Whenever anyone tells me they eat healthy but still can’t lose weight, I ask them if they practice mindful eating. Most people just stare back at me blankly, wondering what on earth I’m talking about and whether there’s a chance I’ve traded in my lab coat for some new age crystals and incense.
No, I’m not a hippy. Far from it in fact. But I do think that just about everyone could benefit from adopting some principles of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, particularly when it comes to your eating habits.
There is a wealth of scientific data that eating quickly, not chewing thoroughly and not paying attention to what and how much you’re eating can result in substantial overeating—and even healthy foods can cause you to gain weight if you eat enough of them. Though sometimes this mindlessness can be used in your favor, more often than not you’ll be lulled into a false sense of security and eat more than you intend.
The good news is that these mindless habits can be overcome with practice. The bad news is that like most bad habits, it is difficult to change your behavior without concerted effort. But if you’re committed to the practice, mindfulness does become easier and you’ll learn to enjoy your food more and naturally eat less.
Keep in mind as you’re reading through this list that different things work for different people, and some of these will be much easier for you than others. My goal is to present you with as many options as possible that have worked for myself or others so that you can pick and choose those that fit best with your habits and lifestyle.
9 Simple Tricks To Eat More Mindfully
1. Chew 25 times
Chewing is probably the simplest and most effective way develop the habit of eating mindfully. There used to be an entire dieting movement, led by the late Horace Fletcher, based on the idea that chewing more helped you eat less. Though Fletcher took this idea a little far (and was arguably a little crazy), there is reliable scientific data that extra chewing results in less overall food intake.
I recommend 25 chews per bite here, but likely anything over 20 chews will provide a benefit. The most important part is that you choose a number and count your chews until you reach it. The number itself is less consequential.
To help myself remember to chew thoroughly I’ve used iPhone apps such as Reminders! to ping me a few minutes before my usual mealtimes with a simple Chew 25 Times reminder.
2. Feed yourself with your non-dominant hand
Making things more difficult is a great way to force yourself to pay attention to what you’re doing. One simple way to do this is to force yourself to eat with your non-dominant hand, which for 90% of us is our left hand. It might be too much to do this for every meal, but trying it for breakfast and snacks is a good place to start.
Be careful though, if you get too good at it you can slip back into your mindless habits.
3. Eat every thing with chopsticks for a week
Even if you grew up with chopsticks as your primary utensil, you’ve probably never used them to eat a sandwich or a bag of chips.
I once heard a story about a local tech company that asked a bunch of their employees to use chopsticks exclusively for a week as a mindfulness exercise. Although weight loss was not the goal, everyone in the office lost weight and several reported life changing realizations as a result of the project.
One person dropped his morning bagel habit when he realized that the chopsticks prevented him from experiencing the part of the ritual that he enjoyed the most. Apparently the taste of the bagel was not as appealing as the act of ripping it apart with his hands. Once he realized that actually eating the bagel wasn’t important to him he decided to give it up.
4. Put your fork down between each bite
Putting your fork down between bites of food is an excellent complement to the chewing habit. The act of setting your fork down forces you to focus on chewing your food rather than letting yourself mindlessly pick at your plate for your next bite. It also encourages you to slow down and attend more to the taste of your food, instead of just shoveling it down your throat as quickly as possible.
5. Take your first bite with your eyes closed
I once went to a restaurant where the entire dining experience, including being seated at our table, occurred in the pitch dark. The idea was to focus exclusively on the experience of eating, without the distraction of vision. Unfortunately the food at this restaurant was terrible, and focusing on it only made this point more obvious. But it was a good lesson, and I was certainly not tempted to overeat as a result.
While eating all of your meals in the dark, or even with your eyes closed, is not very practical, taking the time to taste your first bite with your full attention can help you eat the rest of your meal more mindfully. Focus on all the flavors in your mouth and how they interact, as well as the smells and textures. This will help you both appreciate your food and eat more slowly.
6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
Trying to taste and identify all the different ingredients in your meal is another great way to focus on the present moment and eat more mindfully. This is particularly fun at restaurants, when you didn’t make the food yourself. An added bonus of this technique is it may also help you become more creative in the kitchen.
7. Put your food on a plate
It may sound obvious, but eating out of a bag is not a very mindful practice. Get in the habit of placing even small snacks and desserts on a plate before you eat them. This will force you to acknowledge exactly what and how much you will be eating.
8. Sit at a table
Once your food is on a plate, you may as well go the extra mile to sit at a table. Formalizing your dining experience can help draw your attention to your food and your eating habits.
9. Eat in Silence
Put away your phone, turn off the TV, hide your kids, hide your wife. Any sensation that you experience outside of taste and smell while you’re eating can distract you and make mindful eating more difficult.
While going through an entire meal in pure silence may be a bit much for most of us, designating the first 3-5 minutes of a meal for quiet and mindful practice can be an effective strategy.
What are your tricks for eating more mindfully?