You’ve probably heard about the many amazing benefits of regular mindfulness meditation. And it’s all true! Meditation is hands down one of the best things you can do for your mind, body, and spirit.
The great news is you don’t have to drop everything and retire to a secluded meditation cushion to reap the rewards of mindfulness when you commit to mindful eating. In this joyful practice, your food becomes your meditation! All you have to do is show up and be truly present at the table. Mindful eating works beautifully as a technique to enrich your daily meditation—or as a stand-alone practice, so it’s perfect for everyone—whether or not you meditate regularly.
The Pitfalls of Habitual Mindless Eating
Sadly, most of us are anything but mindful when we eat. When life gets challenging, or frankly even just a bit hectic, it’s easy to fall into the habit of gobbling up meals while driving, at work, or in front of the TV—and barely even taste the delicious foods we eat! While this multi-tasking may seem like a good plan initially, it can lead to all kinds of trouble down the road.
Firstly, It takes approximately 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’ve had enough food. So shoveling down meals in a hurry means you may not know when you’re satiated, which can cause you to overeat by the time your brain gets the message to stop, causing occasional bloating, irregularity, and other forms of digestive discomfort.
Additionally, when you’re also stressed or distracted during meals, it can inhibit digestive function in a manner similar to the classic “fight or flight” response, which channels blood flow away from the digestive organs. This means you might not be absorbing all the valuable nutrients you ingest.1
To complicate the issue, stress can lead to strong cravings for “comfort foods” that are high in refined sugar and unhealthy fats—in an attempt to make all those anxiety-ridden, unpleasant feelings go away. And the thing is, this actually works. But there’s a price to pay for the relief we get from eating our emotions. A recent study revealed that emotional eaters were able to lower their stress response by eating high-fat and sugary foods, however, they also accumulated more dangerous visceral body fat.2
Understanding Mindful Eating—and Its Connection to Health
Mindfulness is the art of simply observing and taking note of what’s going on in the present moment—without hanging onto or judging it. In traditional mindfulness meditation, this translates to watching your thoughts and sensations as they arise and fall away, with a certain detachment. By becoming the witness to your mind and the thoughts flowing through it, you become a separate observer and can feel more at peace with the present.
When you apply mindfulness to eating, you simply observe every aspect of what you consume, which transforms even the simplest meal into a rich experience. But mindful eating offers so many more gifts than just relaxed, pleasurable dining! By becoming highly aware and attuned to your food choices, eating with intention can be a deeply calming practice with far-reaching benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health, including:
1. Reduced stress: As a meditative technique, mindful eating triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response.3
2. Improved mood: Mindful eating can help lift you into a more peaceful and optimistic state of mind.3
3. Healthier relationship with food: Mindful attention during meals can reduce urges to binge, or to eat when you’re not hungry.3, 4
4. Optimal weight: Research shows mindfulness practices such as mindful eating can help jettison excess pounds as well as reduce fat accumulation around the midsection.3, 5, 6
5. More efficient digestion: Eating slowly and mindfully allows your body to better utilize nutrients—and helps your tummy feel comfortable after meals.
6. Healthy blood sugar and fat levels: After a one-year study, subjects who practiced mindful eating were able to lower fasting glucose and triglyceride levels.6
7. Vibrant microbial health: All the other benefits of mindful eating set the stage for your friendly gut flora to thrive!
Is Your Mind Missing at Dinner?
When you sit down to your next meal (hopefully you are actually sitting and not eating on the go!), ask yourself these simple questions:
• Am I choosing the foods and drinks that are out of alignment with the way I’d like to feel in my body?
• Am I consuming foods that are harmful to my gut microbes or my overall health?
• Am I eating even though I’m not actually hungry?
• Am I ignoring the way my food looks, sounds, tastes, and smells?
• Do I really just want this food because I feel lonely or sad?
• Am I distracted—thinking more about work, driving, school, relationships, or health concerns instead of my meal?
• Am I feeling pressured to finish eating so I can get back to more “important” things?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re definitely not eating mindfully! But don’t panic—becoming aware of that fact is the first important step in establishing an effective mindful eating practice. Contemplating these questions while you eat your next meal can really open your eyes to habits you've unknowingly fallen into around eating, and can also help you tune back in to the present moment by becoming aware of what you're putting into your body (and why).
