
- Eat while sitting down.
- Eat without a TV, newspaper, or computer.
- Go around the table and each say something you are grateful for—a great activity for kids!
- Before you eat, sit quietly for at least 30 seconds. Smell your food, and think about where it came from. Picture it growing or roaming in its environment. Think about the steps that food took to end up on your plate…growth, harvesting, processing (hopefully not much), transportation, purchase, and preparation. Give thanks.
- Concentrate on your arm movements as you bring your food to your mouth.
- Chew your food 10-15 times per bite. Pay attention to taste and texture and how it changes. Swallow when the food is uniformly smooth.
- Set down your utensils between bites. Rest for a few seconds before gathering the next morsel.
- Take a sip of water, tea, or black coffee between bites.
- Put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.
Tips for success
- Recruit someone else to learn mindful eating, so you can share your experiences.
- Remember: there are no “do’s” and “don’ts.” Do what makes sense in your life and what brings you joy.
- Laugh with yourself when mindfulness isn’t easy. We are more successful when we have fun.
- Mindfulness is difficult to master, but you can’t fail if you keep trying.
A wealth of information exists on this subject, and each resource has a different approach to incorporating mindful eating into your life. Experiment and find something that makes sense to you.
Books and Online resources
- Albers, Susan. Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful. Written exercises included in book.
- Chozen Bays, Jan. Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Includes a CD with exercises.
- Koenig, Karen. The Rules of “Normal” Eating.
- The CAMP System. “The Joy of Mindful Eating.”
- The Center for Mindful Eating.
- Thich Nhat Hanh. “Mindful Eating.”
“Mindful Eating: Enhancing Your Relationship with Your Food” was written by Samantha Sharp, MD. Sections were adapted from the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Mindful Eating: Discovering a Better Relationship with Your Food patient handout prepared by Debra Koenigsberger, MD, and Luke Fortney, MD.
- Koenigsberger D, Fortney L. Mindful eating: discovering a better relationship with your food. https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_mindful_eating.pdf. 2010.
- Bodhipaksa. What is mindfulness? http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/what-is-mindfulness.
- Albers S. What is mindful eating? http://eatingmindfully.com/mindful-eating/.
- Bays JC. Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications; 2009.
- O’Reilly G, Cook L, Spruijt‐Metz D, Black D. Mindfulness‐based interventions for obesity‐related eating behaviours: a literature review. Obes Rev. 2014;15(6):453-461.
- Wansink B. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. New York, NY: Random House LLC; 2007.
- Hobson K. Can mindful eating help you lose weight? US News & World Report2009.
- Harvard Health Publications. Slow down and savor the flavor. Harv Heart Lett. 2008;19(3):6.
- Vangsness S. Mastering the mindful meal. http://www.brighamandwomens.org/Patients_Visitors/pcs/nutrition/services/healtheweightforwomen/special_topics/intelihealth0405.aspx. 2012.
- The CAMP System. The joy of mindful eating. http://www.mindfuleating.org/. 2011.