You eagerly anticipate your first bite as you delicately peel back the wrapper.
Once opened, you are greeted with the mild but tantalizing scent of luscious, 85% cocoa dark chocolate.
Your mouth waters as you take two deep breaths, preparing yourself for the delight that is only just beginning.
With a distinct snap, you break off a square.
Now you gently graze the surface of the chocolate with your fingers, feeling each groove carefully, keenly aware of the artisanship involved in producing it.
Finally, you take your first nibble, letting the piece slowly melt on your tongue. You roll it around in your mouth, soaking up as much flavor as possible.
As the texture changes, so too do the many subtle flavors evolve while you savor it.
You close your eyes and bask in contentment as the chocolate finishes melting.
Well, I just got hungry!
Let me ask you something. How often do you enjoy your food?
I mean really enjoy it.
Unfortunately, we rarely take the time to savor and appreciate our food. Too often, we scarf it down while watching TV, during a short lunch break, or in the car.
That’s understandable. I’m sure you’ve got a lot on your plate.
With your busy lifestyle, it’s no surprise that you try to multitask. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, and you can’t afford to spend time eating for eating’s sake!
Sadly, you are neglecting to enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures.
That’s where the practice of “mindful eating” comes in.
What Is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is about being more aware of what you are eating in order to experience food more intensely.
It is not a diet, but rather a lifestyle.
When you are eating mindfully, you are acknowledging the complex relationship between you, your food, and your environment. They go together like peas in a pod.
Most people pay very little attention to what it is they are eating.
Here’s some food for thought: the stuff on your plate didn’t just appear out of nowhere!
It took the effort of countless people who you’ll never meet to create whatever food you eat. And they weren’t doing it for you; they just wanted to bring home the bacon to feed their own families.
Don’t forget the role that nature plays in this. Every ingredient in every dish you eat ultimately came from natural sources. Even the artificial ingredients in your heavily processed foods were synthesized from something on this Earth.
I’ll let you sink your teeth into that for a moment…
…Isn’t that incredible?
Mindful eaters are keenly aware of this relationship, and attempt to appreciate it as much as possible.
Benefits Of Mindful Eating
You might think this is just some pie in the sky idea, but mindful eating has very real benefits for those who practice it.
If you decide to start eating more mindfully you will notice additional perks, but here are some noteworthy ones:
You might think the digestion of your food is something that only happens after you’ve eaten it.
The process of digestion begins before you even put the food in your mouth. Your environment plays a significant role in this process.
Mindful eaters aren’t stewing over all the things that happened to them that day while they eat; they focus only on their food.
You digest your food significantly more effectively when you are relaxed rather than stressed1. This means that focusing your attention on what you are eating rather than why you are in such a rush will help soup up your digestive system and get the most out of your meal.
In addition, mindful eaters chew their food for longer. Your saliva contains enzymes that break down starches. If you chew more, the carbohydrates are exposed to more of these enzymes, and you digest them more effectively2.
When you chew, you break the food down into smaller particles, thus increasing their surface area. If you swallow a higher proportion of large particles, more of the food goes through your system undigested3.
Mindful eating provides a significant benefit to your gut health. As you can see, this is not just some half-baked theory.
Helps With Weight Loss
If you have ever tried dieting before, you know that getting results can be about as slow as molasses.
This is incredibly frustrating. You put so much effort and sacrifice into your diet, but it doesn’t go as well as planned, and you gain the weight back as soon as you stop.
As I said earlier, mindful eating is not a diet, but rather a lifestyle. And unlike most diets, there is no such thing as a forbidden fruit to mindful eaters.
If you are like me, there are probably some foods that you simply can’t stomach going without. Mindful eating lets you go bananas and eat whatever you want.
“Mike, you’re telling me there is a way to lose weight without sacrificing the foods I love? That would be the greatest thing since sliced bread! How can that be?”
People are notorious for underestimating how much they eat.
Obese individuals underestimated their calorie consumption of many common foods by more than 50%4! One reason for this is that peoples’ estimates of calorie consumption get worse as meal size increases5.
In other words, if you tend to eat large meals, you probably have no idea how much you are actually consuming!
To top it all off, dieting itself causes people to underestimate how much they eat6.
Unless you are meticulously counting calories, you are just guessing. And your gut feeling is wrong.
This can be a bitter pill to swallow, but chances are you never even followed the diets that you attempted.
When you eat mindfully, you learn to be satisfied with less. It will become clear why this is the case after we go over the techniques in the next section.
