Practising mindfulness when eating can come with a whole host of different benefits and is yet another one of the many different ways we can be more mindful. Mindful eating is something that has grown in popularity over the years, but what exactly is it? How does it work? And what is the point?!
In this Mindful Eating 101 guide, we’re going to look at what practising mindfulness when eating looks like, the benefits, the differences between this and intuitive eating, how mindful eating can improve your relationship with food and some top tips to help you eat mindfully.
So, shall we dig in?
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating isn’t a new concept, although it has risen in popularity in more recent times. Mindfulness is all about bringing attention and awareness to the present moment and really experiencing that moment. So, mindful eating is really just bringing your attention and focus to the act of eating and all of the senses that come with that.
However, just sitting down and eating a plate of food mindfully isn’t the only goal. Mindful eating can also help us develop a better relationship with our bodies and food in general.
As with all types of mindfulness practice, eating mindfully means doing so without judgement – and this ties in nicely with the ten principles of intuitive eating, which we will get to a little bit later on in the article.
Bringing your awareness to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and all of the emotions around eating, and doing so without judgement, is the key to practising mindfulness when eating. There are also five top tips below to help you get started, but first, let’s look at why this is such a powerful practice.
The Benefits of Practising Mindfulness When Eating
So, what’s the point of mindful eating? What benefits can we expect from practising mindfulness when eating? According to experts, there are plenty of reasons why someone may find eating mindfully beneficial. Some of these include:
- Simply bringing more mindful moments into your day can help reduce stress and anxiety
- Being able to examine and change your relationship around food and eating, and in some cases your body too
- Being able to get more pleasure out of the food you eat, by savouring it
- Some studies have shown that mindful eating can help with conditions such as binge eating disorder or emotional eating (please do seek advice from a medical professional if this is how you wish to use mindful eating, or for eating disorder recovery)
- Develop a greater appreciation of food in general, including where it comes from and the process of getting onto your plate
- Understanding and honouring hunger signals
- Moving away from diet culture and focusing more on positive eating behaviours
- And so much more
While there has been a lot of research into mindful eating for weight loss, we truly believe that mindful eating shouldn’t be seen as another diet or a way to lose weight. In fact, we actively discourage this often harmful way of thinking and urge you to consider the principles of intuitive eating instead.
Is Mindful Eating the Same as Intuitive Eating?
Both mindful eating and intuitive eating have similar concepts, so they can tie in really nicely together. Nutritionist and intuitive eating counsellor Ela Law has a fabulous mini course on mindful eating that digs into the 10 principles of intuitive eating to start. These are:
1. Reject the diet mentality
2. Honour your hunger
3. Make peace with food
4. Challenge the ‘food police’
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
6. Feel your fullness
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
8. Respect your body
9. Movement – feel the difference
10. Gentle nutrition
Much of what is taught in intuitive eating works alongside practising mindfulness when eating, by bringing awareness to the incredible things your body can do, learning to respect your body and respect your hunger, and dealing with concerns such as emotional eating. Intuitive eating also focuses on gentle nutrition education, which is right at the bottom of the list!
Only once you have completed the first nine principles should you then consider learning more about nutrition so that it doesn’t become another way of dieting. We highly recommend nutritionist Anna’s myth-buster series after Ela Law’s mini course, to debunk some of the most common nutrition myths.
Can Mindful Eating Improve Your Relationship with Food?
Many of us think about food a lot and there are also many of us who have quite a poor relationship with food, usually due to outside influences such as diet programs, magazines, and social media. We’re often bombarded with all sorts of different information about foods that are good or bad, when to eat, counting calories or macros, and so much more. Over time, this can ruin our relationship with food and our own body image.
Mindful eating can improve our relationship with food by allowing us to truly experience the eating experience without judgement. Not judging the food choices you make or feeling as though you have to compensate for having a ‘treat.’ It allows us to savour and enjoy every bite of food, and all of the sensations that come with eating, without worrying that we’re eating the wrong things.
Use the tips below to start practising mindfulness when eating and make a note of your experiences by reflecting back with some of the journal prompts and questions at the end.
5 Top Tips to Help you Eat Mindfully
Ready to start your mindful eating journey? Here are five top tips that can help you eat in a more mindful way.
1. Use your senses
- Before taking a bite of your food, really look at it. What does it look like? Imagine you’re seeing this piece of food for the very first time.
- Once you’ve done that, touch it. What is the texture like? Is it soft and squishy or hard and unbreakable?
- Now, bring the piece of food to your nose and smell it. What does it smell like? Does the smell remind you of anything or bring up any kind of emotions, thoughts or feelings?
- Once you’ve smelt the food, give it a tiny bite or lick. Really soak up the flavour and think about how that feels for you. Continue taking smile bites, rolling the food around in your mouth, and savouring the taste.
Bringing your senses into eating can really help you appreciate whatever is on your plate better!
2. Remove distractions at mealtimes
Many of us nowadays will sit in front of the TV or scrolling on our phones when we eat, which can make it difficult for us to feel very focused or present. Try picking one mealtime a week where you remove all distractions and can just sit with your food. If you have a space to do so, consider eating at a dining table instead of on the sofa. Turn off any distractions and spend some time appreciating and enjoying your food in a whole new way.
3. Remove judgement from food
As mentioned, the key to any kind of mindfulness is doing so without judgement. As in the intuitive eating principles, try to ditch the ‘food police’ or the inner monologue that tells you certain foods are good or bad, or that you should only eat so much of something. Removing judgement from the eating experience can help you develop a better relationship with food and your body overall.
4. Appreciate the whole experience
Mindful eating isn’t just about being mindful during the whole eating part – although you’d be forgiven for thinking so! Instead of just practising mindfulness when eating, consider the whole experience from planning your meals, through to food shopping and selecting the items to put in your basket, then the cooking, and then, finally the eating. Bring in aspects of mindfulness into each of these areas to help cultivate more of an appreciation of your food, where it comes from, and even your cooking skills.
5. Reflect on your mindful eating experience
Finally, spend a little bit of time reflecting on how eating mindfully feels for you. Use these journal prompts to dig deeper into what the experience was like and how you can eat mindfully more in the future.
- What did I notice when I practised mindful eating for the first time? How did it feel for me?
- Did any thoughts come up that I noticed, perhaps about the way I usually think about food?
- Did I enjoy mindful eating on the whole? Is it something I could see myself doing more often?
- How can I eat mindfully more regularly? How could I fit this into my routine?
Practising mindfulness when eating can take some time, and it may feel very different and new compared to what you used to. If you have spent a long time believing that certain ways of eating or particular foods are bad for you, then it can take some time to unlearn. Be gentle with yourself, as always when it comes to any kind of mindfulness.
Useful Resources for Mindful Eating and Nutrition
Want to learn more? You can take the Mindful Eating Mini Course with Ela Law to learn more about practising mindfulness when eating or explore some of the further resources below.
- Overcoming the Most Common Barriers to Eating Better (blog, no membership required)
- 10-Minute Nutrition Myth Busters Course with Anna (membership required)
- Nutrition mini courses with Anna including menopause, sleep, and bloating (membership required)
- Nutrition myth busting podcast with Anna (podcast, no membership required)
- Access 100s of delicious and nutritious recipes on The Anti-Burnout Club platform (membership required)
- 23 quick and healthy dinners that take 20-minutes or less (blog, no membership required)