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How to eat more mindfully

Average read time: 4 minutes

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a handful of crisps or peanuts, then another, and before you know it you’ve absent-mindedly flattened the whole packet? Or emptying a giant box of popcorn in a movie because you’re distracted by the on-screen action? These are behaviours that experts call ‘mindless eating’.

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There is evidence to suggest that unconscious decisions we make about food (namely, eating without thinking) play a role in creating and perpetuating unhealthy eating habits. Mindless eating may even have consequences for our health, such as weight gain and blood sugar issues. Read on to find out how learning to eat more mindfully can help change our eating behaviours, positively affect the relationship we have with food, and ultimately benefit our overall health and mental well-being.

What is mindless eating?

Mindless eating is what happens when you’re not paying attention to what (or how much) you’re consuming: your brain is too busy with other tasks and simply doesn’t consciously register each mouthful you take.

This may be because you are distracted, perhaps by scrolling through your phone or watching TV. You may be absorbed in multi-tasking at your desk, or in such a hurry during the day that gulping down a pie or muffin on the run becomes second nature.

You might not even feel hungry, but eat anyway because the clock tells you it’s meal time. Or you may be eating to numb a different type of hunger, such as boredom or stress.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a technique that helps you increase awareness of your food so you pay closer attention to what, how, and why you are eating. Mindfulness as a concept has its roots in ancient Buddhist tradition. In a modern-day sense, the Cambridge Dictionary defines mindfulness as ‘the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm’. When applied to eating, mindfulness involves giving the food you’re eating your undivided attention.

With no distractions, you’re able to use all your senses to calmly experience and savour every mouthful, and to observe how your body and mind respond to food. With practice, mindful eating can help you make more deliberate and considerate choices about food. You’ll learn to listen to (and trust) your body’s natural ability to signal when you’re genuinely hungry – and when you’re full and don’t need more food!

Tips for eating mindfully

Mindful eating isn’t a restrictive diet and doesn’t involve calorie counting. Instead, it’s simply a matter of getting into the habit of understanding why you want to eat, and then focusing on the present moment as you experience the pleasurable sensations of eating.

  • Before you reach for a snack, ask yourself why you want to eat. Are you truly hungry, or could it be that you are bored, tired, thirsty, or in need of comfort food?
  • Learn to recognise your body’s hunger cues: don’t skip meals.
  • When you eat, avoid distractions. Put your phone away and switch off the TV.
  • Try not to eat on the run. Sit down at the table or at your desk so you can focus all your attention on your food.
  • Make a conscious effort to enjoy every mouthful and take pleasure in the taste, texture, and aroma of your food.
  • Take a moment to appreciate the food on your plate, where it came from, and who prepared it.
  • Try to eat slowly, take smaller mouthfuls, and chew your food for longer. Eating slowly can help increase satiety, which is what happens when your gut signals to your brain that it has reached a state of fullness.
  • Never feel pressured to finish what’s on your plate.
  • If you’re not particularly hungry but need to eat to fuel your body, start with a small portion – you may find this is more than enough.
  • Try using a smaller plate. Put your knife and fork down between every bite.
  • If you’re tempted to snack, even though you’re not hungry, wait ten minutes, or have a glass of water, or go for a short walk.
  • Keep tempting snack foods out of sight and stock your fridge and cupboard with vitamin-dense nibbles you can graze on when hunger pangs strike between meals.
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