How to practice mindful eating (mindful eating challenge)

baby with head in cake

In our fast-paced society, eating is an afterthought, nevermind mindful eating. Eating can feel like a burden you have to deal with. And, if you’re like most people, then mindful eating, might simply mean remembering to eat.

This mindful eating guide is for anyone wanting to eat better, eat less, and eat more enjoyably without guilt or restrictions.

This mindful eating guide provides you with useful information and an effective, easy solution for gaining control of your eating in today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world without diet restriction.

Life is crazy and has made mindful eating difficult.

An arm reaching for a table full of food

Once upon a time, people prepared for dinner and other meals.

Eating was more of a formal event than a mere inconvenience, as it is today. Our ancestors, hundreds and thousands of years ago, considered eating such an important occasion that they observed certain rituals, including:

  • Washing
  • Dressing
  • Carving
  • Serving
  • Thanking
  • And more

Eating was once a special occasion.

We could speculate for eternity as to why eating no longer holds the same significance that it did in times past. For instance, most of our ancestors had to hunt, grow, and prepare their food for every meal, every day, for their entire lives.

Food wasn’t taken for granted or wasted. It was revered for the unique and one-of-a-kind role that it plays in sustaining human life. 

Food was respected and treated as a vital necessity. It’s unfortunate to realize that we have forgotten the powerful, life-sustaining role that food plays in our lives. Food allows our bodies to grow, heal, and function properly. Without food, we would soon die. Starvation would be inevitable.

Yet today, many people give very little thought to their food choices and eating habits.

Food and eating are a mere afterthought in our busy hectic lives. As a result, we now eat foods of questionable nutrition in excess, including processed foods that are toxic to our fragile bodies.

What makes mindful eating hard to practice? 

pink frosted donut

Processed foods are often overlooked as one of the culprits in our inability to eat mindfully.

These foods are incredibly easy to chew, digest, and overeat. Too many people blame themselves entirely for overeating. When, in fact, our bodies have been conditioned and hardwired over countless centuries to eat and behave in a certain way.

Society and agriculture have evolved so rapidly that we have not been able to keep up with such significant changes. Our bodies have not had enough time to adjust to processed foods that are rich in calories, fat, sugar, and other ingredients.

David Kessler, MD, author of “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

”strongly asserts that the food industry produces processed foods highly rich in sugar, fat, and salt for the purpose of bombarding and coaxing our brains to eat beyond the point of satisfaction or necessity. Dr. Kessler believes that we need to develop new skills to overcome the temptation of these “highly palatable” processed foods. So, you and I are faced with only one solution – mindful eating.”

Chronic stress and mindful eating

Is there anything else contributing to “mindless” eating other than daily hectic demands, new traditions, and processed foods?

Yes, there are countless other factors contributing to a person’s compulsive eating habits.

Five of the most common factors driving “mindless” compulsive eating include:

  • Chronic Stress
  • Inattentiveness
  • Your Brain’s Hard-wiring and Willpower
  • Satiety Signals
  • Eating Reward System

The above five (5) factors are likely to blame for much of your overeating, eating the wrong foods, or inability to enjoy your food and meals.

Mindful eating is an excellent remedy for each factor.

Chronic stress

All forms of stress drain the body’s resources.

Whether emotional, mental, or physical – stress causes an imbalance within your body. As a result, your brain sends signals to eat, in an attempt to replenish your body’s resources and balance.

Inattentiveness

Living in an era that places non-stop demands on you, leaves you with few options other than dividing your attention among multiple tasks.

Life is fast-paced and in your face…every single moment.

In fact, it’s automatic for us to attempt to simultaneously complete many activities, tasks, and responsibilities. How else will we ever get it all done, right? So, we decided to kill two birds with one stone.

We attempt to eat while:

  • Texting
  • Talking on the phone
  • Driving
  • Reading
  • And many other tasks

But, here’s the problem.

When you divide or split your attention while eating, you easily (and unknowingly) eat more food than if you actually focused on your eating experience.

