Mindfulness & Eating

“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.” – Henry David Thoreau

When we apply the practice of mindfulness to eating, our whole relationship with food begins to change.  Mindfulness involves being fully present, aware, open, curious, accepting, and without judgment.  It requires that we are awake in the present moment, seeing reality exactly the way that it is.

Mindfulness & Eating

  • Noticing all of the textures, colors, tastes, and smells of each bite
  • Removing external distractions such as television or reading
  • Chewing slowly and thoroughly – not swallowing food whole
  • Putting the utensil(s) down between each bite – pausing to savor each morsel

Recommendations from the Center for Mindful Eating

  • Learning to make choices when beginning or ending a meal based on awareness of hunger and satiety cues
  • Learning to identify personal triggers for mindless eating – e.g., emotions, social situations, certain foods
  • Learning to value the quality over the quantity of what you’re eating (choosing smaller portions of better food)
  • Experiencing the deep gratitude that may come from appreciating and experiencing food

The digestive process is a complicated series of hormonal signals between the nervous system and the gut.  It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to “know” that you are full.  We actually need much less food than we end up eating much of the time, partly in due to eating too quickly.  When we are mindful, intentional, and slow down the process of eating to truly savor each bite and taste our food, then our bodies will naturally tell us when we are satisfied.

Mindful Eating Research

Research has indicated that integrating mindfulness techniques into eating may be helpful in the treatment of eating disorders and potentially with weight loss.  Dr. Jean Kristeller at Indiana State University and colleagues at Duke University were interested in how mindfulness techniques would be useful in the treatment of binge eating.

They conducted a randomized controlled study (funded by the National Institutes of Health – NIH) of 150 binge eaters.  They then compared a mindfulness-based treatment to a psychoeducational treatment and a control group.  They discovered that while both active treatments were effective in reducing binge eating episodes and depression, but the mindfulness-based treatment allowed people to enjoy their food more and experience less of a sense of struggle regarding “controlling” their eating.

It can be an abrupt change for many to switch from their regular “way” of eating to a mindfulness-based approach to eating.  Try experimenting with what it is like to eat just one meal this week in a mindful manner.  Be patient with yourself if this concept is new or if you have a history of struggling with issues surrounding food or weight. In a recent HealthBeat newsletter from Harvard Medical School, they suggested this:

Starter Kit for Mindful Eating

  • Set your kitchen timer/stopwatch for 20 minutes – choose to spend this entire amount of time eating a single meal
  • Eat your food on a smaller plate or out of a smaller bowl than you would normally use
  • Try eating with your non-dominant hand to allow yourself to slow down and be more intentional with each bite
  • Try using chopsticks to eat your food if you don’t normally use them – or, try eating with a smaller fork or spoon
  • Eat in total silence for 5 minutes – contemplate all of the things that had to happen for this meal to arrive on your plate (e.g., the process of growing the food, of the food being delivered to a market, to purchasing the food, to cooking the food)
  • Take smaller bites than you normally would and chew each bite completely
  • Before opening up the fridge or the pantry, pause to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry right now?” (Check in with your bodily sensations and notice if you are experiencing physical hunger, or if you are experiencing something emotional)

Are you willing to commit yourself to changing the way that you eat just one meal this week?  Give mindfulness-based eating a try, and simply notice how it is different from your usual way of eating.  If you experience greater enjoyment of your meal from eating mindfully, ask yourself if you are willing to begin to integrate mindfulness into your regular eating routine.

If you experience frustration of any kind while choosing to eat slowly and deliberately, be patient with yourself. You are learning to do things in a new and different way.  We tend to resist things that are “new,” even when they are in our best interest.  Be kind towards yourself as you begin to change your relationship with food through a mindful approach to eating.

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Featured image: Free Girl Eating Yummy Pink Doughnut by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. James on July 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    This post reminds me of the Slow Food movement. Are you familiar with it? Carlo Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food, describes it thus, “Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability, and harmony with nature.”

    • Laura on July 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      James – Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I had not heard of the Slow Food movement before. I am very interested to look into it.

      • James on July 10, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        If you check it out, let me know what you think about it from a mindfulness perspective.

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