Mindful Eating

There aren’t many things in the nutrition world that I feel apply to almost everyone, but mindful eating is definitely one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, mindful eating is definitely not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach! 

That’s actually the beauty of it: it is a method of exploring your own thoughts & attitudes around food, so there’s no right or wrong answers.   If you’ve already heard of mindfulness, you know it can help you slow things down, and bring your focus inward. Now let’s see how it applies to eating.

What exactly is mindful eating, anyway?

Whether this is the first time you’ve thought about your eating habits, or you’ve been dieting for years and need a change of pace, mindful eating can be a great tool for you. It helps you discover how food and eating impacts your life, and how life impacts your eating.   

  • Mindful eating isn’t a diet: It’s not about huge, sweeping changes to the food you eat, or sticking to a restrictive meal plan. Being mindful also isn’t about fixing things or changing things right away, either. 
  • It’s about focusing inward: Tuning your own thoughts around food, being present in the moment of your meal or snack, and noticing what comes up for you. It’s about setting your intention to be more tuned in to your eating.

Mindful eating can be one tool you can use to pause, and pick up on subtle thoughts and observations about the food you eat.

Eat with awareness

Being mindful is all about bringing awareness to your food and eating habits.  When it comes to eating, that awareness can cover countless different areas.  You may explore the food itself –  the taste, smell, texture, or appearance of your meal.  Or, you might explore some of the reasons ‘why’ you choose to eat that particular food, like the habits, prompts, cravings, or ‘rules’ you have around food or eating.

Focus on enjoyment and insight

For one thing, mindful eating can help us get more enjoyment out of food.  We can focus more on the aspects of eating we really like – the tastes, textures, and full meal time experiences that spark joy.   Tuning in and appreciating all of this is just one amazing gift that mindfulness can bring.  Plus, when we have fully tuned in to the meal, we can often feel more satisfied with the whole meal experience.

Secondly, if you’re trying to making changes to your eating habits, mindfulness around your food, mealtimes, and eating can give you the insights you need to move forward.  Making changes to food and eating is overwhelming, and It can be especially difficult to change something that we don’t fully understand. This is where even a little bit of mindfulness practice around eating might be of use to you. Knowing more about yourself, your habits and patterns, can really help you target what types of changes you may want to make.

Mindful eating can help you improve your relationship with food

You might have thought to yourself ‘why is it so hard for me to change my eating?’.  Or perhaps you know you have some work to do on your relationship with food, but just aren’t sure what it all means exactly.  Mindful eating can help you understand so much more about how you relate to food and eating.   

Explore your thoughts around food

Bringing in mindfulness to your eating, you can highlight thoughts that come up for you about food, including:

  • emotions
  • food ‘rules’
  • routines
  • habits
  • triggers 

Mindful eating can even highlight how your schedule, environment or meal setting can factor into your food habits.  Soon, these observations will start to come together, and you can begin to see patterns and trends that are unique to you.

Creating a plan for lasting changes becomes so much easier after you’ve tuned into your eating.  That deeper understanding of the ‘why’ behind eating that mindful eating brings can actually help you reach your healthy eating goals.  

Mindful eating can help you start to address things like emotional eating, mindless eating, or over-eating. Of course, as you observe your thoughts and emotions around eating, be sure to reach out to mental health professionals to help work through difficult areas. 

You can take action – any meal, anywhere!

Eating mindfully
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Mindful eating can look different for everyone. There’s also no one, perfect way to approach this.  Some people use mindful eating to help them become more aware of what they eat, while others use it to learn more about the where, why, and how they approach food in their life.   

  • Some folks might start by focusing on one or more of their senses – noticing the details about how food tastes, smells, or looks, for example.
  • Others may ask themselves what has prompted them to chose this particular food or meal.  It may feel strange at first, but with practice, it will become part of your usual routine around meals and snacks.  

Not sure where to start? Next meal or snack, try this: 

  1. Pause, take a few deep breaths, even close your eyes if it’s comfortable for you.
  2. When you’re ready to take your first bite, focus on how food tastes or feels in your mouth.  What do you notice? (no wrong answers)
    • Is the food sweet, salty, spicy, or another flavor?
    • Is it smooth or silky, or crunchy, or some other texture?
    • What do you smell?  
    • What do you see?
  3. Try not to judge yourself in this moment of mindfulness (I know it can be tough!). 

Another prompt you may want to do is to check in with how you’re feeling physically before the meal, during, and after the meal.  What sensations are you feeling?  What thoughts are coming up about the food and eating experience?

After a bit of practice, you might start noticing more and more. What prompted you to choose a particular food over another…was it taste, convenience, or another reason? Are you eating out of routine…or because you’re feeling stressed or bored? 

The ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of our eating can be a lot to unpack.  If you’re uncovering intense thoughts, or perhaps discovering an uneasy relationship with food through mindful eating, be sure to seek help and support with this. 

For example, here a few Mental Health and Eating Disorder resources in Canada: National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC), Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Body Brave 

Next steps with mindful eating

Over time, you’ll develop your own unique way of eating mindfully, and it will likely change as time goes by.  Consider when it’s easier for you to be more mindful when eating, and when it’s more difficult. There may be certain things you know will help you to practice your mindfulness more successfully.  Chat with your friends, family or co-workers when you’re comfortable and share what you’re learning about your mindful eating journey. 

Are you ready to carve out some time to eat with intention and feel more in-control of your eating habits? 

My hope for you is that after some time practicing mindful eating, that your goals around healthy changes will have more meaning (that is, if you want to make any changes at all).   If you need help with those changes, or are struggling with what comes up for you during your mindful eating, reach out to a professional for support.  

Learn more about working on your relationship with food with Direct Dietitian Services

*Note: this article is intended for general purposes only, and is not intended to replace individual medical or health advice from a regulated health professional or mental health provider.  Please seek one-on-one support for specific health concerns with your trusted health care provider.