Diet culture would have us all believe that eating less and cutting many foods out altogether is the ultimate goal. Knowing just how tasty chocolate and the occasional cocktail are, however, has us believing that there must be another solution. Fortunately, there is. Enter: mindful eating.
We asked Jo Dombernowsky—a nutrition advisor, chef, cookbook author, and celebrated yoga and Pilates instructor—for all the details. Keep reading to learn what mindful eating is, how it differentiates from intuitive eating, and how it can benefit your body as a whole.
What is mindful eating?
According to Jo, mindful eating is all about cultivating awareness around our food choices. The key is to focus on meals that aren’t only nourishing, but satisfying as well. “Each meal is an opportunity to care for your body by providing nutritious and delicious options,” she explains.
Jo explains that there’s an active practice to the method. “An observation of sensations, of cultivating healthy choices, and creating fulfilling routines and rituals [all play a role],” she says.
Of course, mindfulness is a central component. Once you sit down to eat, you should steer clear of phones and other distractions. The practice of mindful eating entails “focusing our attention on the present moment and the tastes and textures of our meal. This allows the signals our body sends to guide us more intuitively towards healthy habits,” Jo says.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Being extra aware of what you eat is an obvious answer. Yet additionally, Jo says that mindful eating can reduce stress and promote healthier food responses.
“We live in a very fast-paced world with lots of demands on our time,” she explains. “This has a negative impact on what and how we eat, which directly impacts our health and well-being.” Choosing good-for-you foods and eating them without distractions “not only increases our satisfaction, [but also] decreases stress. In creating a positive routine around our meals and choices, we can ‘rewire’ our brain, or unlearn habits we’ve cultivated as emotional responses.”
However, creating a mindful eating routine extends beyond mealtime. It seeps into every aspect of the meal-prepping process.
Just as creating a calming sleep space is beneficial for the body and mind, planning meals proactively, putting time and thought into what you eat off of and from, buying nourishing ingredients, and creating a space to bring it all together reaps discernible benefits. “This routine of eating at set times in set places we’ve nurtured leads to better habits, better sleep, and reduced stress,” Jo adds.
How to Eat Mindfully
In order to master mindful eating, Jo insists that you must slow down. “Slowing down and creating a new routine around our meals allows us to become more aware of our physical needs,” she says. “This better guides our decisions around food and creates a healthier lifestyle.”
Shop for Nourishing Foods
In addition to slowing down, it’s essential to set yourself up for success. One of the best ways to do so is to organize your pantry and fridge in favor of nourishing ingredients.
“Make a list of nutrient-rich, healthy foods you might need,” Jo says. “This will help create flow and will remove some temptations which might be linked to your emotional response to food.”
Prize Fresh, whole Foods
Additionally, when making choices, she says to consider nutrition and vitality. “If the product is processed or packaged, perhaps consider a natural or fresh alternative,” she suggests. For instance, “fresh fruit as an alternative to packaged food will encourage healthier snacking.”
Another idea is to focus on where the ingredients are from. “It can be a great practice to take a moment to cultivate gratitude for the choices we have,” Jo says.
Can you eat anything with this technique?
Now that you know how to practice mindful eating, you might wonder if there are any hard restrictions.
Given mindful eating is all about nourishment, you might think that certain items—like chocolate and alcohol—are off the table. But thankfully, that’s not the case.
Instead, if you’re going to indulge in them, take the moment to slow down and focus. By thoroughly enjoying every sensation, you can eat with mindfulness and appreciation from the start. Of course, to benefit from mindful eating (and support good health) in the long run, consume such treats in moderation.
Intuitive Eating vs. Mindful Eating
Intuitive eating is an approach geared toward unlearning bad habits associated with constant dieting. It focuses on emotion, rational thought, and instinct.
With intuitive eating, Jo says, “diets and deprivation are rejected, along with any emotional cues that might trigger a binge. It encourages us to review our habits and the emotional reactions that accompany them to develop a healthier, more balanced approach to long-term health.”
Mindful eating, on the other hand, focuses solely on the reactions to the preparation and consumption of food. Some say that mindful eating is a component of intuitive eating. That’s because it plays into how well one can eat with emotion, rational thought, and instinct in mind.
The Bottom Line
In sum, Jo says that mindful eating is the practice of listening to your body and feeding it accordingly.
It’s “making a renewed promise and commitment to our health. [By] creating a clean, healthy, positive space to prepare our food, we can truly make each meal a ritual to help us feel more nourished, vibrant, and joyful,” she concludes.