Here’s What Happens When You Practice Mindful Eating Every Day
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Is mindful eating a helpful way to approach food? I gave it a shot for 14 days—here's what I discovered.
I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about mindful eating, my eye roll was enough to burn a few hundred calories. After all, the last thing I needed was another unhelpful trend, like eating the right greens to satisfy my spirit animal or gnawing on peach stones to improve my memory.
My attitude changed one morning while unconsciously scarfing down a cinnamon roll from the vending machine at work. Let that sink in for a moment: a cinnamon roll.
From a vending machine.
Maybe it was time I looked into this “mindful eating” thing after all. I decided to give it a shot for two weeks.
What Is Mindful Eating?
It’s pretty much what it sounds like: paying attention to what you’re eating and eating that food with great intent. Think of it as the “what, when, where and why” of daily eating habits.
- What am I eating?
- When am I eating?
- Where am I eating?
- Why am I eating?
It’s not necessarily about eating healthy. Want to eat a dozen tacos? Go for it. You need to thoroughly invest in making that decision first, however. If you move forward with your choice, then relish every second of your tacopalooza.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
It made sense to be skeptical: The laundry list of mindful eating benefits seemed too good to be true. But the difference between mindful eating and fad diets is that mindful eating is a centuries-old practice, not a modern trend.
Mindful eating can:
- Teach us about when we’re actually hungry or full—are you reaching for a snack because your stomach is rumbling, or because you’re bored?
- Help lead to weight loss, even though that’s not the goal (I ended up losing five pounds)
- Improve digestion, because you’re eating slowly and not overindulging
- Help reduce stress, like any other mindfulness practice
- Lead to healthier choices, because you’re more conscious about what you’re consuming and how it makes you feel
8 Mindful Eating Techniques
Mindful eating isn’t just about taking your time while eating. Sure, that’s part of it, but it’s really about being present and enjoying both the food and the moment.
Here are some tips to get started.
- Turn off the TV and other devices. Instead of streaming or scrolling while you eat, focus on the food in front of you and the people you’re with, if you’re not by yourself.
- Spend 20 minutes eating, with no distractions.
- Keep your portions small. This helps reduce food waste and prevents you from feeling like you have to finish everything that’s there, just because it’s there.
- Take small bites and chew slowly.
- Really pay attention to what you’re eating: What are the smells, textures, sounds? Engage all of your senses.
- Check in with yourself before, as you eat and after. Are you feeling hungry? Full?
- If it’s helpful, jot down the experience in a mindful eating journal. How did it make you feel? What did you like, or dislike, about what you ate?
- Establish a schedule for eating meals and stick to it. This makes it easier to plan and make sure you have healthy choices available.
What Happened When I Started Mindful Eating
Jumping into the practice of mindful eating was easier than I thought. A self-described couch potato, I started by turning off the TV at dinnertime.
I also began planning meals, sometimes a few days in advance. I immersed myself in preparing the food, even if simply reheating leftovers. I started living in the moment and genuinely enjoying the meal in front of me.
Soon, I was thinking about the foods I ate. How had vending-machine pastries ever been an option? When I craved a cinnamon roll, I found the right one and delighted in every ooey-gooey bite. I even learned how to bake my own cinnamon rolls!
By the end of the second week, I was eating less and eating healthier. I began listening to my body and putting down my fork when I was satisfied.
I also better understood why I ate when I wasn’t hungry. Often it stemmed from a need to walk away from what I was working on. I learned that taking a break didn’t necessarily require eating.
I packed a lot into my two-week journey of mindful eating, but I have more to learn—and that’s OK! I’m looking forward to discovering more about myself and exploring all of the options when hunger hits.
The Best Mindful Eating Books and Apps
I know I said to put the phones down, but there are plenty of apps that can help you start a mindful eating practice.
- Mindful Eating Coach 2: Includes lessons and exercises that help train your brain to be present while you eat
- Am I Hungry?: Acts as your mindful eating coach that helps you recognize your internal hunger and fullness cues so you’re fully present when you eat
- Insight Timer: A comprehensive mindfulness app that includes courses in mindful eating
If you want to become a mindful eating guru, check out these books:
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND: The original book on intuitive eating weaves in new studies and explains what mindful eating looks like every day.
- Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers, Psy.D: It includes a checklist for how to approach mindful eating, how to avoid mindless eating and exercises that help build healthy habits.
- Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays, MD: This guide teaches readers how to pay attention to the process of eating, develop more compassion and find joy in eating.
I packed a lot into my two-week journey into mindful eating, but I have more to learn—and that’s OK! I’m looking forward to discovering more about myself and exploring all of the options I have when hunger hits.
If you’re curious about mindful eating, don’t hesitate to give it a try. If a cinnamon roll-loving couch potato like me can benefit from mindful eating, anyone can!
Kim Bussing contributed to this article.