Mindful eating involves paying closer attention to your food and how it makes you feel. In addition to helping you learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, it may also help reduce disordered eating behaviors and support weight loss.
Mindful eating is a technique that helps you better manage your eating habits. It has been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, and help you feel better.
This article explains mindful eating, how it works, and what you need to do to get started.
Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, which is 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 body
- appreciating your food
These things allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, health-promoting 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.
Today’s fast-paced society offers people 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 time for your brain to register that 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 disorder (BED).
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 can 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 (
Knowing your triggers allows you to 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.
It’s well known that most weight loss programs do not work in the long term.
In fact, some research suggests that people tend to regain about half of the lost weight after 2 years and 80% of the lost weight after 5 years (
BED, emotional eating, external eating, and eating in response to food cravings have been linked to weight gain and regain after successful weight loss (
Chronic exposure to stress may also play a large role in overeating and obesity (
Most studies agree that mindful eating helps you lose weight by changing your eating behaviors and reducing stress (
Interestingly, one review of 10 studies found that mindful eating was as effective for weight loss as conventional diet programs (
Another study involving 34 females found that completing a 12-week training on mindful eating resulted in an average weight loss of 4 pounds (lb) or 1.9 kilograms (kg) and improved feelings of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion (
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.
BED involves eating a large amount of food in a short time, mindlessly and without control (
It has been linked to weight gain, obesity, and disordered eating behaviors like purging or compulsive exercise (
Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating may drastically reduce the severity and frequency of BED episodes (23,
In fact, one study found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy improved eating behaviors and enhanced restraint over food intake when added to usual care in people with BED and bulimia nervosa (
Mindful eating can help prevent binge eating. It can both reduce the frequency of binging episodes and their severity.
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 teaches you the skills you need to manage 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.
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.
But there are many simple ways to get started, some of which can have powerful benefits on their own (
- Eating more slowly — not rushing your meals.
- Chewing thoroughly.
- Eliminating distractions; for example, turning off the TV and putting down your phone.
- Eating in silence.
- Focusing on how the food makes you feel.
- Stopping eating when you’re full.
- Asking yourself why you’re eating, whether you’re truly hungry, and whether the food you chose is nutritious.
To begin with, it’s a good idea to pick one meal per day to focus on these points.
Once you feel confident in practicing the techniques, mindfulness will become more natural. Then you can focus on implementing these methods during more meals.
Mindful eating takes practice. Try to eat more slowly, chew thoroughly, remove distractions, and stop eating when you’re full.
What are some mindful eating habits?
Minimizing distractions during meals is a great way to get started with mindful eating. Other habits can include chewing your food more thoroughly, savoring each bite, and evaluating how you feel before, during, and after your meal (
Can you lose weight by mindful eating?
Mindful eating has been shown to reduce emotional and external eating, which can be beneficial for weight management (
It may also help you learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger to prevent overeating and foster improved awareness of your food choices (
What foods are good for mindful eating?
You can practice mindful eating with virtually any food in your diet. However, some foods may take more time to prepare and enjoy, making paying closer attention to your meal easier as you start experimenting with mindful eating.
For example, pomegranates require you to cut, score, and section the fruit before popping out the individual seeds. Similarly, edamame is commonly consumed by sliding the beans out of each pod using your teeth, which typically requires your full attention.
Mindful eating is a powerful tool to manage your eating.
This technique is worth considering if conventional diets have not worked for you.
If you want to try mindful eating, you can find many resourceful books in stores and online. Alternatively, you can join the Healthline Mindful Eating Challenge to get started.