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How (and Why) to Start Eating Mindfully

woman eating a delicious meal, focused on the flavors and presentation of the food
Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock

Scrolling through our phones, binging on our favorite Netflix show, answering emails, and finishing up that presentation we forgot to do the night before . . . oh, and we managed to eat a full meal without even realizing it. How to change our habits and start eating mindfully? Let’s find out.

First of all, let’s talk about the word “mindful” for a bit. What does it even mean? It means to BE in the present moment, aware of everything happening around us, hearing all the sounds, smelling all the smells, focused on the current situation. How can we translate that into our daily meals?

By carving out the time to truly savor food without any distractions, we can really tune into our body’s hunger and satiety cues. Here are five tips to help you achieve mindfulness when eating.

Slow Down, Sit Down

Admit it, how many times have you eaten standing up, walking towards your next appointment, talking to somebody on the phone, or even while driving in your car? More times than you can count, right? See, this is a major problem, as we’re designed to function in one of two modes: fight-or-flight or rest-and-digest. We cannot have both turned on at the same time.

When we’re stressed and running around, our flight-or-fight mode is active, but to fully digest the food we’re consuming and absorb all the nutrients, we need the other mode to take over. When that doesn’t happen, we’re risking upset stomach, bloating, or worse, as our bodies aren’t getting the signal that food is getting in and it’s time to start the digestion process.

For the sake of this exercise, when you’re about to have your next meal, sit down, take a moment, relax, and slow down. No need to rush anywhere or do anything, take the time you have to fully immerse yourself in your eating window and feel yourself enjoying it so much more.

Chew Your Food

Homemade raspberry oat bars
Karla Tafra

Going hand in hand with the first tip is to chew your food. I know this might sound weird because that’s exactly what we always do, but believe it or not, 90% of us are not chewing enough. This mechanical process exists for a reason—for us to begin breaking down the food into smaller particles and increase the surface area for better nutrient absorption.

By swallowing large pieces of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat, not only are we losing precious nutrients, we’re also unable to produce the right amount of enzymes needed to digest them. By being more mindful on how much we chew, we’re able to change our habits for the better, and actually experience all the flavors and textures with every cell of our tastebuds.

Plating Is Not Just For Restaurants

When we cook for ourselves, we tend to pile everything in one bowl or even eat straight from the pan. Plating the food nicely and “serving” it to ourselves creates a much better environment, as we feel like we’re creating the time to eat. It also makes it easier to see all the colors and textures of the food we’re consuming and to become more aware of our food quality and quantity.

When actually serving the food on a plate, people reported feeling more self-conscious about their food choices and made a conscious effort to improve each meal after that.

Stop Multitasking

woman eating salad while playing on her phone
PH888/Shutterstock

Eating without our favorite TV show, our laptop, or our phones seems like mission impossible. Are we supposed to just sit there and eat? Isn’t that . . . weird? What do we do when we chew? Where do we look? We’ve become so consumed with multitasking, we barely even realize we’re eating in the first place. When you eat while watching TV, reading the news on your phone, or otherwise not engaging with your food, you risk overeating—and you miss out on that mindful connection to your food.

Make your kitchen a no-technology zone and force yourself to focus on your meal. It will be totally awkward at first if you’ve grown used to dining phone-in-hand, but practice makes perfect. Pretty soon, you’ll start craving that self-care time, as chances are, those will be the only moments in your day when you’ll get the chance to unplug.

Focus on What You’re Eating, Not What You’ll Have Next

We all know that feeling of eating a salad while our minds picture a juicy slice of chocolate cake we plan to have later. Although our thoughts here aren’t wandering off to our to-do list or unanswered emails, we’re still thinking about something else rather than being mindful of the food that’s currently on the plates in front of us. If you’re eating a salad, focus on the ingredients it’s composed of. Focus on the reason why you’re eating them and what kind of amazing nutrients you’re adding into your body. That way, when you have your chocolate dessert later, you’ll be able to say you enjoyed your whole meal, not just one part of it.

Eating is one of those activities that comes naturally to us because we have to do it multiple times a day, every single day of our lives. It’s no wonder we don’t make a big deal of it, and more times than not, we turn it into a great opportunity to do something else at the same time. Turning our attention back to the food we’re consuming and starting to eat more mindfully is a real task, and let’s be honest—the distractions aren’t decreasing. Push back against them, though, and start eating more mindfully today. Step by step, you can turn your eating routine into a full-blown rest-and-digest activity.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »

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