Mindful eating is based on the Buddhist concept, mindfulness.
It’s a powerful tool which you can use to improve your eating habits.
In this article, we discuss what mindfulness is and how you can incorporate mindful eating into your daily lives.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about being fully present and in the moment (1).
It enables you to notice your thoughts and behaviours without automatically reacting to them. Instead, mindfulness helps you to manage them through a variety of techniques, including:
There isn’t one single correct way to practice mindfulness. It can be done with a trained coach, as part of a group, or as a solo activity. You can use a book, app, podcasts, or other resources to lead you through a specific practice.
It needn’t be complicated. Mindfulness can be as simple as sitting and observing your breath or going for a walk whilst taking note of the sights and sounds around you.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is all about being fully present while you eat, paying attention to the experience, and using all of your senses.
Eating mindfully is about avoiding distractions, including external ones such as electronic screens and devices, as well as internal ones such as thoughts or worries in your own head.
Mindfulness for Health and Wellbeing
Many people use mindfulness to optimise their health and wellbeing, reduce stress or to help manage their thoughts and feelings.
More recently, mindfulness is being used in clinical settings for specific conditions and diseases, including: chronic pain, depression relapse, stress, and anxiety (2).
This is a new area of research and at present, mindfulness is not recommended as a standalone treatment over medication or other, well-supported therapies.
However, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to support people who have previously experienced multiple episodes of depression (3).
So whilst we need more high-quality evidence, mindfulness may have a role in helping people living with long-term conditions.
Mindfulness and Diet
Studies have suggested that mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce unhealthy behaviours like binge eating and emotional eating (4, 5, 6).
Additionally, some studies have found a positive relationship between mindfulness-based interventions and weight loss. However, these studies were poorly designed and therefore it’s difficult to determine if the weight loss was due to the mindfulness or other factors like exercise and sleep (6, 7).
Regardless of whether you have disordered eating habits or wish to lose weight, eating mindfully is something we can all benefit from.
Tips for Mindful Eating
Try to eat slowly, chewing your food fully, and enjoying and savouring the eating experience.
Recognise the different sensations of your meal – the tastes, smells, textures, colours, and sounds of your food.
Acknowledge all of the feelings and sensations you experience throughout the meal. Listen to and act on what your body is telling you – eating when you feel hungry, and stopping when start to feel full instead of continuing until you feel uncomfortable.
Try to avoid eating on the go or while at your desk – allow yourself dedicated space and time to eat.
Focus on the food in front of you; turn off the TV, put down your phone, remove any background distractions.
Don’t approach your meal with preconceived notions, for example, that you should clear your plate or you that you will only eat a certain amount. Be open to how things develop.
If you’re eating with others, enjoy their company and the opportunity to share the experience with them.
Practice self-compassion – be kind to yourself. Recognise that every food can play a part in a healthy, balanced diet and never judge or punish yourself for eating.
Emerging evidence suggests that mindfulness positively influences our mental wellbeing and overall health. Eating mindfully may also help to reduce unhealthy eating behaviours like binge eating. By following our tips above, you can include this powerful tool to improve your own eating habits.
(1) Brown KW and Ryan RM (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi: 10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242
(2) 2 Baltzell A and Cote T (2017). Mindfulness, in Applied Exercise Psychology: The Challenging Journey from Motivation to Adherence. doi: 10.4324/9780203795422
(3) NICE (2009). Depression in Adults: Recognition and Management. Available here: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg90/chapter/1-guidance
(4) Katterman SN et al (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005
(5) O’Reilly GA et al (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: A literature review. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/obr.12156
(6) Carrièr K et al (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis Obesity Reviews
(7) Olson KL and Emery CF (2015). Mindfulness and weight loss: A systematic review. Psychosomatic Medicine. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000127