How to eat more mindfully (and why it matters)
Mindful eating is paying attention to the food you eat.
Why does this even matter?
Well, when we don’t eat mindfully – we are much more likely to overeat. We eat quickly, not enjoying our food as much as we can.
So how do you eat more mindfully in the real world? It’s about eating in the present moment when you’re sitting at the dining table. It’s about savouring the taste, texture, temperature, and smell of your food. And it’s about being aware of how hungry you are before, during, and after your meal.
Sounds simple enough, right?
But as you probably already know, it’s not that easy.
Eating more mindfully is counter-intuitive in the fast-paced world we live in, a world where our beloved phone is always in our hand and food is something we grab and eat on the go.
And it’s something I’m always working on.
So if it’s so hard to do, why bother?
MINDFUL VS MINDLESS EATING
Before we talk about how to eat more mindfully in the real world, let’s get up close and personal with its counterpart: mindless eating
Mindless eating means you’re:
- Eating when you’re not hungry
- Eating even though you’re feeling full
- Eating at random times
- Eating because you’re bored, lonely, sad or filling an emotional void
- Eating foods that comfort you instead of nourishing you
- Eating in front of a screen (e.g. TV, phone, laptop)
- Eating while you’re doing something else (e.g. working, driving, walking)
If you’re human, chances are at least one of those examples sounds familiar to you.
Honestly? I still catch myself mindlessly eating all the time! When I first sat down to write this blog I had a sandwich and a coffee in front of me. I had to consciously close my laptop, pick up my plate and mug and walk to the dining table – without my phone.
Eating mindfully is a life-long practice. And it’s easy to forget. But the great thing about it is that, with practice, it will get easier and come more naturally (like all things).
Mindful eating means you’re:
- Eating when your body is sending you hunger signals (e.g. stomach grumbling, salivating, low energy)
- Eating until you feel satisfied, not overly full
- Eating foods that are nutritionally healthy for you
- Eating while also tasting, smelling and noticing the temperature and texture of your food
- Eating while sitting down at a table
- Eating and doing nothing else (except enjoying the company of family and friends if they’re around)
I believe eating mindfully may be a seriously important step to tackling our problems with food.
Because when you eat mindfully, you have time to notice your hunger and the emotions you have around food.
You can finally experience the food in front of you. And you’re likely to feel more connected to and more comfortable in your body – because you’re actually listening to what it needs, it for a change.
…WHY DON’T WE EAT MINDFULLY?
This crazy, lighting-fast culture we live in has banished all the traditional mealtime etiquette our grandparents valued to the back seat. Banished them so far back, they’re buried deep in the storage room that has become the trunk of your car.
My grandmother certainly did not eat in front of the TV. I clearly remember her politely asking us to sit up straight, return our utensils to our plates in between bites, and keep our elbows off the table (which, in hindsight, actually meant that we were naturally forced to put our utensils down! Mind blown over here).
So, why have we lost touch with how to eat?
1. YOU (THINK YOU) HAVE NO TIME ⏰
Have you ever taken a bite of food and immediately started loading up your fork before you had a chance to even taste the food?
The next time this happens, ask yourself: “Why am I rushing?”
If you genuinely have five minutes to eat your sandwich in between back-to-back meetings, you’re forgiven. A gal’s gotta eat.
But if you have at least 20 minutes to eat, you probably have enough time to enjoy your meal and slow down a little.
To all the moms out there – I know it’s really, really hard to feed yourself, let alone feed your kids. In the spirit of keeping this short and sweet, I’ve got two suggestions for you:
- MEAL PREP! – keep reading for more on this.
- Make your sandwich first.
Join Back to Basics for weekly Meal Prep Power Hour videos that will change your life – or at least make it way less stressful!
2. YOU RESTRICT YOURSELF 🙅♀️
Some people think restricting yourself only refers to a physical restriction, like avoiding carbs, banning chocolate or following a strict diet like Paleo or Keto.
Just because you’re not “on a diet” doesn’t mean you’re not restricting yourself. The truth is, just thinking “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or “I just ate way too much” is another form of restriction. Not only does it make you feel guilty about the food you ate, but it also makes it really difficult to enjoy and be mindful about how you’re eating it.
Read more: I feel guilty for eating too much. What to do after you binge eat.
3. YOU DON’T WANT TO WASTE FOOD 🗑️
There’s something very human about wanting to finish everything on our plate. Perhaps it’s something you grew up hearing as a child?
But there’s a BIG difference between wasting food and simply having leftovers.
I hate food waste. But food is wasted if it goes in the bin but it’s also wasted if it goes into your body and we didn’t really need or want it.
My tip? If you aren’t hungry, don’t pressure yourself to eat. Store whatever’s leftover in the fridge for later or in the freezer (if appropriate) for an easy meal in a few week’s time.
Hurray for leftovers!
