9 Simple Tricks To Eat More Mindfully

by | Mar 6, 2013

Photo by Orin Zebest

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?

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41 Responses to “9 Simple Tricks To Eat More Mindfully”

  1. Kevin says:

    I’m willing ti try 2, 6, 7, & 9. The others are too much to ask of me. LOL

  2. The biggest thing I’ve done to be more mindful of what I’m eating is to do as much of the cooking myself as possible and keep track of everything I put into each dish. When I’m photographing dishes and need to take presentation into account, sometimes I’m painfully aware. :)

  3. Mary says:

    I particularly like suggestion #5 – the idea of taking the first bite eyes closed suggests to me that I could focus on the flavors blooming and changing, rather than other extraneous and distracting details. Cool!

    As a creative home cook, #6 comes naturally to me – whenever I’m eating something made by someone else, I naturally go into what my hubby calls “analysis mode”: tasting carefully, looking closely, trying to determine not only ingredients but preparation method, so that I can duplicate the effort at home if desired. In a restaurant, it’s not at all unusual for me to whip out a notepad and pen and take notes on a dish I find particularly appealing – or one that my hubby indicates he likes particularly well. I’ve added many dishes to my repertoire this way!

    Thanks for a great, meaningful post Jamie – I really enjoy your blog & recipes.

    Mary D.

    • Darya Pino says:

      My name is Darya, but thanks!

    • You are right on. My life time goal has been to develop healthy food. But behavior modification, awareness to every bite, enjoyment of company and environment, slow down!!!! I have been a Type 1 Diabetic for 45 years. I am a Registered Dietitian, Certified Food Scientist and have spent my life Developing Products in Food Manufacturing only to develop healthy foods. The consumer, marketing professionals nor dietitians do not understand that a high percentage of US people do not cook they purchase
      Prepared and take out. If I could help you I would love to.

  4. My son is a fast eater. He can do 7, 8, and 9 pretty well, but not the other suggestions. I tell him to keep and eye on other people’s plates so he can pace himself and not finish far ahead of the others.

  5. Madhu says:

    Try eating without fork. Bare hands. Hone your fine motor skills.

    A clumsy way to eat with bare hands : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evrKYqsVMaM

    How its actually done : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evrKYqsVMaM

    Bonus : You actually wash your hands before eating.

  6. Peg says:

    I like to begin with a brief prayer, or with the Japanese custom of saying Itadakimasu (I have received this). I think it leads to a great appreciation of the food and the people behind it.

  7. Huey says:

    Take a picture of your food. If you want, use an app like The Eatery.

  8. claypotclub says:

    The chopsticks trick doesn’t work when you grew up using them. However, the non-dominant hand thing would work for me.

    Chewing extra also allows food the time to break down chemically through salivary enzyme action, which reveals flavors compounds that were previously hidden.

    I find a good way to cut down on consumption is to avoid eating bad food. When the food is bad, I find myself paradoxically eating more as a way to become satisfied. It sounds stupid, but looking back on what I’ve eaten in a week, I often eat just because it’s convenient or available, not because it was delicious.

  9. Cayanne says:

    Every bite has a beginning middle and end. This help to avoid the shovel in approach to eating.

    Think about all the hands that helped bring the food to the table. Include the folks who built the hwy, trucks that carry the food to the store, the people who built the store. If you drove or rode a bicycle to the store, include the factory people who made your mode of transportation. What about the parents who raise all these people. It takes more than a village to bring a meal to the table, even if you grew all the food yourself.

    That’s the kind of things that come to mind when I remember to eat mindefully.

  10. Dee says:

    This is still my biggest problem… I normally eat with fork alone, way I’ll try is knife and fork and prayer before meals

  11. Dee says:

    Time each bite – chew time: rest time 1min:30s… Yes i Use stopwatch to eat, each bite counts as 1 Lap.

    Wrote a mindful eating practice….

