Submitted by Amy Sercel MS RD CD
Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
Five years ago, we published this blog with tips to help you integrate mindful eating into your lifestyle. Since then, mindful eating has become more and more prominent in the wider discussion of nutrition and healthy lifestyles. This past February, mindful eating even made an appearance in Canada’s updated food guide, reminding people to take time to enjoy their meals, pay attention to their hunger and fullness around eating, and make an effort to avoid distractions during mealtimes.1
Mindfulness is the process of bringing focused, non-evaluative attention and awareness to the present moment.2 You may already practice mindfulness if you do yoga, meditate, incorporate affirmations or mantras throughout your day, utilize mindful coloring materials, or take time out of your day to avoid being distracted by your phone, email, or television. Mindfulness becomes mindful eating when it is applied to any eating event. Mindful eating doesn’t dictate any food rules, or say that you should eat one item instead of something else. With mindful eating, it’s about the entire experience, not about the particular food you are eating.3 There are four domains of mindful eating: focused eating, eating in response to hunger and satiety cues, eating with awareness, and eating without distraction.3,4
It’s fairly well known that mindfulness in general is associated with improved mental health. Mindfulness is thought to improve wellbeing by helping people become more aware of their positive emotional experiences. People who practice mindfulness tend to have more positive emotions overall, are more able to regulate their unpleasant emotions, and are less significantly impacted by negative experiences.5
In the context of food choices, mindfulness has been shown to help people become more aware of and responsive to their hunger and satiety cues.5 This means mindful eaters are less likely to allow themselves to get to a point of being ravenously hungry, and more likely to stop eating when they’re comfortably full. Mindful eaters report feeling more satisfaction from the foods they eat, and less desire to continue eating after consuming an enjoyable food.2,3,5 A deeper awareness of hunger and satiety cues means that mindful eaters tend to be more able to separate emotions from physical hunger and fullness, making them less likely to turn to food to cope with strong emotions.3 All of this explains why mindful eaters tend to consume fewer calories and have lower weights overall than people who tend to eat in distracted, emotional states.
Interestingly, people don’t have to specifically practice mindful eating for mindfulness to benefit their food choices. In one study, simply practicing mindfulness earlier in the day led participants to report less “uncontrolled eating” and lower calorie intake when provided with snacks.2 Another study found that people who tend to be mindful eaters are more likely to choose nutrient-dense foods over processed foods and have more positive attitudes towards fruit.2
Overall, mindful eating allows you to choose foods you enjoy without making any foods off-limits, while giving you the opportunity to savor those foods. Practicing mindful eating will allow you to get the most satisfaction from your meals and snacks, and may lead you to choose more nutrient-dense foods overall. If you’d like to incorporate mindful eating into your life, start out by eating without distractions as often as possible. If you’d like a more structured approach, try following along with this video the next time you plan to eat a meal or snack. After that, you can integrate mindful eating into each of your eating experiences.
1. Canada’s updated food guide promotes mindful eating - ScienceDirect. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/science/article/pii/S0140673619302028. Accessed June 3, 2019.
2. Jordan CH, Wang W, Donatoni L, Meier B. Mindful eating: Trait and state mindfulness predict healthier eating behavior - ScienceDirect. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/science/article/pii/S0191886914002396. Accessed June 3, 2019.
3. Kahn Z, Zadeh ZF. Mindful Eating and its Relationship with Mental Well-being - ScienceDirect. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/science/article/pii/S187704281406460X. Accessed June 3, 2019.
4. Winkens LHH, van Strien T, Brouwer IA, Penninx BWJH, Visser M. Mindful eating and change in depressive symptoms: Mediation by psychological eating styles - ScienceDirect. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/science/article/pii/S0195666318306330. Accessed June 3, 2019.
5. Arch JJ, Brown KW, Goodman RJ, Della Porta MD, Kiken LG, Tillman S. Enjoying food without caloric cost: The impact of brief mindfulness on laboratory eating outcomes - ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796716300237. Accessed June 3, 2019.