4. YOU’RE WORRIED THERE WON’T BE ENOUGH 🍽️
After years of dieting, it’s common to hold a subconscious belief that food is not freely available, also known as “food scarcity”. This can mean we eat very quickly – as if someone could take the food away at any moment.
As long as we fear that there is not enough food – that we are not allowed to eat according to our hunger – I believe it will be near impossible to eat mindfully.
Therefore, as long as you are on a diet or trying to be good – can you ever truly be a mindful eater?
6 WAYS TO EAT MORE MINDFULLY
Modern life makes eating mindfully a real challenge.
Here are a few simple practices that will help you stay in the present moment and, hopefully, start to really enjoy and savour the act of eating.
1. PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE 📵
If you choose one thing from this list, start here.
Eating without a screen in front of you will automatically shift your awareness to the food you’re eating. Eating with a screen in front of you makes it virtually impossible to do so.
Imagine you’re at the cinema with a giant box of popcorn in your lap. It’s too easy to polish off the entire box before the movie even starts!
The excitement unfolding on our screens – from the neverending Instagram feed to Ryan Gosling’s latest romcom – is too stimulating for our senses and completely numbs all other sensations. Yep, that includes the taste of your food, the texture of the food before you swallow it, and how satiated you feel during your meal.
Eat your meal on the dining table and keep your phone out of sight. I promise it will make eating mindfully so much easier.
2. START A TRADITION 👩👧👧
This is probably my favourite tip. It’s also the most fun and a great one if you have kids.
Pick a meal – any will do, but preferably one where everyone is home. Dinner is an obvious choice, but it could be breakfast for some families.
Sit down and eat together. Ask everyone to share something they are grateful for or learned that day. Just make sure all phones are out of sight and on silent.
On the weekend, you can even extend this time into the kitchen by cooking as a family! Young children love getting involved in the kitchen, so consider investing in a learning-tower or simply buy some plastic, child-friendly knives so they can help out with simple tasks like chopping lettuce. Or just ask them to mix granola with their hands!
Check out some family-friendly recipes on my website, like Mexican Mac & Cheese
3. SLOW DOWN 🐢
I’m not asking you to emulate a Zen monk and chew your food 30 times. Honestly, I’ve tried it and it’s just awkward. Especially if you’re eating sweet potato mash.
I do, however, encourage you to put down your fork or food while you’re chewing – and not to pick it up again until you’ve swallowed that bite of food.
Here’s a trick I use when I’m having trouble slowing down while eating:
If you’re eating around other people, notice how fast they are eating. Then try and be the slowest person eating in the room. Gamification, baby!
4. EAT WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY 😋
Meet your new best friend: The Hunger Scale.
It’s a really simple tool to help you figure out how hungry you are and help you become a more mindful eater.
- Rank your hunger from 0-10 (0 = starving, empty stomach, 10 = stuffed, too full)
- You want to eat when you’re at about a 3 (comfortably hungry)
- You want to stop eating when you’re at about a 7 (comfortably full)
Use this as your hunger blueprint, doing your best to avoid eating when you’re so hangry (so hungry you’re angry) that you start making poor food choices.
It will also help you avoid eating until you feel sick and start suffering from major food guilt.
5. SHOP AND COOK MINDFULLY, TOO 🛒
Eating mindfully can extend to the process of sourcing your food and preparing your food.
Here are a few guidelines for mindful food shopping:
- Make a list and stick to it – It really helps to plan out your week or meals ahead of time
- Avoid food shopping when you’re hungry – You’ll buy things you don’t actually want or need!
- Get to know your food – Were your strawberries grown in Australia? Where did your beef come from? Being curious about the source, quality and origin of our foods help us have a more holistic view about where it all comes from and appreciate all the steps it took to get it to us safely.
And my favourite mindful cooking tips:
- Don’t cook with the TV on – it’ll also help avoid any accidents while chopping! I do love to pop on some music while I cook.
- Taste as you go – Stay connected with your meal as it unfolds. It will also help you make it your own as you learn how each flavour you add transforms the dish.
- Use all your senses – It’s not just about taste! Notice the texture, weight, and smell of the different ingredients you’re preparing, or how the sound of the frying pan changes whenever you add a new ingredient to it.
6. BE COMPASSIONATE 🤗
At the end of the day, eating mindfully is something you will practice for the rest of your life. It is not something we are ever meant to “master”.
Life happens! So be kind to yourself if you’re late for work and have to grab a bagel on the way out the door.
Have compassion for yourself when you have a shitty day and just want to eat takeaway in front of Friends reruns.
And if your lunch ends up being your toddler’s leftovers, more power to you.
It’s okay. Really. After all, we’re human. And no human is perfect.
I’d love to see you in Back to Basics, a deliciously realistic lifestyle approach – yes, even if you’re really busy! Get new healthy 20-min recipes, Meal Prep Power Hour videos, workouts, and mindset tips every single week.
Oh, and you’ll never have to diet again. Hurray!