What is mindful eating?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Having a positive attitude towards food is really important, and it can help you make the right decisions about what you’re eating and when you’re eating it. Mindful eating can contribute to having a positive relationship with food, being more present when you’re eating and taking time to enjoy good food.
In this article we’re going to look at the benefits of mindful eating, when mindful eating might not be the right choice for you and other ways you can manage your weight.
What is mindfulness?
Before we go into detail about mindful eating, it’s a good idea to first talk about what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is a technique that draws on principles of Buddhism and meditation, but it doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice. It’s all about being more aware of the present moment – taking notice of your surroundings, what’s going on in your mind or body. As you're focussing intensely on the present moment, mindfulness helps you accept and unfold your thoughts and feelings without judgement.
Benefits of mindfulness
It’s thought that mindfulness and being more mindful can make us more self-aware. Self-awareness will lead to noticing thoughts and feelings that we might not have done otherwise, and cope with these better. For example, if you’re more in-tune with yourself, you might be able to notice you’re feeling anxious and deal with this better.
Mindfulness can also help you feel calmer and less stressed, be kinder toward yourself and take control of what’s going on in your mind.
Who can practice mindfulness?
Anyone can practice mindfulness, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, and it can have benefits for lots of different people. It’s recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for treatment for moderate depression. But there are some people who might find mindfulness isn’t for them, you can find out more about reading this guide from Mind.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating uses some of the techniques of mindfulness to create a healthy relationship with food. It’s about being present while you’re eating, being aware of your thoughts and sensations before, during and after eating.
Feeling hungry and feeling full
One of the key elements of mindful eating is being aware of when you’re hungry and when you’re full. This can help guide you on when to eat and when to stop. Remember it can take up to 20 minutes for your body to realise it’s full. So, it’s worth eating slowly and waiting before helping yourself to a second portion.
Choosing and preparing your food
Being present while you’re choosing and preparing food is also an important part of mindful eating. Taking notice of the foods you’re choosing, thinking about why you might be choosing them and considering the sensory elements (sight and smell) might help you step back and choose something that’s going to nourish you.
The same goes when you’re preparing food, no matter if it’s a soup you simply need to heat up, or a stir fry you’re preparing from scratch. Being more mindful as you prepare your food allows your body to get prepared for a eating more efficiently which can help digestion.
Acknowledging your thoughts
Like with mindfulness, if you’re eating mindfully, you should acknowledge thoughts and feelings about the food you’re eating, without judgement. This will help you think about likes, dislikes and food you’re neutral on. This might help inform your choices in the future.
Tips for eating mindfully
So now we know a bit more about what mindful eating is, here’s some tips for putting these ideas into practice:
- Eat slower
- Try using smaller plates
- Avoid distractions while you’re eating (try not to use screens or read)
- Avoid labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
- Plan meals ahead of time
- Try and stick to your mealtime routine
- Try and eat foods that you enjoy
- Try and choose foods that will nourish you and give you energy
Benefits of mindful eating
Mindful eating is a good way to become more aware of your relationship with food and hopefully improve it. Mindful eating doesn’t focus on ‘cutting out’ or restricting certain foods, it’s about enjoying the food you eat and making it as nourishing as it can be. It’s thought that it can help people who eat in response to their emotions, and people who binge eat.
Mindful eating can also help you get into a good meal routine and improve digestion. These can both help with appetite control and gut health.
When mindful eating might not be suitable
Mindful eating might not be a good route to go down if you have an eating disorder. If you have an eating disorder you usually need distracting from eating, rather than focussing on it all the time. Mindful eating can also be used by people to justify undereating.
To get more help for you, or someone you know who might have an eating disorder, visit the Beat website.
Can mindful eating help you lose weight?
The focus of mindful eating isn’t weight loss, but there is some (albeit very limited) evidence to suggest that people who adopt mindful eating instead of restrictive diets will weigh less. There’s also evidence that people who follow mindful eating also eat more variety of foods, which is great as the more types of food you eat, the more nutrients you’re likely to get.
When you’re trying to lose weight, improving your relationship with food can definitely help you on that journey. Being more aware of what you’re eating, when you’re eating, the amount you’re eating and planning your meals, can all help you stick to a weight loss plan.
Other ways to lose weight
Outside of mindful eating, there’s a lot of other ways you can lose weight. Often the first step is reducing your calorie intake and increasing the amount of exercise you do. If possible, try reducing your calorie intake by around 500 calories a day to begin with and aim for 150 minutes of exercise each week.
Some people also find that weight loss treatments can help support their weight loss journey. Treatments like Orlistat, Xenical, Saxenda® or Wegovy® (which is launching soon in the UK), can be really effective, when used alongside a reduced calorie diet and exercise.
To lose weight and keep the weight off, the key is making changes to your lifestyle that you can keep up long-term, and this is where mindful eating can help. You can read more about eating healthily here.