Can Mindful Eating Help You Lose Weight?
Do you find diets to be bland, overly restrictive and confusing? Maybe it’s time to stop pondering a regimen and just start thinking about your food by practicing mindful eating.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness, also called mindful meditation, is the act of focusing your attention to the present. With mindful eating, you purposefully pause to pay attention to your food and hunger level.
In practice, mindful eating means:
- Eating or drinking while being aware of each bite or sip, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, co-author of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.
- Noticing when you’re starting to get full instead of eating everything that’s on your plate out of habit.
- Not obsessing about what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating at every meal, says weight-loss expert Caroline Cederquist, M.D., who practices in Naples, Florida.
According to a study, the benefits of mindful eating include greater enjoyment of the way food tastes, and decreased intake of junk food.
When To Try Mindful Eating
You don’t need a specific shopping list, appliances or equipment to start your mindfulness journey. You can start right now.
Begin by asking yourself a few questions:
- Do you regularly eat while watching TV?
- Do you regularly eat while driving?
- Do you regularly eat at your desk as you work or browse the internet?
If you answered yes to any questions, these may be subtle signs that you should be eating more mindfully, says Cederquist.
Cheung encourages eating without distractions — no phone, no computer, no TV, no arguing at the dinner table — so that you can focus all of your senses on your food. By doing so, she theorizes that people can honor their food and the labor it took to arrive on their plates.
Mindful Eating and Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, you know that eating cleaner and moving more are non-negotiable. But eating mindfully? Yes, it can help make losing weight less stressful, and it can help you stay fit once you’ve slimmed down.
A review of nearly 20 studies suggests there may be a connection between using mindfulness during mealtime and weight loss.
Here’s how mindful eating can help you make better food choices — and have a positive impact on your weight.
1. Avoid eating on autopilot
“Mindfulness is what’s often lost when you’re multitasking while eating,” says Cederquist. So instead of staring at your phone or the TV, or noshing while you drive, you only eat. It might feel odd at first, but it’ll help you pay attention to what your food tastes and smells like, and how you feel eating it. Food becomes more satisfying and this method can help you have the awareness to stop eating when you’ve had enough.
2. Get rid of your “good” and “bad” food mindset
An important part of mindful eating is not being judgmental about food. Sometimes you might want a grilled chicken salad or a sweet potato. But once in a while, you might really want a burger and fries. When a craving strikes, try to acknowledge it and weigh the pros and cons of indulging in it.
It can be easier said than done, though, to contemplate the craving instead of immediately either giving into it or denying it. Cheung recommends pausing and concentrating on breathing in and out. The simple act of acknowledging that you want cookies or potato chips, then asking yourself if you really need that food can help you think about what you’re about to do.
- Inhaling deeply and saying to yourself, “I know I’m craving a cookie.”
- Exhaling slowly and saying, “And I am in control of my craving.”
This is mindfulness practice, and it can make you much more aware of your actions so you hopefully stop indulging in the automatic behaviors that keep you from your health and weight-loss goals.
3. Take the emotion out of eating
When you stop looking at food in terms of good or bad, you don’t feel guilty or mad at yourself when you decide to indulge in a treat. What’s more, you’re eating when when you are actually hungry — and not just because you’re bored, stressed, lonely, or anxious.
Ryan Casada, a licensed mental health counselor from Orlando, Florida, works with clients who struggle with binge eating. She employs mindful eating training with her clients, and reports that, “They feel more equipped to be in the present moment and, over time, are less and less likely to binge because they begin to learn how to listen to their bodies and what their bodies need.”
4. Make healthier choices overall
When certain foods are no longer off-limits, you might actually find yourself wanting them less often. Most of the time, you’ll find that what you really crave is something that leaves you feeling light and energized — not sluggish and weighed down.
A less obvious component to mindful eating, as Cheung defines it, includes thinking not only about what and how much you eat, but also where your food comes from. Thinking more deeply about the journey of the food we put on our plates — and how that impacts the world around us — can make you think more holistically about your individual health as well as the health of the planet.
5. It can help you eat less
Ever taken a second helping of dinner just because it’s sitting there, only to end up feeling uncomfortably stuffed? When you check in with your hunger instead of just eating whatever is on your plate, you’ll be satisfied with a more normal-sized portion, says Cederquist.
The Clean Plate Club might revoke your membership, but by eating mindfully, you might find that you’re content after eating three-quarters of your chicken stir-fry, or three or four bites of that slice of apple pie.
Another strategy to try: Cheung advises serving modest portions. A few, small steps to reduce portion sizes could be:
- Before getting up and going back for seconds, give yourself time (at least 15–20 minutes) to get the signal from your belly to your brain that you’re satiated.
- Keep in mind that we have a tendency to overload our plates, so choosing a smaller one can be helpful.
- If you’re dining out, ask for a to-go box as soon as your meal arrives, and put half of it away.
- Challenge yourself to leave food on your plate, even when dining at home.
You’ll be amazed at how these simple practices can help trim your portions.
How To Practice Mindful Eating
Cheung suggests that people start the transition to mindful eating by honoring their food and engaging all the senses in the act of choosing, preparing, and consuming the food:
- Make a conscious effort to engage your senses: sight, smell, touch, and taste when you’re selecting your food at the store, cooking your meals, and eating them.
- Put your meals and snacks on an attractive plate, and sit down to eat at a table.
- Before you eat, notice how the food looks and smells.
- Take a bite and try to appreciate not only the taste, but also the texture of the food in your mouth.
- Then put down your fork (or spoon) between bites so that you can truly focus on the flavors you’re enjoying.
Research shows that this simple act can help you consume less food in general. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that slower eaters ate 10 percent fewer calories and felt more full.