Mindful Eating: How We Get it Wrong

Mindful eating is supposed to make us healthier, happier, and more relaxed. Instead, we end up feeling stressed and guilty about not doing it. If you hate eating mindfully, you might be doing it wrong.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #492
image of a brain surrounded by forks symbolizing mindful eating

Finally, eating mindfully doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to sit in a dark quiet room by yourself and shut out all distractions. There’s an important difference between mindless or distracted eating and making a conscious choice to enjoy another activitysuch as reading or conversationwhile you are eating.

When we sit in front of the television or computer with an open bag of chips, we can easily go on auto-pilot. Our mind is absorbed in whatever we are doing. Meanwhile, our hand keeps moving from bag to mouth until the bag is empty. Whoops. Where did all those chips go? Did we enjoy them? Were they stale? Who knows? That sort of mindless eating can lead you to consume hundreds of excess calories without even noticing, much less enjoying them.

We are also less likely to remember food that we eat on auto-pilot and this can lead us to eat more at the next meal. Interestingly, how well we remember our last meal can play a role in how hungry we feel at the next one.

That doesn’t mean that you can never do anything else while eating except stare at your plate and deeply contemplate each bite of food to the exclusion of all else. But if you do choose to read or chat or watch a screen while eating, be aware of the increased danger of losing track of what or how much you’re eating. Here are some steps you can take to avoid overeating.

Steps to Avoid Overeating

First, take an undistracted moment to decide how much you want or need to eat. If that amount is less than what’s immediately in front you, put the remainder out of reach.

Then, focus your attention on your first bite or two of food. This is when your enjoyment of that food is likely to be the most intenseso why not get the most out of it? It also gives you a chance to reevaluate whether it’s actually worth finishing. If it isn’t, put whatever you don’t intend to eat out of reach before turning your attention to your book or your companion.

If you like to read while you eatand many of us find this pleasant and/or necessarytry alternating back and forth between the two activities. Enjoy a few bites of your meal. Then, put your fork down and pick up your book. Read for a few minutes. Then, put your book down and enjoy a few more bites of food.

Likewise, if you are having lunch or dinner with a friend, try putting your fork down every once in a while and just enjoy the conversation for a few minutes before continuing to eat. Every time you resume eating, you also have a fresh opportunity to notice your hunger level and your level of enjoyment...and you may find that checking in throughout the meal leads you eat a bit less but to enjoy it a bit more.

National Mindfulness Day on September 12th affords us the opportunity to put this habit into practice, but every day is a chance to practice mindful eating. I hope I've at least convinced you to give mindful eating a try (or another try). For more strategies on how to translate the benefits of mindful eating into real world living, checkout these Four Tips for More Mindful Eating.

Image of a mindful eater © Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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