The results are your consumption of excess calories.

The satiety center in your brain isn’t able to register that you’re physically full and have had enough to eat.

Your brain versus willpower

Your brain is hardwired for your survival.

As brilliant as the human brain is, it’s OK with you eating too much.

And, to make sure that you really enjoying eating, your brain is easily pleasured by foods that stimulate its pleasure center and trigger a release of dopamine.

Sugar, fat, and salt deliver pleasure to your brain like few other foods.

Your brain is naturally quite fond of foods rich in these ingredients. As a result, your consumption of these foods increases the level of dopamine in your brain… the same way that methamphetamines, amphetamines, and cocaine do. It’s important that you don’t underestimate the drug-like effect that food can have on you. It’s powerful.

Food manufacturers and food scientists have long known about the power sugar, fat, and salt has over your brain. In addition, they know that your willpower is quite useless against your brain’s hard-wiring for such foods, which have a tendency to entice and tempt people like nothing else.

To further cripple your willpower is convenient, dopamine-producing foods on essentially every corner. Gas stations, convenience stores, and fast-food restaurants provide you with almost instantaneous tasty food loaded with sugar, fat, and salt. 

Let’s face it – temptation surrounds you. It’s hard for will power to resist such temptation when everywhere you turn, there’s food – of every imaginable kind – loaded with sugar, fat, and salt.

Satiety signals

Generally, it takes about twenty to thirty minutes for your brain to receive the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry or full.

Most people gulp down snacks and fast food meals in as little as 5 to ten minutes. In such cases, the brain never has the opportunity to get the signal from your stomach to “stop eating.”

Let’s consider a study conducted by The Journal of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). It involved thirty (30) healthy women to determine any difference that eating at various rates might have on calorie consumption and satiety. Their research findings, published in 2008, showed that the women who ate their meals slowly actually consumed fewer calories, drank more water, and felt satiated quickly.

For obese individuals, leptin resistance may be a condition causing the body to be less responsive to satiety signals from the body’s hormone, leptin.  Additionally, environmental cues (smell, sight, etc.) may also send confusing “eat now” signals to your brain.

Nevertheless, mindful eating involves you’re enjoying every bite of your meal; thus, your brain (in most instances) has more time to receive the message that you’ve had enough. On the other hand, “mindless eating” results in your devouring far more calories than your body needs and before you receive the signal to “stop eating.”

The eating reward system

food reward system

What many people don’t know is that your body rewards you each time you obey its command “to eat.”

That relaxed, calm, and “good” feeling experienced after you’ve eaten is your brain rewarding you with a small, yet noticeable endorphin rush.

Study after study has found that eating actually improves a person’s mood. That’s why eating is such a common, quick, and easy response to negative emotions or stress. While not a healthy way of relieving stress, eating is nevertheless, a very effective remedy…and your body knows it.

Simply put, your willpower is no match for your body’s potent reward/survival system…or your brain’s hard-wiring.

However, mindful eating allows you to:

  • Control your eating even while under chronic stress
  • Focus on your meal
  • Consume fewer calories
  • Work with your brain’s hard-wiring instead of against it
  • Benefit from your body’s satiety signals
  • Avoid being a slave to your body’s “eating reward system”

The power of mindful eating

Essentially, we have to return to the days (or at least mindset) where we appreciate not only the sustenance provided by our food but also the much-needed break/respite that accompanies our eating of daily meals.

Eating was a time to enjoy the company of those at home, at work, or in other environments.  It was an opportunity for our minds to stop the endless chatter.

Therefore, consciously deciding to lavish yourself with a well-deserved and much-needed break from work or study will provide you both nutrition, and rest.

Mindful eating allows you to pay attention to:

  • What you eat
  • Why you eat
  • How much you eat

Mindful eating essentially puts healthy eating habits on autopilot so that your choices become effortless, enjoyable, and beneficial.

What is mindful eating exactly? 

