Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits.
It has been shown to cause weight loss, reduce binge eating and help you feel better.
This article explains what mindful eating is, how it works and what you need to do to get started.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept.
Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating (8).
Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:
- Eating slowly and without distraction.
- Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you're full.
- Distinguishing between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.
- Engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and tastes.
- 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 figure.
- Appreciating your food.
These things allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, healthier responses (9).
Bottom Line: Mindful eating relies on mindfulness, a form of meditation. Mindful eating is about developing awareness of your experiences, physical cues and feelings about food.
Why Should You Try Mindful Eating?
In our fast-paced society, we face an abundance of food choices every day.
On top of that, distractions have shifted our attention away from the actual act of eating, and onto televisions, computers and smartphones.
Eating has become a mindless act, often done quickly. This can be problematic, since it actually takes the brain up to 20 minutes to realize you're full.
If you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you've already eaten too much. This is very common in binge eating.
By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.
Also, by increasing your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, you'll be able to distinguish between emotional and actual, physical hunger (10).
Furthermore, you'll increase your awareness of triggers that make you want to eat, even though you're not necessarily hungry.
By knowing your triggers, you can create a space between them and the response. That gives you the time and freedom to actually choose your response.
Bottom Line: 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.
Mindful Eating and Weight Loss
It is a well-known fact that most weight loss programs don't work in the long term.
Around 85% of obese individuals who lose weight return to or exceed their initial weight within a few years (11).
The vast majority of studies agree that mindful eating helps you lose weight by changing eating behaviors and reducing stress (18).
A 6-week group seminar on mindful eating among obese individuals resulted in an average weight loss of 9 lbs (4 kg) during the seminar and the 12-week follow-up period (10).
Another 6-month seminar resulted in an average weight loss of 26 lbs (12 kg), without any regained weight in the following 3-month period (19).
When unwanted eating behaviors are addressed, the chances of long-term weight loss success are increased.
Bottom Line: Mindful eating may be very helpful with weight loss, changing eating behaviors and reducing the stress associated with eating.
Mindful Eating and Binge Eating
Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, mindlessly and without control (24).
One study found that after a 6-week group intervention in obese women, binge eating episodes decreased from 4 to 1.5 times per week. The severity of each episode also decreased (30).
Bottom Line: Mindful eating can be helpful in preventing binge eating. It can both reduce the frequency of binges, as well as the severity of each binge eating episode.
Mindful Eating and Unhealthy Eating Behaviors
In addition to being an effective treatment for binge eating, mindful eating methods have also been shown to reduce (20):
- Emotional eating: Eating in response to certain emotions (31).
- External eating: Eating in response to environmental food-related cues, such as the sight or smell of food (32).
Unhealthy eating behaviors like these are the most commonly reported problems among obese individuals.
Mindful eating gives you the skills you need to deal with these impulses. It puts you in charge of your responses, instead of you acting on them without thought.
Bottom Line: Mindful eating may effectively treat common, unhealthy eating behaviors like emotional and external eating.
How To Practice Mindful Eating
To practice mindfulness, you'll need a series of exercises and meditations (33).
Many people find it helpful to attend a seminar, online course or workshop on mindfulness or mindful eating.
However, there are many simple ways to get started, some of which can have powerful benefits on their own:
- Eat more slowly and don't rush your meals.
- Chew thoroughly.
- Eliminate distractions by turning off the TV and putting down your phone.
- Eat in silence.
- Focus on how the food makes you feel.
- Stop eating when you're full.
- Ask yourself why you're eating. Are you actually hungry? Is it healthy?
To begin with, it is a good idea to pick one meal per day, to focus on these points.
Once you've got the hang of this, mindfulness will become more natural. Then you can focus on implementing these habits into more meals.
Bottom Line: Mindful eating takes practice. Try to eat more slowly, chew thoroughly, remove distractions and stop eating when you're full.
Where to Find More Information
- Books: There are many good books on mindful eating available.
- Web resources: This website lists 50 mindful eating web resources.
- Videos: This is a short video introduction to mindful eating.
- Meditating: Here is a short meditation to help manage food cravings.
- Workshops: Mindful eating seminars are located around the world and online.
Take Home Message
Mindful eating is a powerful tool to regain control of your eating.
If you have failed with conventional "diets" in the past, then this is definitely something you should try.