Does mindful eating work in real life? How can I make it happen?

Are you stuck in this mindset?: “Mindful eating sounds like a great idea, but it just doesn’t work for me in real life.” I get it. But you don’t need to eat like a monk in a monastery at every meal to experience the benefits of mindful eating. Just keep it simple:

Prepare yourself to eat:

  1. Eliminate as many distractions as possible, including any thoughts that are not about food. (Think of it as letting thoughts drift away gently, rather than aggressively pushing them out.)
  2. Check in with your body. Are you tired, wired, tense, relaxed, or…? How hungry are you? Are you too hot or cold? Need water or to use the restroom? Get into the mindset of listening to and caring for your body.
  3. How do you feel about the food you’re about to eat? Excited? Disappointed? Bored? Ambivalent? Take in the sight and the scent of your food and see if you can find a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to eat this meal, even if it isn’t your favorite.

Eat with awareness:

  1. Notice the temperature, texture, and taste of the food, and how it changes as you chew.
  2. Notice your pace, non-judgmentally. How long do you chew before swallowing? Are you paying attention to the bite in your mouth, or are you more focused on your next bite?
  3. Notice as hunger turns to fullness. Look for these changes:
    1. Empty, growling stomach becomes pleasantly full stomach
    2. Unfocused mind feels calmed and present
    3. Muscle and body strength is replenished
    4. Irritability becomes calm, happy, and/or satisfied mood

Decide when to stop:

  1. Look for internal signs that you are done eating this food. Are you satisfied, or craving something else?
  2. Choose your last bites based on what you think would create the greatest possible feeling of satisfaction for you. Let go of any ideas about what you “should” do.

“What about eating while I work?”

I so understand feeling like you should be working while you eat. It always feels like there’s more work to be done than there is time to do it. Unfortunately, when we eat while we work, the quality of both our eating and our work goes down, so you’re not being as productive as you might think.

Also, giving yourself a break from work will actually increase your productivity and focus when you return to work, so give it a try and let go of guilt. If you still feel like you just can’t, maybe you could set a timer for at least 5 or 10 minutes of eating without distraction before getting back to work.

“What about eating at restaurants?”

It can be harder to be mindful in social situations. You may want to check in with your body before you go into the restaurant (while you are still in your car/bus/train or while biking/walking, or maybe even in the restroom). Take some deep breaths to release tension in your forehead, shoulders, and belly. Establish an intention to keep checking in with your body throughout the meal. Forgive yourself in advance for any natural tendencies you might have to eat more than usual or not notice your fullness. Unless you eat out more often than not, it’s nothing to worry about.

Mindful eating is a practice, but it’s also a habit. So if eating mindfully at parties, or restaurants, or work is really hard for you, you might want to focus more on eating mindfully at home or wherever is easiest, as much as possible. Over time, you’ll be able to use your skills in more challenging situations with more ease.

If you’re new to mindful eating, you might want to begin by following a guided mindful eating meditation, like this:

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