Can I be honest with you for a second? A part of me hates terms like “healthy eating,” “clean eating,” “mindful eating”, and other phrases like this.

They’re arbitrary, mean different things to different people, and are often confusing.

But I understand how they can be useful. When clearly defined they can remove a lot of confusion and give us clear direction on what to do next.

Mindful eating isn’t a diet.

It isn’t about weight loss. Nevertheless, a common side-effect of mindful eating is weight loss.

So, what is it?

The concept of mindful eating emerged several years ago and has received a great deal of attention. Mindful eating has been practiced by people of various cultures and certain religions for thousands of years.

The essence of mindful eating comes down to eating in such a way that allows you to enjoy the experience, while simultaneously eating no more or no less than your body requires.

Mindful eating is a way to recognize and cope with emotions, and physical sensations, and can help you to be more present with each meal. It may help to bring more awareness and attention to when you’re eating and to help you enjoy eating more

People describe mindful eating as:

  • Eating with an awareness of the source of your craving or hunger
  • Eating until you are no longer hungry, but not “stuffed” or “full
  • A conscious, healthy, and enjoyable way of eating
  • Eating with full attention to your dining/eating experience
  • A way to cope if you struggle with food guilt, shame, or eating anxiety
  • Noticing how food makes you feel physically and emotionally

Anything can be mindfully eaten, whether a piece of chocolate or a cheeseburger. The result is often greater enjoyment, quicker satiety, and fewer calories/food consumed.

What are the benefits of mindful eating and why is it important?

Have you ever wondered…

  • Why can’t you simply eat just enough, instead of too much?
  • If your inability to control your eating makes you weak or bad?
  • How you develop a better relationship with food?

Those are questions of people struggling to get a handle on their eating.

Most people don’t even know that it is possible to experience a healthy and pleasurable relationship with food.

Instead of eating for nourishment, millions of people now eat to kill the pain of some other problem or discomfort, including:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Sadness
  • Stress
  • Exhaustion

Most people abuse food because it’s perfectly legal to do so, and it’s available everywhere, 24 hours each day.

7 reasons to try mindful eating

Mindful eating (and this guide) provides you with answers to those pressing questions. It’s both important and beneficial.

It provides you with a healthy alternative to “mindless out-of-control eating.” Instead of turning to food for the relief of stress or boredom, mindless eating helps you pinpoint the source of your hunger or craving so you can avoid eating to relieve emotional discomfort or pain.

In addition, mindful eating allows you to:

  • Recalibrate your body’s “full signal,” and eat healthier, and less
  • Develop a good, healthy relationship with food/eating
  • Satisfy your hunger with fewer calories and smaller portions
  • Gain less weight, or lose weight
  • Overcome  “stress” eating
  • Enjoy your food and meals
  • Avoid fighting against your brain’s hard-wiring and reward system

Knowing what mindful eating is, and its benefits are only worthwhile if you have some doable, easy-to-implement strategies and tactics.

What are mindful eating practices: 5 simple strategies

A woman mindful eating

There are multiple ways to practice mindful eating.

  • eating slowly
  • stopping when 80% full
  • putting utensils down between bites
  • eating without distraction or multi-tasking
  • journaling (thoughts, feelings, emotions), who you are with
  • And many more

Below, I outline five simple practices you can try today that take minimal effort or change to your daily routine.

#1 – Shrink your dishware

Using smaller plates, bowls, and glasses is a simple yet powerful way to begin practicing mindful eating.

People who switch to smaller dishware seldom double their servings. This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to be more mindful of your food and also eat less.

#2 – Chew more

Chew your food about 30 to 40 times. Eat slowly. Enjoy and savor each bite. Not only are you likely to eat less by chewing more, but you also will be able to:

– Better absorb your food’s nutrients and energy
– Maintain your ideal (or healthy) weight
– More easily digest your food

#3 – Create tiny triggers

A trigger is anything that brings about a certain memory, feeling, or action. Come up with at least three (3) triggers you can use to become a more “mindful eater.”

