What is Mindful Eating?
Post written by Leo Babauta.
There was a time when I stuffed my face with junk food and fast food on a daily basis. I was overweight and unhealthy, addicted to snacks and fried and fatty food, and would mindlessly overeat.
This wasn’t a healthy way of eating. What I ate (junk) was a big part of it, but just as big a part was how I ate — emotionally and mindlessly. These bad eating habits built up over time, after years of eating to socialize, to relieve stress, to make myself feel better, to satisfy cravings.
When I finally started changing my eating habits, I realized how bad things were. I realized how hard it was to change, simply because eating was filling so many needs, and because I ate mostly without thinking.
The biggest change I made: I learned to pay attention. I paid attention to what I ate, the textures and flavors, how it made me feel during and after eating. I paid attention to my eating urges, to the emotions that triggered the eating.
The changes came slowly, but paying attention turned out to be the key habit change. Once I made this change, other changes finally happened, after years of trying.
What Is Mindful Eating?
I certainly didn’t invent mindful eating, but it has helped me tremendously. There is a growing field of people adopting the approach and writing about it (I’d recommend Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung), and a growing body of research showing the benefits (more in the next section).
But what is mindful eating?
There are a variety of approaches to mindful eating, some rooted in Zen and other forms of Buddhism, others tied to yoga. I take a very simple approach, and that’s what we’ll be mainly talking about in this course.
Simply put, my approach to mindful eating is learning to pay attention. Instead of eating mindlessly, putting food into your mouth almost unconsciously, not really tasting the food you’re eating … you notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
You learn to pay attention to:
- Why you feel like eating, and what emotions or needs might be triggering the eating.
- What you’re eating, and whether it is healthy or not.
- The look, smell, taste, feel of the food you’re eating.
- How it makes you feel as you taste it, as you digest it, and throughout the day.
- How full (or sated) you are before, during and after eating.
- Your emotions during and after eating.
- Where the food came from, who might have grown it, how much it might have suffered before it was killed, whether it was grown organically, how much it was processed, how much it was fried or overcooked, etc.
This is a skill, a form of meditation really, that you don’t just acquire overnight. It takes practice, and there will be times when you forget to eat mindfully, and there will be starts and stops. But with practice and attention, you can become very good at this.
We’ll go more into how to learn to eat mindfully in the video, How to Learn Mindful Eating.
The Benefits of Mindful Eating
The benefits of eating mindfully are amazing, and it’s important to know these benefits as you consider the practice.
I’m going to go over just a handful of the most important benefits, though as you learn the practice I’m sure you’ll find many more. Many of these are from personal experience, but many of them are supported by research (I’ve linked to some of the research when I had the link handy).
My favorite benefits:
- You learn to eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re sated.
- You learn to really taste food, and to enjoy the taste of healthy food.
- You slowly start to realize that unhealthy food isn’t as tasty as you thought, nor does it make you feel very good.
- As a result of the above three points, you will often lose weight if you’re overweight.
- You begin to sort through the emotional issues you have around food and eating. This takes a bit longer, but it’s important.
- Social overeating can become less of a problem — you can eat mindfully while socializing, with practice, and not overeat.
- You begin to enjoy the eating experience more, and as a result enjoy life more, when you’re more present.
- It can become a mindfulness ritual you look forward to.
- You learn how food affects your mood and energy throughout the day.
- You learn what food best fuels your exercise and work and play.
Again, there are other benefits, but these are some of the most important, in my experience.