Mindful eating involves paying attention to the complete experience of eating—that includes what’s happening inside your body, inside your mind, and in the world all around you.
By learning how to eat mindfully, you’ll begin to become aware of how different foods impact your body, mind, and well-being (this well-being quiz can also help you better understand which aspects of well-being might need improvement).
Mindful Eating Strategies
To get started with mindful eating, check out these 14 mindful eating strategies.
1. Mindfully Imagine Your Future Self
It turns out that when we imagine things, the brain attempts to simulate the responses that would occur if these situations actually happened. Playing out future scenarios in our minds can help us feel more like this future is real or possible. We can apply this strategy to our food life by imagining how our future self will feel once we’re eating mindfully and have a healthier relationship with food.
2. Reflect on Your Reasons for Mindful Eating
If you decide to pursue a mindful eating practice, first reflect on why you’re doing it. Are you doing it because you want to truly understand what your body needs, explore what nourishes you, and make changes that fundamentally change your relationship with food?
If so, then your goals are aligned with the powerful benefits of mindful eating, and you’re likely to be more successful using this strategy.
3. Remove Addictive Foods to Better Hear the Body’s Voice
Sometimes our food addictions—especially to sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, but sometimes also to dairy, carbs, and chocolate—scream louder than our hunger, nutrient deficiencies, and food intolerances. So when we try to eat mindfully, we simply hear—candy, candy, candy, candy!
When our addictions are constantly screaming, it’s all we can hear. That’s why to get the full benefit of mindful eating—and possibly any benefit at all—we first need to remove addictive foods, for example with programs like Whole30.
4. Try Food-Focused Mindful Meditation
To start to open the lines of communication with your body, it can be helpful to do a short, food-focused mindful meditation periodically. To start, sit for a few minutes in silence with your eyes closed. In your mind, visualize a variety of different foods. Then pause to reflect on how that food feels in your body.
Because our imagination is so powerful, this practice can give you clues about the foods your body desires and provide guidance about what foods you eat when beginning your mindful eating practice.
5. When Choosing Food, Ask Your Body What It Needs
Before you’re eating or even cooking, ask your body what it needs. You can do this by using your senses when you are selecting food to eat.
For example, when you’re at the grocery store, take a little extra time to really look at and smell each food you buy. Your body might react strongly, either positively or negatively, to the smell, sight, touch, or taste of particular foods (although I recommend you taste food only after you’ve purchased it).
6. Prepare for Each Meal by Calming the Body
Stress makes all of our digestive processes go haywire, preventing us from being able to identify the specific foods our body wants and doesn’t want. That’s why calming the body before eating is so important.
To calm the body before each meal and mellow your nervous system, play some relaxing music. The earlier you start to calm your body before eating, the better. So if you’re cooking dinner, make a habit of playing calm music while you cook. Or if you’re picking up fast food on the way home, listen to some calming music during your commute.
7. Pause for a Mindful Moment when Beginning Each Meal
When you sit down with your food, take a few long, deep breaths and reflect on which types of hunger you’re currently feeling:
- Eye Hunger: Did you see food and then want to eat?
- Nose Hunger: Did you smell food and then want to eat?
- Ear Hunger: Did you hear food cooking or being eaten and then want to eat?
- Mouth Hunger: Did you taste food and then want to eat more?
- Stomach Hunger: Did your stomach feel empty or growl and then want to eat?
- Mind Hunger: Did you realize it was a certain time of day or that you “should” eat more of a particular kind of food and then want to eat?
- Emotional Hunger: Did you feel sad, lonely, or anxious and then want to eat?
- Cellular Hunger: Did you get an intuitive craving for a specific food and then want to eat?
8. Eat Mindfully and Kind-Fully
If you’re eating with others, aim to keep the conversation upbeat, and avoid talking about the stresses of the day, disagreements, or other social problems, at least until you’ve finished eating (preferably while you’re digesting, too). And avoid watching anything stressful, exciting, or invigorating on TV (no TV at all is best). By taking these steps, you ensure your parasympathetic nervous system can focus fully on digestion.
9. Take a Mindful Pause after a Few Bites
Stop and take a mindful pause after you’ve eaten a few bites of your food—enough that the food has reached your stomach, and the digestive process has begun.
During this mindful pause, listen to your body to see if you can experience how it’s receiving the food. Pay attention to things like tummy rumbling, sweating, tiredness, nasal congestion, tingling, goosebumps, or any other bodily sensation.
10. Be Mindful about Each Bite
To stay mindful as you eat, ask yourself questions to more fully experience the meal. For example, ask yourself: Is it warm or cold? Is it savory or salty? Is it crunchy or soft?
Explore even further by seeing if you can identify the exact flavors. Ask yourself: What herbs or spices are in this food? Can you tell if the food has any added sugar or salt? Are there other ingredients you can identify?
Next, explore the food emotionally. Does eating this food evoke any emotions? If so, dig a little deeper and see if you can figure out why.
11. Take a Mindful Pause Sometime Mid-Meal
About halfway through your meal, pause and reflect. Ask yourself the following questions: How is your body feeling now? Are you feeling nourished? Are you feeling full? Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers.
12. Reflect Mindfully at the End of Your Meal
Once you stop eating, whether this is mid-meal when your plate is empty or after you’ve eaten several helpings and dessert (no judgment!), take a moment to reflect on the entire eating experience. Start by asking yourself out loud or in your head if each of the eight types of hunger (Eye, nose, ear, mouth, stomach, mind, emotional, and cellular) have been satisfied.
13. Be Present with Mindless Eating Habits
Emotional hunger, in particular, can be difficult to satisfy with any food. As a result, emotional hunger often leads us to continue eating mindlessly, hoping to stop our sadness, anxiety, or shame.
But once we identify a mindless eating pattern like this, we can work through it with mindfulness. Pause and stay present with your experience, even if it’s uncomfortable. Don’t push the feelings away. Just be with them for as long it takes for them to dissipate on their own.
14. Mindfully Explore Cellular Hunger and Micronutrients
Our cells may be crying out for important nutrients (such as Iron, Iodine, Vitamin D, B-12, Calcium, Vitamin A, and Magnesium), but when we continue to eat the same foods we would normally eat, nothing really changes in our body, so we might not get the message.
To mindfully explore cellular hunger, try eating many new or different foods. If your cells and body are nourished by that food, you may actually feel your body scream, “Yes! More of that! Thank you!”
Other times, you may notice delayed changes in your body—for example, maybe you no longer experience an afternoon slump or evening headaches. Try to notice the effects, even if they are subtle.
To eat mindfully requires some effort—namely a willingness to be aware, open, and accepting. But with this new skill, you can better identify what nourishes your mind, body, and soul.