In the meantime, what evidence is there that mindful eating can actually help you lose weight?
For starters, mindfulness training has been shown to drastically reduce the frequency and magnitude of binge eating7.
Perhaps binge eating isn’t a problem for you. Even so, mindfulness training can help lead to significant decreases in weight and improved eating behaviors such as restraint around food8.
In a nutshell, practicing mindful eating will give you a healthier relationship with food that can be a significant aid in long-term weight loss.
Mindful eating is a form of meditation, so it should be no surprise that it reduces stress.
The whole point of this practice is to focus on your food when you eat. This implies not thinking about all the other stressful things going on in your life.
Like any meditation, this will not be easy to do right away. Luckily, you can experience the stress reduction just from trying.
As you practice more, you will get better at it. Don’t be discouraged just because it’s not easy as pie.
Eating Becomes More Pleasurable
All the benefits of mindful eating are important, and this is the cherry on top.
Do you even remember what you ate for dinner last night?
If you can’t, it must not have been that enjoyable.
But when you are fully aware of what you are eating and you savor all aspects of it, how can you not have a wonderful experience?
When you wolf down some food while distracted and in a rush, you barely even taste it. What a waste.
Comparing the pleasure of “normal” eating to mindful eating is like comparing apples and oranges.
Techniques For Practicing Mindful Eating
Finally, the meat and potatoes of this post!
There are a lot of ways that you can practice mindful eating. And like I said, it takes time before you can do it well.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, or you might get frustrated. Start slow, and implement only a few techniques at a time. Whatever you can manage.
So get ready, because I’m about to spoon-feed you everything you need to know about how to eat more mindfully.
Before You Eat
Mindful eating starts well before the food is in your mouth.
You should integrate these techniques into your lifestyle, not just during mealtime.
1. Be conscious of how you store your food. When a food is more accessible, you are going to eat more of it. With that in mind, you should keep any unhealthy foods you have out of sight or in a more difficult to reach place. Conversely, make healthy foods more visible. For example, you can keep a basket of fruit out on the table.
2. Get closer to the source. You can certainly practice mindful eating while at a restaurant, but it definitely helps if you know exactly what is in the food you eat. Learn how to cook a variety of dishes using quality ingredients. Consider growing your own vegetables.
3. Reserve time. Set aside time for eating and eating only. Make sure that it’s more than enough time so that you don’t feel at all rushed while you eat. If you think it will only take you a half hour, leave at least 45 minutes You’ll be savoring every bite, so it will take longer than you think.
4. Have a pre-meal ritual. It can be helpful to have a short ritual before your meals that allows you to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand: eating. Use this time to set up a pleasant ambience. Create an uncluttered space for your meal, and consider adding flowers or candles to the atmosphere.
5. Be grateful for your food. You can practice gratitude any way you like, but you should at least take a moment to recognize the miracle it is that you have food in front of you. Think about all the people who don’t have the opportunity to eat as much as you do.
6. Eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone, laptop, TV, or any other device that might take your mind away from eating. When you are thinking about Facebook, you are no longer focused on the food.
7. Sit down. Don’t eat while standing. You should be relaxed. But don’t lie down either, because you might choke.
8. Take a few deep breaths. When you sit down for your meal, you should not immediately start scarfing it down. Pause and take a few deep breaths. This will help relax you and get you in the right mindset.
9. Name each dish. Take note of what each and every dish on the table actually is. This makes you more conscious of their true nature. When you call something “eggplant” or “chicken soup”, it becomes more real to you.
During Your Meal
Once everything is set up and all your preparation is done, you will be in the right mindset to begin eating.
The idea behind the following techniques is to get yourself to take your time in order to fully appreciate and savor every aspect of your food.
While you should never neglect proper preparation, these next techniques are the bread and butter of a mindful eater.
10. Think smaller. Give yourself only small portions of food and take only a tiny bite at a time. Ideally you will use smaller plates, bowls, and silverware. Most peoples’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs and can be satisfied with much less food than they think. Having a lot of food in front of you can make you feel rushed and obligated to eat it.
11. Chew thoroughly. Keep each bite of food in your mouth for as long as you can. Milk it for all it’s worth. Before swallowing, you should have nearly liquefied whatever food you have in your mouth. This way you can experience all the different tastes and textures that it has to offer.
