Mindfulness Training is an Effective Approach to Healthy Eating

Most of us are so busy multi-tasking and balancing all of the things that have to be accomplished in a day that we don’t take the time to slow down and really taste our food.  Eating with distraction of television, screen scrolling, and working have become the norm.  We aren’t giving much thought to why we are eating or even what we are eating.  We taste and notice flavor in our first bite and our last bite, but those bites in the middle are lost to distraction and also tend to be fast and mechanical.  In a few moments, we have finished our meal and have not really enjoyed most of it.  Lost in thought, we are more likely to overeat because we are not listening to the body’s fullness cues.  Over time we lose the ability to sense subtle flavors and we need more and more additives like salt, fat and sugar to taste our food.  Mindless eating can lead us to choosing more processed foods, larger portions and less of the foods that nourish our bodies.  Learning to eat mindfully can be the key to changing our eating habits and meeting our health goals.

When I’m helping a client to meet healthy eating goals, we begin with the practice of mindful eating.  Clients learn to live in the moment as they are eating and to appreciate every bite of their food.  It is important to assess our hunger, take our time and eat with intent and purpose.  Mindful eating means using our senses and paying close attention to the sight, aroma, texture and flavor of the meal.  Slowing down, gives your stomach a chance to release hormones that let you know you are full.  Assessing our hunger throughout the process helps us recognize and honor our fullness. As a result we are often satisfied on less food and out bodies feel better when we don’t overeat. My clients learn to savor and enjoy their food.  Choosing healthier foods is a lot easier after eating mindfully becomes a habit and sometimes this is all that is needed to improve our health.

Many of us have complicated relationships with food.  We often eat certain foods to meet our emotional needs and sometimes we are averse to foods that have never filled those needs or that we associate with negative experiences.  Training ourselves to eat mindfully can help us understand and change those relationships.   Mindful eating means taking a few seconds before the meal to think about and appreciate why we are eating, where our food comes from, and what it is doing for us.  In doing so, we appreciate our favorite foods even more, but we also learn to like other foods and see them in a new light.  Learning to acknowledge the feelings we have for food and why we choose these foods, without judging these feelings, is the first step we can take in changing our relationship and attitude with all different foods.  After after a few weeks, my well trained mindful eaters often tell me they are surprised at how much more they are open to eating different foods and they find it easier to make better choices.

To begin mindfulness eating training, I ask my clients to use the following guide.  The first time, they can practice with a favorite snack.  It may not always be practical to use this guide, but I ask them to try to use it at least once per day.  After 2-3 weeks, the practice becomes habit and it becomes a natural and easy thing to do at all meals and snacks.

First Bite

1. Take a few deep breaths.

2. Look at the first bite of food closely; notice the color, shape, and texture.

3. Inhale the aroma of the food; smell is an important part of taste.

4. Take a few seconds to consider the environment it’s come from. Is it really natural or more processed? Acknowledge the journey it has made to your plate.

5. Take a few seconds to acknowledge and appreciate what the food will do for you, without judgment, whether it is meant to simply satisfy hunger, nourish and protect the body, satisfy a craving or provide emotional comfort. 

6. Place the food in your mouth and roll it around. Notice how it feels.

7. Chew slowly, paying attention to the taste. Does the taste change when you bite into it?

8. What thoughts or feelings do you have about that food?

9. Swallow when you are ready. Are there any tastes or sensations afterwards?

Second Bite

1. Look closely at the second bite of food and inhale the aroma. Is anything different? What thoughts and feelings about this food are you having now? Has your desire for this food changed?

2. Place the food in your mouth and notice the texture and taste.

3. Chew slowly. Focus on the joy of the experience and the satisfaction of eating this bite of food.

4. Swallow when you are ready. How was this bite of food different from the first?

Third Bite

Choose whether to take a third bite of food or not. Repeat the process above if you want to eat the third bite of food. Be aware of why you made your choice and make a conscious decision about taking more bites rather than eating mindlessly. Be present with each piece and continue in that way until you’ve finished the food.

Try to practice mindful eating every day, following these steps. The more you practice mindful eating, the more it will become part of the way you eat.