  12. Lin says:

    I found out one of the best ways for me to eat mindfully is to learn how to cook, and how to cook well (even if it’s just super simple recipes). I appreciate the time I put into it, and by eating slowly and savoring it, it’s kind of my own private way of complimenting myself on how good of a cook I’ve become. And who wants to demolish something in two minutes that took a good chunk of time to put together?

  13. Joe Garma says:

    The chop stick technique works well for me and is fun, unless you’re completely inept using them, but which then would make this even a better way to slow down the food shoveling.

    Another idea is to set your mind to mindful eating even before the food is ready by drinking a large glass of water as you prepare the meal.

    This has two effects: 1. Helps fill you up so you won’t ravage the food and potentially over eat, and 2. Begins the transition from busy person to becoming mindful about eating once at the table.

    Yep.

    -Joe

  14. fanny says:

    ‘hide your kids, hide your wife’

    Summer tomato, breaking families since 2008.

    also, i’m guessing the weird rapist link was for the tv and not the family.

  15. Diana says:

    “Hide yo kids, hide yo wife” Haha! It will help me remember this posting, therefore remind me to practice mindful eating!
    I bring all my food to work and although I have been at fault of eating while on the computer working, I have started to turn everything off and sit down at my coffee table, instead of the desk, to eat my meals in peace.

  16. I love this post, have just come across I now. My husband really needs to follow these tips, he just bites and swallows!

  17. Hilary says:

    Love the new look! Love the post! love love love

  18. fanny says:

    Cute new look for the site. I like how clean it is. Congrats!

  19. Kari says:

    I’m never going to be dedicated enough to count or time my chews, because if I’m doing that I’m not thinking things I’d rather like “mmm, I love chard.”

    My favorite way to eat mindfully may not apply to everyone but I like to eat different things as often as I can. New recipes, new restaurants, you’ll want to pay attention to the new tastes and textures. It’s way easier to sit up and pay attention when your meal is not the same sandwich you’ve eaten every day for years. (Until such time as you realize you haven’t had that in long enough that it sounds awesome.)

    I got chuckles out of a few of these. Chopsticks are underrated. I love them for most things.

    I work in massage and when I was in school, our first assignment was to begin brushing teeth with non dominant hands. Oh my gosh it’s hard at first!

  20. Liane says:

    Wow. These tips are great. I read a great mindful eating book and have become non-mindful again. So good to tell me to make it a date in the diary as a separate thing to do and non-dominant hand and the chopsticks and smaller mouthfuls all appeal to my inner child so thank you. :)

  21. Rhonda says:

    Darya, I came across your site while researching veggie-heavy diets and I have loved your kale and pecans, eggs and cabbage, and collard/carrot/lentil recipes, and am definitely getting your book (ebook, right?).

    But I’m now hooked on summertomato because of your Antoine Dodson ‘hide your kids, hide your wife’ link! I immediately caught the reference and couldn’t believe you knew of it (being from the Dodson’s hometown, I’ve seen this many times; I’m sincerely glad that the Dodsons reaped a little financial reward off the music video someone made of it.)

    Anyway, a blog promoting a smile and a laugh along with good eating habits is a healthy blog indeed!

  22. Maria says:

    This post made me think of a film I’ve recently seen. I recommend it to everyone, it’s really funny and I think it shows us how to practice ‘mindfulness’ both in eating and in general.
    The title is Megane and it was directed by Naoko Ogigami.

  23. Katy says:

    I appreciate the Antoine Dodson reference at the end:) Thanks for a great post!

  24. Kelsey says:

    I have a problem of sorts and I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced something similar. For the past few weeks I’ve been following these of Darya’s mindful eating guidelines:

    4. Put your fork down between each bite
    6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
    7. Put your food on a plate
    8. Sit at a table

    I haven’t missed a single meal with these and as a result my eating has become much slower, much more mindful, and much, much more controlled.

