Years ago, I remember – vaguely – someone explaining mindful eating to me.
Mindful eating, I was told, was where you’re fully present in your eating experience. You’re aware of your hunger level, fullness factor, your food’s taste and texture, it’s aroma, etc.
There are no “off-limit” foods. No counting calories. And for sure no formal meal plans.
I – being someone who grew up watching (and hearing) their mother relentlessly count calories to remain at a healthy weight … and being someone who followed suit – was petrified of eating this way.
Trust your body? No counting calories? Be healthy?!
You might as well have been speaking French …
I didn’t speak French.
Today, however, mindful eating is what I live by.
Honestly, I shudder when I think back at how I used to be with food. There was no enjoyment. Just the constant game of “how close can I eat to 1200 calories today?”
Mindful eating has changed my life, and it can change yours too, if you’re open + willing.
You simply need to understand the basics and what most experts get totally wrong about it – probably making you super frustrated.
The intention of this post is to help you get on the mindful eating train, even if you’ve tried and fallen off before. Or, at least open your mind to it. And stay with me until the end – because there’s a pretty awesome surprise that’ll help guide you.
What is mindful eating?
According to The Center for Mindful Eating:
Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food.
As you see, with mindful eating, there’s a deep understanding that food is both nourishing to the body and for the soul aka fear and food don’t exist in the same sentence, as they do in many diets.
Here, your goal is simply to show up fully for your meal and pay attention. Be mindful. So that you can learn to observe (instead of judge) yourself during and after your eating experience. What you liked about it, what you didn’t like about it. For example, did you go too long without eating anything and then overeat? Did you eat past the point of fullness?
A judging response is something like:
I suck. I can’t do this. I always eat until I’m too full. I can’t even get this right!
An observational response is something like:
OK, so I’m way too full right now and uncomfortable. I brought my work baggage to my meal and skipped a proper lunch today. It’s time for me to seriously start planning ahead and having lunch and not going the whole afternoon without food, setting myself up for a binge! And I’m going to practice not letting others’ stuff stay with me. I’m going to imagine it sliding off of me, so I can move forward and not emotionally eat so much.
Do you see the (huge) difference?
One responses keeps you stuck in the story of “I can’t.” And the other allows you to connect the dots from your observations so you can start making serious lasting change.
Also note that with mindful eating, you’re present. Which means no eating while watching TV, driving or scrolling through your Insta feed. In other words, you’re mindful. Why the name makes so much gosh-darn sense (wink, wink).
And when you’re mindful, you tune-in to not only your emotions, but your food – it’s taste, texture, aroma, and color.
Lastly, and quite possibly most importantly, you’re allowing your hunger and fullness cues to guide you. Like a child, you eat when you’re hungry and you stop when you’re full. We’ll get to how you start this below.
I don’t have any hunger cues – how can I mindfully eat? Aka what most experts get wrong about it.
This is where most experts go wrong and where you may get frustrated, if this is you. If you have no hunger cues – whether that be from years of dieting or consistently ignoring you hunger, quite simply, you won’t be able to honor your hunger cues because they’re A) Not going to really be there; or B) They’ll be there, but late at night after going without food most of the day, or only in the late afternoon because your hunger hormones and system are out of sync.
So, you can’t just go tell someone to eat mindfully when the cues to help them do so simply aren’t there.
That being said, what do you?
If you have no hunger cues or you’re currently ingrained in the pattern of backloading your day (eating mostly at night), the most important thing is to get your body on a consistent schedule. A pattern. Our bodies love patterns.
In short, what this looks like is within 90-minutes of waking, get in some nourishment. Break the fast. Then, every 3-4 hours after this point, eat something (think protein + produce) and keep checking-in with yourself every 3-4 hours throughout the day to get in some fuel.
For example, if you wake at 7 am, eat around 8 am. You then may want a snack around 10:30-11 am or maybe you can wait until lunch, around noon (see how you feel- you are your own best teacher). Come 3 or 4 pm, you have a snack. Then 6 or 7 pm dinner. If you’re staying up until midnight and you at dinner at 6 pm, you may even need a small bite, like a tablespoon of natural nut butter or an apple to keep you satisfied and feeling good.
The main point here is that you’re consistently nourishing your body. You’re not eating like a sumo wrestler, where you go all day without food, stock-up, and sleep.
So, if you don’t have any hunger cues, don’t panic. Just get your body in a rhythm and show up present to your eating occasion.
Tune-in to your foods’ textures, eat without distraction, take pauses and check-in on how full you are and honor when you are.
Within a couple weeks – three tops – you’ll start to get hunger cues – which is awesome. It means your body is on track.
In sum: no hunger cues? Get your body on a schedule + tune-in so you can start honoring your hunger and fullness.
How can I practice mindful eating?
Start thinking of your hunger on a scale.
If we let ourselves get to a 0 – totally empty – it’s our body’s physiological reaction to freak out and want to eat and eat and eat because we have no more gas in our tank. We want to avoid this, as you’d imagine.
