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Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits.

It has been shown to cause weight loss, reduce binge eating and help you feel better.

This article explains what mindful eating is, how it works and what you need to do to get started.

Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating.
Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that helps you recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations (1, 2, 3, 4).

It has helped treat many conditions, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and various food-related behaviors (5, 6, 7).

Mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues when eating (8).

Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:

  • Eating slowly and without distraction.
  • Listening to physical hunger cues and eating only until you’re full.
  • Distinguishing between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating.
  • Engaging your senses by noticing colors, smells, sounds, textures and tastes.
  • Learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.
  • Eating to maintain overall health and well-being.
  • Noticing the effects food has on your feelings and figure.
  • Appreciating your food.

These things allow you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions with more conscious, healthier responses (9).

Bottom Line: Mindful eating relies on mindfulness, a form of meditation. Mindful eating is about developing awareness of your experiences, physical cues and feelings about food.

Why Should You Try Mindful Eating?

In our fast-paced society, we face an abundance of food choices every day.

On top of that, distractions have shifted our attention away from the actual act of eating and onto televisions, computers and smartphones.

Eating has become a mindless act, often done quickly. This can be problematic, since it actually takes the brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full.

If you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you’ve already eaten too much. This is very common in binge eating.

By eating mindfully, you restore your attention and slow down, making eating an intentional act instead of an automatic one.

Also, by increasing your recognition of physical hunger and fullness cues, you’ll be able to distinguish between emotional and actual, physical hunger (10).

Furthermore, you’ll increase your awareness of triggers that make you want to eat, even though you’re not necessarily hungry.

By knowing your triggers, you can create a space between them and the response. That gives you the time and freedom to actually choose your response.

Bottom Line: Mindful eating helps you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. It also increases your awareness of food-related triggers and gives you the freedom to choose your response to them.

Mindful Eating and Weight Loss

It is a well-known fact that most weight loss programs don’t work in the long term.

Around 85 percent of obese individuals who lose weight return to or exceed their initial weight within a few years (11).

Binge eating, emotional eating, external eating and eating in response to food cravings have been linked to weight gain and weight regain after successful weight loss (12, 13, 14, 15).

Chronic exposure to stress may also play a large role in overeating and the development of obesity (16, 17).

The vast majority of studies agree that mindful eating helps you lose weight by changing eating behaviors and reducing stress (18).

A 6-week group seminar on mindful eating among obese individuals resulted in an average weight loss of 9 lbs (4 kg) during the seminar and the 12-week follow-up period (10).

Another 6-month seminar resulted in an average weight loss of 26 lbs (12 kg), without any regained weight in the following 3-month period (19).

By changing the way you think about food, the negative feelings that may be associated with eating are replaced with awareness, improved self-control and positive emotions (17, 20, 21, 22, 23).

When unwanted eating behaviors are addressed, the chances of long-term weight loss success are increased.

Bottom Line: Mindful eating may be very helpful with weight loss, changing eating behaviors and reducing the stress associated with eating.

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