Healthy Eating

5 Powerful Reasons to Practice Mindful Eating For Better Health

Plus, simple ways to include this powerful practice into your life today!

By: Lexy Parsons

Often linked with meditation and other stress management techniques, mindfulness is a trending term that has gained significant traction in the health industry. It involves awareness of the present moment, attention to our surroundings, and acknowledgment of how we’re feeling in our mind and body at any given time — without judgment. While this tool is commonly utilized in various aspects of wellness, what you may not know is that its therapeutic range extends far beyond physical practices such as breathwork and exercise. Mindfulness can be applied to eating, too! From improved digestion to enhanced weight management and a healthier relationship with food, here are all the benefits of mindful eating, including simple ways to get started.

5 Reasons Why Mindful Eating Can Improve Your Health

#1 Better Relationship With Food

Unfortunately, disordered eating is all too common. From restrictive dieting, to binge eating during times of stress, to cutting out certain food groups all together, many people struggle with maintaining a balanced and healthy approach to food. Further propelled by social media and fad diets, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, mindful eating can be a transformative way to shift these negative patterns into positive ones! By practicing mindful eating, you can become more aware of your eating habits and the emotions that drive them. Are you eating because you’re stressed? Sad? Bored? Or are you actually hungry? This awareness allows for a deeper understanding of why certain eating behaviors occur. 

Plus, by focusing on the present moment, you can learn to listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. This can prevent overeating and promote a more balanced and positive relationship with food. Rather than being a source of stress and anxiety, mindful eating can help turn eating into a more enjoyable and nourishing experience.

#2 Enhanced Digestion and Gut Health

Overeating, eating on the go, and reaching for unhealthy foods are not only mindless eating habits, but they’re also habits that can harm your gut health and digestion. If you’re constantly dealing with gas, bloating, irregular bowel movements, or other symptoms of gut dysbiosis, it may be time to take a closer look at your eating habits. Are you sitting down while eating and thoroughly chewing your food? Or are you eating on the go while distracted?

Though simple, eating slower and chewing your food — key aspects of mindful eating — have been shown to increase nutrient absorption and promote better digestion. By breaking down food into smaller particles, thorough chewing makes it easier for your stomach to digest and absorb nutrients. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, this practice can significantly improve digestion and nutrient uptake, leading to reduced bloating, gas, and other digestive issues.

RELATED: 7 Simple Habits to Combat Distracted Eating

#3 Improved Weight Management

If weight loss is your goal, you’ll be happy to know that one of the significant benefits of mindful eating is its positive effect on weight loss and weight management. Shown to reduce the likelihood of overeating and enhance sustained weight loss, mindful eating can help eaters feel more in control of their eating habits without guilt, restriction, or dieting. By focusing on hunger and fullness cues, individuals are more likely to stop eating when they are satisfied rather than when they are overly full. This approach not only supports healthier eating patterns but also fosters a more sustainable and enjoyable way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

#4 Enhanced Blood Sugar Balance

Mindful eating can be particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes, at risk of developing the condition, or those with poor blood sugar balance. Considering the CDC reports that 97.6 million adults has prediabetes, this is critical, and deserves our attention! By promoting slower eating and better awareness of food choices, mindful eating can help stabilize and reduce blood sugar levels and improve glycemic control, making it a valuable tool for not only managing and preventing diabetes, but also improving overall health.

RELATED: 5 Essential Lifestyle Habits to Reverse Prediabetes 

#5 Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Did you know that mindful eating can benefit your mind and body in a similar manner to meditation? By focusing on the present moment and fully engaging with the sensory experience of eating, you can help shift the body into a parasympathetic state, also known as “rest and digest,” which not only reduces stress and promotes relaxation, but also aids digestion and absorption of food.

How to Get Started With Mindful Eating

#1 Minimize Distractions

Turn off the TV, put away your phone, and power down any devices. If you’re someone who tends to eat while distracted, creating a more peaceful setting for your meals could help shift your attention to your plate, allowing you to tune into your hunger and fullness cues and better appreciate the flavors, textures, and overall experience of your meal.

#2 Set the Mood

To set yourself up for success, create a designated area where you’ll eat. Maybe it’s the kitchen, living room, or even a space in your office — anywhere that’s calm, quiet, and distraction-free! When doing so, consider how you can enhance your environment to further support your mindful eating habits. Maybe you set the table (even if eating alone) to bring more intention and mindfulness to your meal, or maybe you play some calming music or diffuse an invigorating essential oil blend in your space.  

#3 Slow Down

Research shows that eating too quickly can lead to overeating, both during meals and throughout the day. When we eat too fast, our body doesn’t have enough time to signal to our brain that we’re full. By slowing down, chewing thoroughly, and savoring each bite, you give your body the time it needs to recognize satiety, helping to prevent overeating and promote better digestion. Aim to chew each bite around 20-30 times, put down your utensils while chewing to give yourself a breather, and make a mental note to slow down. 

#4 Eat Until Your 80% Full

Rather than view this as a restrictive approach, consider it a way to honor your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. By stopping when you feel about 80% full, you allow your body to comfortably digest the meal and prevent the discomfort of overeating — think of it as a buffer window. This practice encourages mindful awareness of how much food your body truly needs, a practice that some of the healthiest eaters in the world have coined “hara hachi bu”. 

#5 Use Smaller Plates

While it sounds silly, using smaller plates can be an effective strategy for mindful eating. There’s research to suggest that smaller plates naturally limit portion sizes (by as much as 30%), which can help prevent overeating and promote better portion control. This visual trick can make your meal appear more substantial, helping you feel more satisfied with less food, without making any other substantial changes to your eating habits.

#6 Adopt a Loose Eating Schedule

While you don’t have to adhere to a strict eating schedule, having a general framework for your meals can be beneficial. A loose eating schedule helps you avoid extreme hunger (and subsequent overeating) by ensuring you eat at regular intervals. Plus, if you tend to eat late at night, having a plan can help promote a balanced and consistent eating pattern. 

#7 Portion Your Plate

If you tend to eyeball your portion sizes or snack out of the bag try portioning your food before eating. This includes enjoying your food on a plate or in a bowl, and bringing awareness to the serving sizes for each food group. 

#8 Engage Your Senses

When eating your meal (and even while cooking and prepping), take a moment to tune into your body and engage your senses. Start by observing the visual appearance of our plate, noting the various colors and textures. Pay attention to the various smells and flavors, and how they change while you chew. Do the seasonal ingredients taste more flavorful or fresh? Do the spices or herbs stand out? This mindful eating tip can not only help make your food more enjoyable, but it can also help you slow down and support digestion.

#9 Tune Into Your Body

Before you mindlessly grab a snack, tune into your body and do a quick assessment of your hunger levels. Are you actually hungry? Or, are you bored, or maybe even thirsty? If you truly are hungry, take note of how you feel. Then, throughout your snack or meal, take time to pause and check in with your hunger and fullness levels. If you’re feeling full and there’s still food on your plate, it’s okay to stop eating! You’ll be able to enjoy it at a later time, without feeling uncomfortably full or overeating.

Bringing Mindfulness To Your Plate 

With so many benefits for both the mind and body, mindful eating is a powerful practice that can transform your relationship with food and enhance your overall well-being. By minimizing distractions, slowing down, and paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, you can develop healthier eating habits, support your health and fitness goals, and find more enjoyment in your meals! Start with small changes, such as using smaller plates, adopting a loose eating schedule, and portioning your plate. Once these feel manageable, continue building!