Eating is a rushed experience for most of us, often done sitting in front of the TV or computer screen. You may eat without thinking, whether you're hunger or not and typically overeat. Sometimes, we eat for reasons other than hunger such as to relieve stress, or to cope with unpleasant emotions such as anxiety and depression. When eating mindlessly, we are not giving ourselves the time to process what and how much we eat and in turn create detrimental eating habits. If we are stressed or sad, we may overeat and ignore our hunger cues to deal with these negative emotions. These habits can lead to unintentional weight gain. In the US, 38% of adults say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress.1 Overeating has been directly linked to weight gain in both men and women.2,3 Mindful eating can help us prevent eating behaviors responsible for overeating such as emotional eating and binge eating, which can help with weight loss.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is an approach to eating that focuses on your sensual awareness of the food and the eating experience.4 It is about observing how the food makes you feel and focusing on the signals your body sends about taste, satisfaction and fullness.5
The idea behind mindful eating is to slow down and be fully engaged while you are eating. By doing this you are allowing your body time to feel full which prevents overeating. Mindful eating has the potential to address the challenges we face when controlling our food intake, which leads to behavior change and helps with weight loss. Mindful eating compared to dieting methods that focus on calorie restriction allows for possible weight loss and creates new dietary behaviors without the consequences of negatively affecting your relationship with food.
Mindful Eating Has Been Linked to Weight Loss and Fat Loss:
The research shows that if you were to practice mindful eating, there is a good chance that you will experience weight loss.6,7 In a specific study, mindfulness training was provided to adults with obesity in a group class for 6 weeks.6 The topics of mindfulness meditation, and mindful eating were taught, with an emphasis on the awareness of body sensations when eating as well as emotional triggers when eating.6 Participants experienced increased mindfulness and more control over what they ate. They also experienced decreases in weight, stress and their tendency to overeat in response to emotions.6
By focusing on what you feel while you are eating, you become aware of certain habits such as eating in response to negative emotions. When you become aware of these habits, it can be easier to change your eating behaviors. In mindful eating, you are more aware of what and how much you are eating, so you will inherently eat less and more nutrient dense foods, which can lead to weight loss.
In another study, adults with obesity who received mindfulness training had greater improvements in mindfulness, anxiety and emotional eating compared to adults who did not receive the training.8 The adults who did receive the training maintained their weight, while the adults without the training gained weight.8 Also, the adults who reported the most improvements in mindfulness, responsiveness to bodily sensations and stress had the largest reduction in abdominal fat. Mindful eating was directly related to weight loss and fat loss.8
4 Tips For Mindful Eating:
- Eating When You're Hungry
Listen to your body's hunger cues before and during eating. To avoid eating because you are bored, give yourself some time to reflect on how you actually feel. If you are bored go for a walk, don't rely on eating to fill up the time. Look at eating as fuel and nourishment for your body, not a way to pass time in your day.
- Eat Slowly
If you have decided you are actually hungry, make sure to enjoy each bite of food. Savor every bite and slowly chew your food. Make eating an experience. Think about the textures and taste of the food in your mouth. Give yourself time to enjoy the eating experience and respond to the body's fullness cues.
- Eat With No Distractions
An integral part to becoming fully aware of what you eat, is to limit the distractions around you as you are eating. Eating mindlessly while watching your favorite TV show could lead to overeating. Turn the TV off and put the phone away. If you are only focused on the food in front of you, you will eat less and enjoy the process more.
- Be Patient With Yourself
Breaking old habits and eating mindlessly can be difficult at first. Be patient with yourself and celebrate when you feel you have achieved even a small part of the process. Sometimes, there will be more distractions when you are eating than other times. Enjoy your time with friends and family, eating is a large part of the social atmosphere. Mindful eating is about making adjustments to your eating behaviors when you can, it is not about limiting your life in any way. It will take time, but eventually mindful eating will become a habitual behavior.
Mindful Eating is Key to a Healthier Relationship with Food:
Mindful eating can positively change your relationship with food. By focusing on how you feel as you eat, you can learn to enjoy the experience of eating. Other dieting practices, such as calorie counting and restrictive eating, focuses on weight loss and results in negative relationships with food which can lead to the development of disordered eating. Mindful eating allows you to appreciate food and the experiences that accompany it. The person eating chooses how much and what to consume depending on how they feel in that moment and they are not concerned with restricting intake.2 Within a mindful approach, the person's choices are typically to eat less, savor eating more and select healthier foods.2 The goal of mindful eating is not weight loss, that is the goal of dieting. The goal of mindful eating is to truly experience food and the process of eating and in doing so ease stress and anxiety and decide to make behavior changes. This technique can help you develop healthful habits that will become a part of your lifestyle. You will be making healthy lifestyle changes to your diet which will help better your overall health.
- Stress and eating [Internet]. https://www.apa.org. [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating
- van Strien T, Herman CP, Verheijden MW. Eating style, overeating and weight gain. A prospective 2-year follow-up study in a representative Dutch sample. Appetite 2012;59:782–9.
- Hays NP, Roberts SB. Aspects of eating behaviors “disinhibition” and “restraint” are related to weight gain and BMI in women. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008;16:52–8.
- Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr 2017;30:171–4.
- Mindful Eating - HelpGuide.org [Internet]. https://www.helpguide.org. [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/mindful-eating.htm
- Dalen J, Smith BW, Shelley BM, Sloan AL, Leahigh L, Begay D. Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2010;18:260–4.
- Olson KL, Emery CF. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychosom Med 2015;77:59–67.
- Daubenmier J, Kristeller J, Hecht FM, Maninger N, Kuwata M, Jhaveri K, Lustig RH, Kemeny M, Karan L, Epel E. Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study. J Obes 2011;2011:651936.