The practice of mindful eating has emerged in recent years to help people establish or restore a positive connection with food. Although the concept has roots in Buddhist philosophy, table etiquette standards echo the same principles. Mindful eating calls for a radical shift in perspective from today’s prevalent tendency toward mindless overindulgence. Mindful eating draws all the senses into choosing and experiencing foods that satisfy and nourish. The practice makes us more conscious of the inner wisdom of our bodies to determine satiety. Mindful eating helps us learn to savor every moment and bite.

Slowly but Surely

Mindful eating begins with eating slowly. Take small bites and chew 20 to 30 times, putting down the eating utensil between each bite. This allows time for the brain to register feelings of satiety, normally about 20 minutes. A 2014 meta-analysis study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that slower eating rates contribute to marked reductions in food consumption. While chewing, note flavors and textures. Pause to consider where the ingredients came from, what spices stand out, or how the food feels in the mouth. Drink water between bites.

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Eat What You Want

Mindful eating does not require you discard your favorite snacks at once. Denying yourself foods you desire may backfire, leading to cravings and bingeing, followed by guilt. As you practice mindful eating and become satisfied with less (or rather, the appropriate amount) you will likely learn to adjust portions of not-so-healthy foods.

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Just a Minute

With piles of tasks and challenges on our plates, it may seem impossible to fit the practice of mindful eating into the day. We may not have 30 minutes to ruminate on each mouthful, but even one minute of being present with food and senses qualifies. Taking a break from the daily grind to connect with food can help restore balance to the nervous system.

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Do Away with Distractions

Mindful eating calls for cultivating stillness and acknowledging what is happening around us and within us. It means becoming focused on what we are doing while doing it, as well as tuning in to our bodies, minds, and emotions. Eliminating distractions such as televisions, smartphones, magazines, or computers facilitates this level of contemplation. Research confirms that distracted eating lowers the ability to assess tastes and fullness.

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Become Intentional

Our eating habits are so established that we carry them out almost involuntarily. Being intentional and present in the moment can help us notice and reinforce behaviors that benefit us and forgo patterns that sabotage our well-being. Mindful eating encourages us to pause before automatically reaching for whatever is convenient.

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Relish the Joy of Eating

The eating experience should be a source of immense pleasure and fulfillment. Eating what you want in an ambient environment promotes feelings of satiety and emotional contentment. Make eating more pleasurable by using nice place settings and enjoying food with relatives or friends. People who practice mindful eating often find they require less food to feel satisfied.

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Recognize Satiety

Gut hormones and stomach distention determine when you have ingested enough food. Gauging these signs is key to understanding satiety. Overlooking or ignoring these factors, as people do when partaking in stress-induced eating, causes excessive calorie intake and weight gain. In a study published in Appetite, researchers noted that emotional eating levels positively correspond to higher body mass index. Mindful eating encourages control over emotions that drive eating beyond fullness.

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Not So Much

Extensive research confirms sensitivity to taste decreases after small amounts of any food. Connecting with the present taste experience and observing when the pleasure from that food starts to wane helps people gain greater pleasure from less of it. Prepare smaller servings and eat mindfully, fully engaging the senses in each bite. Listen to your body: are you still truly hungry or satisfied?

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Resolve Emotions without Food

Many people turn to food for comfort from anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. Emotional eating often leads to consumption of nutritionally empty foods and overindulging. This compromises health and fails to deal with causes of negative emotions. Mindful eating empowers us to tune out emotional or environmental appetite triggers and rely on internal hunger cues. Studies indicate that mindful eating helps people curtail compulsive behaviors such as overeating.

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Mindful Eating for Life

While a diet can be restrictive and intended for only a set period, a lifestyle of mindful eating is meant for the long run, and it is forgiving. Each meal or snack is an opportunity to practice, and the next meal is a chance to try again. Start with one sitting. The experience will make you more aware of how and why you eat the way you do. Incorporate the principles of mindful eating one at a time or collectively. Each step enhances the eating experience and teaches us to seize each precious moment. During the inevitable times when rushing is unavoidable, be aware that you are not eating mindfully. As you recognize the difference, you may find yourself wanting to make mindful eating a priority.

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