When our hunger starts to awaken and we feel physiological hunger (stomach rumbles, pains, and aches, feeling lightheaded or weak) we want to eat. This marks around a 3-4 on the hunger scale. Our hunger means our metabolism is working. It’s our body communicating with our brains, saying, “Hey, feed me!”
So know that this kind of hunger is a good thing. So often we’re feed a low-level message that hunger is bad. Try to avoid it, and eat as little as possible…. Total BS. You know where that gets you? …. Face first polishing off a bag of Doritos or Ben and Jerry’s. Appreciate your hunger. Honor it. And fuel your body with healthy stuff. Yes, it can be that simple. It really can.
So before you eat, take 5 seconds to check-in with yourself and ask, “How hungry am I?” Then, rank it on the hunger scale. Get aware.
Throughout your meal, notice your fullness. You want to stop eating around a 6-7.5 – just satisfied to completely satisfied.
We want to avoid the 7.5-10 zone (so stuffed we feel sick) because it feels so gosh-darn uncomfortable. Plus, it can set you up in that vicious cycle of eating too much, feeling super guilty, eating very little, getting super hunger, getting too stuffed and repeat, repeat, repeat.
As you’re starting to see, the object of mindful eating is to keep your body balanced. To always be somewhere in the 3 (hunger pangs) to 7.5 (completely satisfied) zone. To avoid going too far on either end of the spectrums. Our bodies don’t like extremes.
Remember, eating this way is a practice. Look at it like an experiment. It’s a totally new of eating that will take a bit of time, but once you start and really tune-in and show up for every meal like this, you’ll catch on fast. And pretty soon, it’ll just become how you eat naturally, and I can tell you from personal experience that once it does, it’s amazing.
What happens if I have a hard time recognizing fullness?
One of the biggest reasons we have a hard time recognizing fullness is because we don’t allow ourselves the time to. We eat quickly, on-the-go, without our brains being able to recognize that yes, we are – in fact – full.
So give yourself time. Eat slower. Eat on a plate. Or, at least eat without any distractions. Make meal time something special. It can take up to 20 minutes, from the start of eating, for your brain to recognize that you’re full. Give yourself time.
Other things to look for, if you’re not feeling full even after 20 minutes:
:: Did your meal include a protein food? (i.e. chicken, fish, buffalo, yogurt, eggs, beans/lentils, steak, seafood, turkey, tempeh, tofu). Protein helps you feel fuller longer and fuels lean muscle mass.
:: Did you go too long without eating anything? More than 5 hours – getting yourself in the 0-3 hunger scale zone? Or maybe you skipped a post-workout snack?: If we go too long without eating, we’re setting ourselves up to overeat because we have a harder time feeling full because we’re sooooo hungry! Same thing goes for skipping post-workout nutrition.
:: Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Our brains can mistake thirst for hunger. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest at least 2 liters of water per day.
:: Are you eating enough produce at your meals, specifically veggies? So important and they should be at every meal. You can never go wrong with too many veggies.
:: Are you totally skipping healthy carbs (like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole-grain bread, beans/lentils)? Healthy carbs can make you feel full and satisfied. If you’re always hungry and avoiding them, try adding some back and see what happens.
:: You’re depriving yourself of what you really want. We all know that we want what we can’t have. This isn’t about depriving yourself, it’s simply about honoring your hunger and fullness. If you really want something, enjoy it!
Will mindful eating help me lose weight?
Maybe. Maybe not.
However, I guarantee that if you make this your way of eating that it’ll change your relationship with food, your body, and yourself. The intention of mindful eating is about cultivating awareness because quite simply, we can’t change something unless we’re aware of it.
Remember, it’s one thing to fuel our bodies when we’re hungry. And, it’s a totally different thing when we eat when we’re not hungry; when we eat to numb, to avoid; or because we’re frustrated.
Mindful eating has us tuning-in and connecting the dots to recognize what we really need. It’s not about losing weight, although that can happen when you’re awake and aware. It’s about nourishing yourself mindfully, honoring your hunger and fullness, and being connected to your body and nutrition choices.
So allow yourself to simply observe without judging yourself + be kind to yourself along the way. As I always say, “Observation is power for change.” Let’s make some really good change.
A FREE tool to help you start making change and practice mindful eating.
Want to start getting aware? Below is a food worksheet to help you start. Print it out. Make copies. Do it. The intention behind this worksheet is for you to start tuning-in to what’s going on around your food, emotions, and hunger levels, allowing you to connect the dots and make the best decisions based on where you want to go in your wellness journey.
The most important part of this worksheet -believe it or not – isn’t what you ate – it’s the “observations for the day.”
Because – say it with me now – observation is power for change. Observing, reflecting, and connecting the dots is what allows us to make serious radical lasting change. So, if you’re serious about this, do it. Put in the work. You’re worth it.
So far, I’ve only shared this with coaching clients and groups, but I’ve seen the type of awesome change when this worksheet is really used, so I want to share it with you too.
I’d love to hear if this post was helpful or your biggest takeaway below in the comments!
With so much love + a great big ol’ honkin’ hug,
P.S. If any of this hits home for you, check out my signature online course, Ditch the Diet. Get MORE.
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