12. Use all your senses. Most people will stop at tasting their food. But there is so much more to it than taste. Take a good look at your food before you eat it. Appreciate its presentation on your plate. Feel the texture in your mouth. Smell its unique aroma. Listen for the sound it makes as you cut it and chew it. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever eaten that kind of food.
13. Rest your hands. When you eat mindlessly, you usually have the next forkful ready before you’ve finished swallowing your last bite. A mindful eater puts their utensils down between each bite and doesn’t pick them up until they are ready for the next one. With your hands no longer occupied, you are free to focus on what you are eating right now.
14. Consider using chopsticks or your non-dominant hand. This technique is optional. Eating this way forces you to slow down. The downside is that it can give you butter fingers, making you drop your food and decreasing your immersion.
15. Take breaks. You shouldn’t just eat and eat until the meal is finished. Take at least a few breaks and do some deep breathing for a minute or two. If your mind has been wandering, this lets you get back on track. It also helps you to recognize when you are satisfied and should stop eating.
16. Don’t guzzle down your drink. You should be drinking mindfully, too. It’s better to drink less during your meals and more in between them. Take a sip of water when your mouth is dry, but don’t overdo it. And if water isn’t your cup of tea, please don’t drink soda or anything else with a strong flavor during your meal because it can mask the flavor of your food.
17. Perform hunger checks. Never eat to the point where you are uncomfortable. Regularly ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of one through ten while you eat. Be aware of the signals your body is sending you, and stop eating once you feel satisfied.
After Your Meal
Mindful eating doesn’t stop at your last bite.
It’s not as though you swallow your food and then it falls into a black hole; you know as well as I do that there’s more to it than that J
After your meal is finished, you should do the following two things.
18. Reflect on your experience. Mindful eating truly is an “experience”. Take a moment to think back on it and how it went. Did you notice anything about your food that you’ve never noticed before? Were any foods more or less delicious? How did each of your senses respond to the food? How did your level of hunger change as you ate? What effect did the environment have on your meal? Do you think there might be a better way to prepare your food or environment next time? And if it didn’t go as well as you would have hoped, don’t cry over spilled milk.
19. Listen to your body. Different foods will have different effects on you. Some will make you feel more sluggish or energized. Some will make you happier or feel more negative. Some will help you concentrate and others will make you more easily distracted. You should be paying attention to how food makes you feel all the time. Learn from it. Eat more of the foods that are good for you, and less of those that are bad.
Mindful Eating In A Social Context
Many of the techniques above are primarily useful when you are eating by yourself. But what if you want to have meals with your friends and family? What if the big cheese at your office invites you out to lunch? What if the apple of your eye suggests a new restaurant to try out?
It might seem like you are in a pickle here, but mindful eating can still be done in a social context.
Other people can be distracting, but they can also enhance your experience. Eating should be an enjoyable activity, so you should not avoid meals with other people.
Using the following techniques, you can be a mindful eater but still come off cool as a cucumber.
20. Appreciate good company. In a social context, you have more to be grateful for than just the food. Take a moment to appreciate the blessing it is to have friends, family, or even strangers around to enjoy your meal with.
21. Steer conversation towards food. It is only logical to talk about food with the people whom you are eating with. Don’t be afraid to go into more detail than you normally would. It might seem weird at first to talk about the texture of the food with your company, but you’ll get over it. Most people will be interested in chiming in with their own opinions, and you can bounce ideas off of each other. They may even notice something that you missed!
22. Experiment with a silent meal. If you are lucky enough to be eating with someone who is like-minded, you should try having a silent meal. You don’t need to be silent the entire time; agreeing to eat quietly for the first ten minutes will still be effective. After your silent period is over, talk about the food you have been eating.
23. Go to “tasting” events. Most of these events are about alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and whiskey, but you can also find dark chocolate tastings, cheese tastings, and some others. At these gatherings, you can learn a lot about how to appreciate the particular item you are tasting. The icing on the cake is that you’ll also meet more like-minded people.
Mindful eating is a practice that you can begin implementing and experiencing benefits of right away, even if it takes years to master.
Before you know it, practicing mindful eating will be like taking candy from a baby.
Eating isn’t something you only do because you “have” to. Food is meant to be enjoyed.
If you can’t imagine eating mindfully all the time, you should at least make it a point to set aside one meal per week to truly enjoy the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.
P.S. Brownie points for anyone who can spot all the different food idioms I’ve used in this post. Seriously, they are packed in like sardines. Sorry, I know that last one was corny, but I’m not one to sugarcoat things. I counted 41.