So rather than beat yourself up for being an absentee diner, congratulate yourself for beginning this very special journey.
Creating Your Perfect Mindful Eating Practice
Mindful eating doesn’t require any special skills and there’s nothing mysterious about it—anyone who eats can do it (hint: that’s you!). There’s no need to be rigid about technique either. What all effective mindful eating techniques have in common is staying present in the experience. So feel free to experiment and tweak our basic practice outline until it feels just right for you:
1. Create an intentional eating space: Find a comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted—away from your computer, TV, phone, reading materials, projects, or other distractions.
2. Give yourself time: Allow at least 10-20 minutes to fully absorb your experience.
3. Check In with your body: Take a moment to breathe deeply and focus on the physical feeling of hunger. Where in your body do you feel the sensations? If you discover you’re not actually hungry after all, applaud yourself for that awareness, and postpone the rest of the exercise until genuine hunger pangs emerge.
4. Express gratitude: Become aware of the food in front of you and give thanks—in whatever way resonates with you—for the gift you’re about to receive.
5. Engage all your senses: Explore all the colors of the foods on your plate. Then, close your eyes, inhale, and experience your meal’s distinct aroma. If it’s appropriate, you may even want to pick up a piece of food in your fingers to experience its temperature and texture in your hands.
6. Savor the taste: When you’re ready, take that first bite. Hold the food in your mouth and become aware of its taste, shape, texture, and temperature. Then chew slowly and thoroughly, focusing on the feelings in your mouth. As you swallow, stay with the sensation of the food as it enters your esophagus, and follow it as long as you can.
7. Check In again periodically: Every now and then, notice how your body is feeling. Are you still hungry or are you beginning to fill up?
8. Conclude with gratitude: When you feel about ¾ full, stop eating, close your eyes, and take a few more deep, centering breaths. Enjoy the contentment of being satiated, and in your own unique way, give thanks for the sustenance you’ve taken in.
If at any time your attention drifts elsewhere, just gently come back to your eating experience. And remember that one of the most powerful aspects of any mindfulness practice is becoming aware of when your attention has shifted—and then returning it to the here and now. Even if you have to bring yourself back over and over...and over again, this isn’t a sign of failure. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
When you’re not eating alone, you can bring all you’ve learned from mindful eating to shared meals as well! Sitting down with loved ones, turning off the TV and phones, and giving yourself over fully to the experience of delicious food, conversation, and laughter in the moment can also help you eat more slowly and mindfully as it calms all those runaway thoughts.
The relationship between meditation and health is actually circular. So to enrich your practice (and boost wellness!) it helps to be mindful of what you ingest in addition to the multi-sensory experience this entails. Considering your food choices and supplements mindfully, and opting for lots of gut-healthy plant foods—along with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15—will put you on on the path to glowing mind-body wellness that will enable you to get even more from mindful eating than you might have otherwise. Bon Appetit!
1. Mindful eating - Harvard Health. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating
2. Tomiyama, A. J., Dallman, M. F., & Epel, E. S. (2011). Comfort food is comforting to those most stressed: Evidence of the chronic stress response network in high stress women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(10), 1513-1519. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.04.005
3. Dalen, J., Smith, B. W., Shelley, B. M., Sloan, A. L., Leahigh, L., & Begay, D. (2010). Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 18(6), 260-264. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008
4. Hepworth, N. S. (2010). A Mindful Eating Group as an Adjunct to Individual Treatment for Eating Disorders: A Pilot Study. Eating Disorders, 19(1), 6-16. doi:10.1080/10640266.2011.533601
5. Daubenmier, J., Kristeller, J., Hecht, F. M., Maninger, N., Kuwata, M., Jhaveri, K., … Epel, E. (2011). Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Study. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 1-13. doi:10.1155/2011/651936
6. Daubenmier, J., Moran, P. J., Kristeller, J., Acree, M., Bacchetti, P., Kemeny, M. E., … Hecht, F. M. (2016). Effects of a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention in adults with obesity: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity, 24(4), 794-804. doi:10.1002/oby.21396
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.