Most of us already know eating healthy is good for your mind, brain, and body. Despite this, it’s still quite a hard habit to form, especially considering there’s so much advice out there—from eliminating certain foods, to only eating during certain parts of the day, to drinking fruit-infused water to suppress your appetite, and a whole lot more.
Some of this information is conflicting, and much of it is shared by someone lacking the education or credentials needed to provide adequate, science-backed nutritional advice. So, today, your challenge is to leave all that miscellaneous—and sometimes questionable—know-how behind to make room for a new approach to nutrition: mindful eating.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Though the practice of mindful eating isn’t easy—at least not at first—the concept is pretty straightforward. If mindfulness means being in the present moment, then mindful eating essentially means being mindful while eating, or applying mindfulness principles to your entire eating experience.
How to Practice Mindful Eating: Tips, Exercises, and Examples
Again, while the definition of mindful eating sounds pretty simple, putting it into practice can be tough. Below are some mindful eating tips to help you get started.
1. Plan Out Your Meals
Mindful eating doesn’t only apply to when you’re actually putting food into your body—it starts with planning your meals. Each week, take 10 to 15 minutes to write out the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks you want to eat. It’ll help you be better prepared to fuel yourself throughout the day, rather than grabbing whatever is in front of you or skipping meals because your fridge is sad and empty.
2. Make a Shopping List
Be as intentional as possible when you go grocery shopping. Arrive at the store equipped with a well-thought-out list of foods that will enable you to adhere to your meal plan for the week—and stick to that list! If you go in unprepared, you may end up buying a bunch of things you don’t need and missing vital ingredients for the meals you want to eat.
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3. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes
In the United States, portion sizes tend to be, well, quite large—and with our tendency to finish everything on our plate simply because it’s there, this means we often end up eating more than we actually need to. Before you fill your plate, get familiar with the recommended portion sizes for each type of food. For example, your cut of meat should be about the size of the palm of your hand. Learning how to read a nutrition label (for the serving size, not the calories) is a helpful mindful eating exercise, too.
4. Listen to Your Body
It’s essential to be in tune with your body and to learn how to identify and interpret its hunger cues. Most likely, you can already tell when you’re way too full or super hungry, but there are many hunger levels in between that, too. In fact, there are 10 different points on the hunger scale, and it’s important to be familiar with as many of them as possible.
5. Engage All Five Senses in the Eating Process
Staying present can be hard, as it’s completely natural for the mind to wander, but it’s important to try if you want to be a mindful eater. One helpful mindful eating exercise actively tapping into all five of your senses—smell, sight, touch, sound, taste. As you eat, ask yourself:
- What does it smell like?
- What shape and color is it?
- What does it feel like when I touch it, spear it with my fork, move it around my mouth?
- What sounds do I hear while I chew it?
- What specific flavors can I detect?
Approaching each bite this way is actually a great example of a mindful eating meditation. (If you think you need some help better grasping and mastering this concept, here’s a guided mindful eating meditation example.) This isn’t something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life, but practicing it at the beginning will help you form a lifelong mindful eating habit.
6. Ask Yourself Why You’re Reaching for Food
To clarify, you absolutely do not have to justify your food choices to anyone else. But, when you find yourself rooting through the pantry or obsessing over the snack table at a party, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Am I reaching for this piece of food because I’m hungry—or, perhaps, because my friend made a new type of cookie I want to try—or because I feel bored, sad, angry, stressed, [insert any other emotion]?”
If you’re eating because of boredom or an uncomfortable feeling, notice that, then consider doing something else to address it instead. Journal, go for a walk, do a puzzle, call a friend or family member, read a book, drink a glass of water, learn how to knit a funny hat, whatever.
7. Eat Slower
Eating isn’t a race, so don’t treat it that way. Take small bites, chew each one thoroughly, and put your fork down while you’re chewing. This gives you more time to be a more mindful eater, to really savor your food and think about what you’re eating—plus how it affects your senses. In this mindful eating exercise, chocolate is a full-blown sensory experience in every single bite.
8. Look at the Menu Before You Go Out to Eat
Being mindful about what you eat can be harder when eating out at a restaurant. To help, look up the menu before you go and decide what you want to eat, rather than waiting until the host seats you at your table.
9. Don’t Eat in Front of the Screen
Imagine trying to meditate while watching a show, texting, or scrolling through social media. It wouldn’t work. Likewise, to truly eat mindfully, turn off the TV and leave your phone in another room. If you’re distracted while eating, you’ll likely miss your body’s important hunger cues. The only “distraction exception” is eating with other people—food is a great way to bring people together, and you shouldn’t hide in different corners of the house during dinnertime simply for the sake of mindful eating.
So, go forth and conquer your new healthy habit with these mindful eating tips. But, before you do, here’s a quick quiz for you: Which of the following is not a component of mindful eating?
- A: Engaging all five senses in each meal experience.
- B: Taking small bites and chewing slowly.
- C: Asking yourself why you’re reaching for food.
- D: Pouring water on your food when you want to stop eating.
- E: Looking up the restaurant menu and choosing your meal ahead of time.
Scroll down to find the answer!
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Correct answer: D. That’s right, don’t pour water on your food—that’s wasteful! Put it in a container and save it for later. There’s no shame in leftovers life.