The Psychology of Mindful Eating

Woman takes a bite of salad - mindful eating

Drops of rain dot the windows as you make your way through a fourth episode of your favorite show, your mind a static blur of comfort and satisfaction. The only way to sink further into relaxation is with a yummy snack—a bag of popcorn, some crackers, a bag of trail mix or whatever soothes the hunger of boredom. For whatever reason, these snacks are convenient, comforting and sometimes difficult to put down.

You check your phone for texts or read an article on your tablet as the television drones on with jumbled conversation. Soon, the popcorn is only kernels, the crackers are nothing but crumbs and your four-serving bag of trail mix is empty. And yet sometimes, you still crave more. So how do you overcome emotional, passive or bored consumption? Read on to learn more about psychology of mindful eating.

No Need to Be an Expert

The best way to prevent passive consumption is through mindful eating. According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is a “state of active, open attention on the present.” But you don’t necessarily have to be a yogi or existential guru to put this practice to practical use. All you must do to overcome this type of reflexive consumption is pay attention.

Mindful eating starts with removing any distractions from your meal. Take a 20-minute break from TV, computer, phone or anything else that could detract the mind from the food. Eating a meal is an experience that indulges all your senses. Take time to notice the smells, tastes and textures of your food. This will help you remain present during your meal.

More Time, Less Food

As the name of the habit implies, mindful eating is a mental exercise as well as a physical act. Take note of your thoughts while eating. Is there an urge to return to your distractions? Do you have difficulty eating in silence? Let these thoughts pass, and return to your meal. Recognizing these mental processes can ease anxiety and leave you feeling more satisfied after a meal.

This focus on experiencing food, rather than just reflexively eating will increase the time you spend enjoying a meal. And when you are mindful of each bite, you will actually eat less than when distracted. Mindful eating gives your body time to connect with your mind, which is important in determining when you’re full. According to research, it takes more than 20 minutes for your mind to tell your body it is satisfied.

Making the Change

Changing your eating routines takes patience and repetition, so don’t feel disheartened when the habit doesn’t come overnight. Here are some tips to get you started on the right track:

1. Eat one meal a day in silence.

If you’re always on the go, it can be tough to modify your lifestyle completely. Consider setting one meal aside every day to eat and drink in silence. As you become accustomed to the practice, you can incorporate it into more meals.

2. Create a ritual

Stay consistent before meals. Create an easy ritual to slow yourself down and come into the present. A pre-meal ritual increases how much you savor food or drink, according to a 2013 study published in Psychological Science.

3. Take a break

Another way to slow down your intake is to briefly leave the meal. Take a walk or finish the article you were reading earlier. Breaking up the meal will help you avoid eating too much, too fast.

4. Chew slowly

Focus on chewing one bite at a time. It’s easy to eat at the same speed of those around you. By deliberately chewing slowly, you give your body the time to connect with the brain.

With some patience and focus, mindful eating will help you eat less, choose healthier meals, better enjoy your food and understand your body’s needs.

What are some of your favorite strategies? Let us know by tweeting us @SlimGenics!