    The “problem” is (and I don’t know if it’s even fair to call it a problem, but it’s making me sad) that I haven’t felt HUNGER in days. Maybe my stomach is shrinking? Maybe what I know as “hunger” is actually a binging instinct? I don’t know. All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, I’m happy to eat breakfast, but nowhere near hungry. At lunch time, I have to remind myself to eat. And dinner, I’ve gotten to the point where a glass of wine and a handful of berries or kale chips is all I have room for. THIS IS CRAZY FOR ME because I have always been one to LOVE dinnertime and zestfully dig into a giant bowl of pasta.

    I’m glad I’m losing weight- I’ve lost nearly 8 pounds so far and I have 10 or so to go. But I’m confused. Food still TASTES good to me, but my appetite seems to be nearly nonexistent.

    If it helps to know- typically I’ll have a cup of muesli with a cup of hemp or almond milk for breakfast. Lunch is beans or fried eggs (usually 2) with a cup of brown rice and a couple cups of either mixed greens with dressing or sauteed greens like kale or beet tops. Dinner, like I said, is down to a small glass of wine and maybe a handful of berries, kale chips, or a square of dark chocolate or something.

    I also walk at least 5 miles per day.

    Anyone identify with this weirdness at all????? Is my body just in transition or something???????

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi Kelsey,

      I wouldn’t worry too much about this. I’m sure your body (and your brain’s perception of it) is making adjustments, and it will even itself out as you settle into your new habits.

      A few random thoughts that may help: 1) I only eat half a cup of muesli in the morning, and cook it with water and then just splash some almond milk on top for creaminess. It makes me very full. 2) Similarly, a cup of brown rice sounds like a lot for a female, especially with beans and eggs and veggies. Maybe cutting these portions down a bit will increase your desire for dinner?

      I’m impressed the mindful eating techniques are working so well for you!

      • Kelsey says:

        Ah! Thank you so much! I am famous for worrying about things that aren’t actually a problem (:

        I think my portion sizes were so out of control huge before starting this journey that my current portion sizes seemed comparatively small. I’ll try reducing portion sizes for a few days and see how I feel.

        Thanks!!!!

  25. Sagara says:

    I really like this post. I have just started honing in on eating as a mindfulness practice. I think you need to find something that is sustainable and does not mean you stop enjoying eating. I have written something here if you are interested: [link removed]
    Sagara

  26. Thomas says:

    I’ve been eating with chopsticks in my non-dominant hand, with my eyes closed throughout the entire meal, for several months now, and I’ve lost kilos upon kilos. I really recommend this technique.

  27. Trevor says:

    I totally agree with using your non-dominant hand. It’s a great way to be more mindful of anything, like shaving, tying knots, or cleaning. Plus, you get the added benefit of creating balance in the dexterity of your body. Being ambidextrous is cool. :^)

  28. Julie says:

    I’m going to try this! I think one of my biggest problems these days is tied to not eating mindfully. When I was young, people used to make fun of how little I ate… so I trained myself over the years to eat more, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. However, years later, and now I eat every meal like it’s my last! I over eat BIG TIME and shovel food into my mouth faster than I can chew.

    This article, combined with the video you did Tuesday about taking small steps just might put me on the path to a healthy foodstyle! Thanks so much!!

  29. Katey says:

    Hi
    Some very good ideas here,lefthand and chopsticks sounds good but for one problem!
    Please can we have a list of tips for not eating half your food before it gets to my plate. Sounds pathetic I know, I tell myself before I cook not to then the demon on my shoulder eats half my food——-HELP——–
    Really love everything you do—tips–recipes–and everything—–
    Love and Best Wishes from Sunny Cyprus where the frit and veggies are to die for!

    Katey McM xx

  30. Toni says:

    thanks for a great list! I cook a lot, so I usually know all the ingredients, but trying to pick them out one by one is a neat exercise to try. I also like the idea of eating with the non-dominant hand. That’s a great idea for slowing down (something I struggle with!)

    I’ll be posting my own list of 7 mindful eating tips tomorrow. I hope you’ll check it out!

  31. Kate says:

    Love the chopsticks idea! Should make eating things like spaghetti waaay more interesting :)

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