Eating is an integral part of daily living. However, taking the time to savor food is a rare occurrence. For many of us, busy lives mean we eat where we can: behind the wheel, in front of a computer, around a conference table—just about anywhere except the dining table. The act of eating in our society is too often a mindless task rather than an enjoyable, nourishing experience. Mindless eating and overindulging can result in negative health consequences like digestive disorders and obesity. Eating mindfully, on the other hand, encourages proper digestion and can aid in nutrient absorption, promote ideal body weight and help you develop a healthy relationship with food.
Mindful eating is not a diet. It’s a conscious way of eating and enjoying food for both good health and pleasure. Mindful eating is about bringing awareness and appreciation to the experience of eating. When you slow down and pay attention to how and what you eat, you’re more likely to make better decisions that will nourish your body. Here are some guidelines on how to practice mindful eating.
1. Sit down and unplug.
Sometimes eating can feel like another item on the to-do list. Do you rush through your day, eating whenever you get a chance? Or maybe you make time to sit and eat, but stare mindlessly at the TV without paying attention to what—or how much—you’re eating. Ever eat over the sink while contemplating how you can hurry to the next task? Guess what? Your mind and body need a break, and they need food to feel replenished.
How to do it: Avoid watching TV and talking on the phone while you eat. Stop working and step away from the computer. Set everything aside and take a break to enjoy and savor your food. Focus on your meal.
How you’ll benefit: Sitting down while you eat—without distractions—will encourage you to pay attention to your food and how you consume it. You might find that you’ve fallen into a bad habit of eating too quickly or that you’ve been eating without actually tasting your food. And because mindful eating encourages you to take a true break, it can help you feel more relaxed or focused as you carry on with the rest of your day.
2. Eat slowly.
Your brain time needs time to register that you’re eating and to communicate to your body when you are full. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to know that you’ve had enough food. Pausing in between bites can facilitate a healthy habit of eating slowly.
How to do it: Set your fork down in between bites, for starters. Pause. Finish what’s in your mouth before going for the next bite. Engage in stimulating conversation. Don’t aim to get full. Be satisfied.
How you’ll benefit: It’s very likely that you’ll eat a lot less. In this way, eating slowly helps prevent overeating, which causes unnecessary weight gain and digestive stress.
3. Chew well.
Eating on the run and devouring food without chewing very well can result in undigested food particles floating through the colon. These particles can trigger unpleasant symptoms like bloating, gas and indigestion.
How to do it: Saliva is full of active enzymes that help break down food. The longer food is exposed to saliva (through chewing), the easier it moves through your intestines. Chew your food thoroughly until it has a fine, pulplike texture.
How you’ll benefit: Proper chewing kickstarts the digestive process and allows for better absorption of vitamins and nutrients. Good digestion is essential for overall health.
4. Sip, don’t gulp.
While it’s true that the digestive system needs hydration in order to process efficiently, drinking lots of water during meals can dilute your stomach acid, impeding efficient digestion.
How to do it: Limit your consumption of fluids 15 minutes before you eat and for at least 15 to 30 minutes after a meal. If you prefer to drink with a meal, take small sips. Mint tea and lemon water are useful in assisting digestion.
How you’ll benefit: By not flooding your system with excessive liquid, you can avoid or reduce gas and bloating. And you’re likely to feel lighter after meals.
5. Embrace your senses.
Mindful eating can be a magical, stimulating experience. There are many things to observe and experience in a meal—colors, textures, smells, sounds. Eating isn’t just about taste. Tapping into all of your senses is a great way to be fully present while eating.
How to do it: At your next meal, observe the colors of your meal. Next, close your eyes and smell the aroma of your food. Keeping your eyes closed, what do noises do you hear? As you take a bite of food, notice the flavors and textures as you chew.
How you’ll benefit: If you take the time to acknowledge and relish the colors flavors and textures of your food, you might be surprised at how certain sensory experiences begin to stand out. Embracing your senses at meals will also encourage you to slow down and enjoy the full experience of eating.
6. Eat only when you’re hungry.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of mindless or emotional snacking, or thinking you need a certain number of meals every day. When you snack a lot in between meals, however, you may find that you never feel satisfied, or that you’re not hungry at mealtimes. Eating when you’re not hungry can result in a guilty conscience over overindulging. If you’re hungry, of course, a healthy snack in between meals can be enjoyable and nourishing.
How to do it: Listen to your body. Is your stomach growling? Do you feel empty or light-headed? Are you thirsty? If you’re truly hungry, eat a meal or have a healthy snack. Don’t wait until you’re famished and don’t eat just because there is food around. When you grab a snack, ask yourself why you want it before you consume it.
How you’ll benefit: Eating only when you’re hungry serves as a reminder that your body needs energy and that you should for good health. Avoiding emotional eating and mindless snacking will keep those guilty feelings away as you move into mealtime. As a result, eating only when you’re hungry may help you avoid excessive weight gain.
7. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Acknowledge the time and effort put into creating your meal. Take a moment to consider all the ingredients, and the preparation and intention involved in getting the food onto your plate.
How to do it: Take a moment to appreciate the nourishing, enjoyable aspects of your meal that you’re about to indulge in. Say a blessing or simply pause to acknowledge your good fortune before the meal. Thank the person who prepared the food.
How you’ll benefit: Everyone appreciates being acknowledged for their work and effort, and expressing gratitude at meals reminds us how people and nature connect to sustain us with nourishing food. This simple acknowledgement helps promote mindful eating habits and feelings of satisfication all around.
Eating mindfully is a natural and pleasurable experience that supports good health. Your whole body will benefit from slowing down and being present while eating. It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat that matters.