Here are some suggestions:

  • Note Triggers – use either a piece of paper or a post-it note as a reminder. For example, you might place a post-it note on your TV or computer monitor that says, “I eat my meals free of TV or Computers. I focus 100% on eating.” This will remind you that these activities are to be done separately, and you are to focus 100% on your snack or beverage.
  • Physical Triggers – use any object that will instantly trigger or remind you to be more mindful with your meals. For example, you might move all snacks and beverages away from your desk or computer area…and instead replace them with an apple or some nuts.

#4 – Add more steps

Consider “steps” to be the distance or degree of difficulty required for you to perform a certain task or bad habit.

Therefore, instead of trying to use willpower, you make it more difficult to indulge in an undesirable habit. By simply making it more difficult by adding two or three steps is quite effective.

For example, you might place the cookies in the refrigerator in the garage so that they are out of sight, and further away than arm’s length.

Another idea is to simply cleanse your home, cabinets, and kitchen of all junk foods. Eating dessert at 11:30 at night won’t seem like such a good idea when you have to get dressed, hop in the car, and drive to go get it. That’s the power of adding “more steps.” (How to perform a kitchen makeover)

#5 – Get in touch with your mental chatter and mood

Your mood and mental chatter often influence or determine your food choices.

Take 60 seconds before your order, purchase, or prepare your food to ask yourself “What is the primary reason” you feel the need to eat at that particular moment.

  • Has the day left your mind with the incessant mental chatter that you hope to quiet by eating?
  • How was your morning, afternoon, evening, or day? Good or bad?
  • Would you describe your mood as – good or bad?

Next, after determining your mood and reason for eating at that particular moment, ask yourself if food is the right choice.

It’s strongly recommended that if you are stressed, anxious, or feeling a bit down, then put aside eating until later.

Do something else.

And, return to the table when your motive for eating is the nourishment of your body instead of stress relief.

How to fit mindful eating into your life. A real-world example

Eating every meal slowly, mindfully, and without distraction is going to be damn near impossible.

Sometimes the dog shits on the carpet. Causing you to be late for work, and slamming down a bagel and coffee is the best you’re going to be able to do.

Maybe your kids need help with their schoolwork, and it requires the two of you to eat dinner while distracted by reading, writing, and arithmetic.

And sometimes mindlessly eating ice cream while watching a movie is the perfect fit.

All of this is OK.

Treat mindful eating as another tool in your dieting arsenal. If it’s something you want to lean into. Practicing it 80 to 90% of the time will go a long way.

Below is an example day of mindful eating for me. This happens about 80% of the time. The other 20% is bat-shit crazy and chaos ensues.

Wake up

  • Feed the dogs
  • Move my body with this 5-minute movement routine
  • Take a cold shower (or skip it)
  • Check-in with how much hunger I have. If I’m hungry I eat one of three breakfasts I repeat over and over again. If I’m not, I skip it and carry on with my day.

Lunch

Check in with how much hunger I have on a scale from 1 to 10. If I’m hungry pause work and make one of three lunches I repeat over and over again (fruit, veggies, lean protein, and olive oil).

I eat with chopsticks as a way to slow down without having to put too much thought or effort into trying to slow down.

After the meal, I walk the dogs as a way to aid digestion and to give myself something to do so I don’t mindlessly snack on chocolate.

Dinner

Pretty much the same process as above. If I’m dining out or eating socially I do my best to put utensils down between bites and carry conversations. Usually drinking water or sipping wine between bites.

Throughout the day if I catch myself rummaging through pantries, fridges, or freezers I try my best to remember r to check in with myself and practice H-A-L-T-B. Am I physically hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, or something else?

Spend some time reflecting. Do you really need to eat in the car or can you wait for 30 minutes until you get home? Sure you may feel hungry. Bur hunger isn’t an emergency, it’s only uncomfortable.

Subtle things like this to create more awareness can go a long way.

One-day mindful eating challenge

If you’d like to take action with the article today. Here are 3 simple tactics you can apply now to start eating more mindfully.

