Your Step-By-Step Guide To Mindful Eating

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With all the distractions and responsibilities that we have in this day and age, we rarely sit down to eat a meal without doing something at the same time — whether it’s watching a TV show, working on our laptops or scrolling through our Instagram feeds. But since all these distractions can keep us from focusing on the food that we’re shoveling into our mouths, many of us end up overeating and feeling uncomfortably stuffed and bloated as a consequence.

Luckily, mindful eating can help us become more in tune with our body’s satiety (or fullness) signals. Paying more attention to what you eat through mindful eating can help you appreciate your food more and will allow you to indulge without taking things to the extreme.

But what does “mindful eating” really mean? The practice of mindful eating stems from mindfulness — a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while still calmly acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations without judging them. Mindful eating, on the other hand, involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside of the body. It involves being aware of the textures, smells, temperature and flavors of the foods that we eat. It’s about paying attention to how our bodies experience hunger, satisfaction and fullness and being aware of any emotions that are tied to particular foods. The goal of mindful eating is to regain the sense of freedom and ease that many of us had towards food in our childhood. Here are seven steps that you can take today to become a more mindful eater.

1. Eat when you have an appetite but don’t wait until you’re ravenous

what is mindful eating

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If you skip meals or wait to eat until your stomach is grumbling, once it’s meal time you’ll probably be so hungry that you’ll end up quickly scarfing down all of your food without actually taking the time to enjoy it. This will leave you less satisfied with your meal and likely increase your temptation to snack more later in the day.

2. Start with a small portion

what is mindful eating

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You can always get seconds (or thirds) later, but to be more mindful of what you’re eating, start out with a smaller portion size — consider portioning out your food on a plate that’s nine inches or smaller. Often, when we have food in front of us, we’re tempted to finish it all even if we’re no longer actually hungry. This is especially true when we multitask during a meal and we’re not actually paying attention to the food that we’re putting in our mouths.

3. Turn off all distractions

what is mindful eating

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A 2013 review of multiple studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when two groups of people ate the same meal, the ones who ate it while watching TV ate more at that meal and later on in the day than the group that ate the meal without any distractions.

Next time mealtime rolls around, try turning off the TV, putting down your phone and even — gasp — closing your work laptop. Eliminating distractions as much as possible while you eat will allow you to become more in tune with your body’s hunger and satiety cues, the ones that tell you when you need more food to fuel your body and when it’s time to stop eating before you overstuff yourself.

4. Take time to appreciate your food before you begin a meal

what is mindful eating

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It may sound silly, but pausing for a few minutes before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone that it took to bring that meal to your table will make you appreciate it that much more. You won’t take your food for granted and you’ll likely be able to direct more attention to the process of eating.

5. Use all of your senses to appreciate your meal

what is mindful eating

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When you chew your food, try to pay particular attention to all the flavors, textures and aroma that you sense with every bite. Paying close attention to these properties of the foods that you eat will allow you to get more satisfaction out of the eating experience.

6. Take smaller bites

what is mindful eating

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Taking smaller bites at every meal will allow you to savor your food more as you eat it. Since it takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes for the signal of satiety [fullness] to reach your brain, eating slowly and with smaller bites will also give your brain time to realize when you’ve reached the point of being comfortably full before you’ve overstuffed yourself.

A good way to start taking smaller bites and to slow down your eating is to put down your utensils between every few bites. Take a breath and notice how your body feels — are you satisfied or do you truly still need to eat to satiate your hunger?

7. Take the stress out of eating

what is mindful eating

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Food is not the enemy but a necessary part of life and one that we shouldn’t feel ashamed about enjoying. So pay particular attention to any negative emotions that arise when you eat particular foods — like stress, guilt or sadness. Be aware of them but don’t judge them. Even if you’re indulging, remind yourself that it’s okay to do so occasionally and that it won’t really impact your overall health in the long run. If you work on feeling more positive about your eating experience, you won’t let guilt or other negative emotions get in the way of letting you fully enjoy what you’re eating.

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