Have you ever looked down and been surprised to see your once-full plate nearly empty—how the heck did you inhale all of that without even noticing? It’s not hard. With so many things to do, places to be, and screens to stare at, it’s nearly impossible to focus on just one task. But when it comes to meals, making time to be more mindful can actually help you feel better and eat better, too.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is about slowing the process down, paying closer attention to what you’re eating, and listening to your body—you might even say, trusting your gut. Mindful eating encourages you to be more conscious of your food choices, to really taste and enjoy your food, and to stop when you have had enough. And many experts believe it could ultimately change your relationship with food, ridding you of any guilt you may associate with eating. “Changing your diet doesn’t begin by changing what you eat. It begins by changing how you think,” says Megrette Fletcher, R.D., cofounder of The Center for Mindful Eating.
Mindful Eating is Backed by Science
The best reason to practice mindfulness when you eat: science proves it’s helpful! Research shows when you eat mindfully, you’re more likely to make healthier choices and stop eating when you’re full. There’s also evidence to suggest it can help you lose weight, decrease risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve the way you feel about yourself and your body.
The BASICS of Mindful Eating
Ready to give mindful eating a try? Lynn Rossy, Ph.D., a health psychologist and founder of the Mindfulness Practice Center at the University of Missouri, has developed a BASICS guide to mindful eating.
Breathe & Belly Check
Take a moment before you eat to stop, breathe and rate your hunger or satiety on a scale of 1 to 10—with 1 being empty or starving, and 10 being stuffed.
Assess Your Food
Before taking your first bite use all your senses to notice your food. If you’re eating with friends or family take a moment to bring the focus to the meal.
Chew slowly to enjoy your food more and be more in tune with how full you are getting. Still going too fast? Try putting your fork down and taking a few breaths between bites. (Avoid the urge to reach for your smartphone or turn on the TV during these quiet moments.)
Investigate Your Hunger Throughout
Check in with yourself throughout the meal to get a sense of your hunger level and fullness. Where are you on the scale now? Be sure to stop eating when you are comfortably full, not overstuffed.
Chew Your Food Thoroughly
Take the time to identify every flavor with each bite, by thoroughly chewing your food. Don’t take or think about your next fork-full until you have fully enjoyed the previous one. Slowing down and fully chewing helps your body digest nutrients more efficiently and helps your mind register every mouthful, reducing your chances of overeating.
Savor Your Food
Choose healthy, nourishing foods you enjoy. Knowing you’re filling up on nutritious fare can help you feel grateful, rather than guilty, about your choices—even when you do enjoy the occasional treat. There are no “good” or “bad” foods.
Next time you eat, give yourself permission to breathe, savor, and truly enjoy your food. You might not be mindful at every meal, but when you are, in that moment, remember everything else on your to-do list can wait.
Do you slow down and smell the rosemary when you eat? How do you bring mindfulness to your meals? Join the conversation below.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.