Tactic #1 – Focus ONLY on eating. DO NOT eat and do something else.

  • Eat with your television turned off.
  • Only eat at your desk if you are NOT working.
  • Avoid eating while you are gaming, sending emails, or making calls.
  • Eat without reading magazines or books.

Tactic #2 – Be in the “now” moment with your food, enjoy each bite.

  • Ignore distractions, avoid judgments, and release criticisms while eating, so you can fully experience your food and drink.
  • Take a moment before eating to appreciate all that was required in order to bring each different food that makes up your meal.
  • Notice how your foods smell, flavor, temperature, color, taste, texture, and sound.
  • Consider what you are placing in your body. Ask yourself how this meal nourishes you.

Tactic #3 – Observe and pay attention.

  • Notice your body’s internal reactions and feelings to your food
  • Be aware and sensitive to how your body feels when it is only one-third (1/3) full or two-thirds (2/3) full.
  • How certain foods affect your mood or emotions.
  • Your external environments and happenings.

Master mindful eating before trying another diet

Most people know that mastering their appetite and eating is often the toughest and most essential part of any diet program.

However, few people realize or understand how to gain control of their eating, hunger, and appetite. Mastering mindful eating before trying any worthwhile diet helps you to achieve lasting results, quickly and more easily.

Becoming a mindful eater also allows you to pinpoint whether your hunger is being triggered by boredom, stress, or something other than your body’s need for nourishment.

You’ll easily be able to tell when you’re using food to meet other needs. Being able to identify your hunger cues is a powerful way to consume fewer calories and better nutrition.

Ultimately, becoming a mindful eater allows you to re-establish a healthy and positive relationship with food and eating.

  • Mindful eating helps you put a stop to your constant, frustrating battle with food…without restriction, deprivation, or guilt.
  • With mindful eating, you can finally say goodbye to overeating, unwanted pounds, and non-stop dieting.
  • Mindful eating places you in control.
  • It lets you live an exciting, healthy life.

Can mindful eating help me lose weight?

Yes and no. But this annoying answer would be the same for any diet or approach to eating.

Weight loss happens if you create an energy deficit. An energy deficit is created by eating fewer calories than your body needs. Or by burning more calories than your body needs. And most often, a combination of both.

How diets work

If mindful eating helps you do this you will lose weight. If mindful eating does not help you do this you WILL NOT lose weight.

Binge eating (1), emotional eating (2), eating in response to cravings (3), and eating outside of physical hunger (4) have all been linked to weight gain because they can cause us to eat more calories than our body needs.

Studies are showing that mindful eating practices can help you reduce calorie consumption by influencing your eating behaviors, habits, and practices, and by reducing stress levels.

The easiest way to become a more mindful eater

Starting any new endeavor, goal, or habit is exciting.

Too often people become totally immersed in enthusiasm resulting in them biting off more than they can chew. Eventually, the new goal or habit falls by the wayside before it has enough time and practice to become permanent.

Therefore, the best way to become a mindful eater is by adopting and cultivating one thing at a time.

Embrace the power of starting small. Small realistic goals create sustainable results. That’s why it’s best to adopt only one or two mindful eating tactics or habits during any thirty (30) day period.

At the end of thirty (30) days, you’ll definitely have acquired one or two new, powerful, and automatic mindful eating habits. Those initial one or two brand-new mindful eating habits become the foundation on top of which you’ll build more habits.

So, once you’ve completed 30 days with your new mindful eating habit (s), you then simply select an additional mindful eating strategy or tactic for the next 30 days. Rinse and repeat the process.

While this might appear to be a slow approach, it is, in fact, quite fast. And, more importantly, your new mindful eating habits will last you a lifetime.

Therefore, if one of your reasons for becoming a mindful eater is to lose some unwanted pounds, then starting small is the best way to enjoy life-long lasting results without punishing yourself with the latest fad diet.

Justin Miller

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Extra resource: Mindful eating: The art of presence while you eat

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