Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 11s. About 8 minutes if you read the 10 tips at the end!
When you don’t completely focus on what you’re eating in a given moment, you’re a lot more likely to lose focus and overeat. That’s why eating mindfully is so important.
Here’s a five-minute crash course on why you should eat mindfully, and how to do it. (Don’t worry, it’s way easier than it sounds!)
Three reasons you should eat mindfully
If you came here for the primer on how to eat mindfully, skip down to “How to eat mindfully.” If you’re in need of a bit more convincing, though, here are three reasons you should practice mindful eating.
1. You’ll lose weight
Overeating isn’t the only cause of obesity, but it’s way more difficult to overeat when you actively pay attention to what, and how much you’re eating. The connection between mindless eating and obesity is well documented, and actually quite profound. For example, according to research conducted at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, participants who were given food on larger plates mindlessly ate 25–50% more!1
Your stomach also takes about 20 minutes to tell your brain that it’s full, which means that the faster you eat, the more you will overeat before your stomach has the chance to tell you to stop.2 Add to this the fact that mindful eating improves your digestion3, and I’d say that if you’re looking to lose weight and eat less, mindful eating is pretty much a no-brainer.
2. You’ll work out your attention muscle
It might sound strange that slowing down and eating mindfully will make you more productive, but I would argue that it does. Not only does mindful eating prevent you from overeating (which causes your energy levels to crash later on in the day), but it also allows you to work out your “attention muscle,” much like meditation and mindfulness practices do.
Many people can manage their time well, but the most productive people can also manage their attention and energy well. When you eat mindfully, you constantly bring your attention back to what you’re eating, and every time you do so, you work out your “attention muscle,” which over time helps you focus better on what you’re doing the rest of the day.
3. You’ll enjoy food way more
When I struggled with overeating in the past, I noticed that something interesting happened when I ate food that I loved: I wanted to eat it faster and faster. I think the reason behind this compulsion is simple: because what I was eating was so delicious, I wanted to eat it all at once.
But in practice, when you eat food slower, you don’t enjoy it less—you enjoy it a lot more. For example, when you eat a mouthful of pasta in 20 bites instead of 10, you enjoy that pasta for 10 more bites and get twice the enjoyment out of what you’re eating!
When you direct all of your attention to what you’re eating—instead of spreading your attention across the devices and other distractions you typically have in front of you when you eat—you’ll enjoy your food that much more. It’s basic arithmetic: When you eat the same amount of food over twice the length of time, you’ll enjoy it twice as much.
How to eat mindfully
I think, in general, people make mindfulness out to be way more complicated than it actually is. Mindful eating is much the same, and it’s also relatively simple. To eat mindfully, simply slow down, eat with fewer distractions, focus on the flavors and texture of what you’re eating, and constantly bring your attention back to what you’re eating.
1. Slow down. It’s way easier to eat mindfully when you eat slower. When I eat mindfully, I chew each bite 20–25 times, as opposed to less than 10 when I eat mindlessly.
2. Eat with fewer distractions. The fewer things you try to do while you eat, the fewer things you spread your attention over, and the more you can focus on what you’re eating.
3. Focus and think about what you’re eating. Be mindful of the flavors, texture, saltiness, sweetness, and bitterness of what you’re eating. Also take the time to be grateful for what you’re eating.
4. When you notice your mind focusing on something else, gently bring it back. Just like with meditation or active listening, when you mindfully eat, your attention will no doubt waver and move on to something else. The mind is naturally very active, and it likes to jump between thoughts quite a bit. When you notice your mind thinking about something that isn’t the food right in front of you, gently bring it back to what you’re eating.
That’s all there is to it!
I’ve gathered a bunch of tips below if you want to up your mindful eating game further, but this is basically all there is to the practice. To eat mindfully, simply slow down, eat with fewer distractions, focus on what you’re eating, and gently bring your mind back to what you’re eating when you notice your attention waver.
10 mindful eating tips
Mindful eating is relatively simple, but if you’ve got a hang of the basics, or you’re looking for a few tricks to help you out, here is a collection of my favorite tips that I both pulled from various sources and have found helpful myself.
1. Watch for the “eating pause.” According to WebMD, “During a meal, most people unknowingly take a break, put their fork and knife down, and stop eating for a few minutes. This is the ‘eating pause.’ What usually happens next is mindless eating.” Watch out for this pause, and take a break when you find yourself wanting to put your utensils down.
2. Cook food yourself. I find it helps to prepare food yourself (from scratch), so you can truly appreciate the flavor of what you’re eating and what went into making it.
3. Think about the story behind your food. In the terrific book Savor (a book on how to lose weight though mindful eating), the authors Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung suggest looking deeply at the food you’re eating to think about where it comes from. They use an apple to illustrate this idea. “Look deeply at [an apple] and you see the farmer who tended the apple tree; the blossom that became the fruit; the fertile earth, the organic material from decayed remains of prehistoric marine animals and algae, and the hydrocarbons themselves; the sunshine, the clouds, and the rain. Without the combination of these far-reaching elements and without the help of many people, the apple would simply not exist.”
4, 5. Feed yourself with your non-dominant hand, or use chopsticks. According to Darya Rose, both of these techniques force you to pay attention to what you’re eating, because they make eating more difficult. On using chopsticks, Darya “once heard a story about a local tech company that asked a bunch of their employees to use chopsticks exclusively for a week as a mindfulness exercise. Although weight loss was not the goal, everyone in the office lost weight and several reported life changing realizations as a result of the project.”
6. Be aware of all of your senses—not just taste. Eating is so much more enjoyable when you not only pay attention to how your food tastes, but also to how it feels, looks, smells, and even sounds.
7. Talk about what you’re eating. Mindful eating is easy enough to do alone, but what if you’re eating with friends or family? According to Jules Clancy (blogging for zenhabits), “One of the joys of eating is sharing a meal with loved ones. It can be challenging to incorporate mindfulness in a social situation but not impossible. Turn the focus of the conversation onto the meal while you are actually eating. Share what you are experiencing in terms of flavours and textures, likes and dislikes.” Darya Rose also recommends “designating the first 3–5 minutes of a meal for quiet and mindful practice.” This advice likely wouldn’t fly in my house, but it might just fly in yours :-)
8. Put down your cutlery until you’re finished with each bite. I have a terrible habit of playing with my cutlery to prepare my next bite of food before I’m finished eating the present one. When I put down my cutlery while I’m chewing, I find it way easier to eat mindfully.
9. Eat with your eyes closed. One very simple way to focus more on the flavours of what you’re eating is to close your eyes. Your mind may still wander to other things (and that’s normal), but it will also have a lot fewer distractions.
10. Mindfully check in. Susan Albers, author of Eating Mindfully, recommends periodically checking in on how hungry you are while you’re eating. “How hungry am I on a scale of one to ten? Gauging your hunger level is a little like taking your temperature. Each time you eat, ask yourself, ‘Am I physically hungry?’”
Many people—myself included—have a natural compulsion to do more more more, and that applies to eating food as well. When we try to focus on too many things at once while we’re eating, it’s easy to lose focus and overeat. Mindful eating not only helps you prevent yourself from overeating, but it also works out your attention muscle, which will make you much more productive in the long run.