How to Eat More Mindfully in 19 Seconds

by | Mar 24, 2014

Photo by ashley rose,

Mindful eating has been the most difficult healthstyle habit for me to cultivate. By far.

Although I have developed several tactics to help me remember to slow down and pay attention to my food, it is usually the first thing to slip when stress and life get the better of me.

Humans, especially Americans, are notoriously susceptible to triggers in our surroundings that provoke overeating. Rather than paying attention to when we’re full or have eaten enough, we’re more likely to continue eating just because there is more food on the plate, the TV show we’re watching is still on, or because everyone else is still eating.

Dieters are even worse than most people in this department, since they have a long history of ignoring their internal satiety signals that tell them when they are and aren’t hungry.

When you eat mindlessly your environment wins and you’re more likely to overeat. You also appreciate your food less, since you aren’t focused on the sensory pleasures of eating. Cultivating mindful eating habits is therefore one of the most valuable tools in your foodist tool belt, because it helps you eat less while enjoying it more.

The benefits of practicing mindfulness are not limited to the realm of food. Cultivating mindful behaviors in your daily life has been shown to reduce stress, improve memory, and increase well-being overall.

When I noticed that wedding stress was taking a serious toll on me, I began relying heavily on what is known as 4-7-8 breathing to calm myself. I first learned about this practice in Dr. Andrew Weil’s book Spontaneous Happiness (a fabulous book, especially if you ever experience depression or other emotional disorders), and noticed that it had a tremendous positive effect on me, particularly when I was experiencing bouts of anxiety.

4-7-8 breathing is a short exercise that helps quiet the mind. To begin, lay down or sit in a chair with a straight back and close your eyes. Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, just above your front teeth. Exhale through your mouth while making a blowing noise. Close your mouth and inhale through the nose for a count of four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale for eight seconds. Do this four times, then slowly open your eyes. Here’s a nice video demo if you want to check it out.

In the months leading up to the wedding I would use 4-7-8 breaths one to three times per day to reduce stress, and the experience became so pleasant and rewarding to me that I’ve continued it even after the actual wedding date. One of the benefits I’ve noticed is that if my 4-7-8 breaths come shortly before a meal (which is often, since it is usually the first time during the day when I sit in a chair that isn’t behind a screen), then remembering to chew thoroughly and eat mindfully is much, much easier.

Remembering to eat mindfully can be very difficult. If you’re being mindless, how are you supposed to remember to be more mindful? If you remember to be mindful, aren’t you being mindful already? It can be tricky, so 4-7-8 breathing is an incredibly valuable tool to help build the habit. I think it works because the reward for calming the mind with breaths is stronger than simply eating slowly, which feels difficult in practice. You also get the additional benefits of less stress and more focus. Everyone is a winner.

Have you found breathing exercises can help you eat more mindfully? 

Originally published April 17, 2013.

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13 Responses to “How to Eat More Mindfully in 19 Seconds”

  1. Hi Darya, I’m a big fan of “the amazing 4-7-8”, which seems to increase in efficacy when used more regularly. I just blogged about 4-7-8 and the reminder for it that my DH made so I remember to incorporate it as a go-to. Here is a shameless link about that, which happens to also have a link to another one of your mindful eating posts (!):

    Interestingly, when I remember to do 4-7-8 before the first bite of a meal, I think I enjoy it more, which paradoxically has me eating less. Is it me – – or has anyone else experienced this?

    P.S. Only 20 days to go for when I can read Foodist (your book) on my Kindle – – woo hoo!

  2. Love this, Darya. I first read Dr. Weil’s Eating Well for Optimal Health a decade ago. Haven’t yet checked out Spontaneous Happiness, but will do so after reading your post. I take as many mindful breaks as possible during the day, and will add the 4-7-8 technique to my repertoire.

    I can also recommend Andy Puddicombe’s online mindfulness/meditation program at as a great way to start the day out on a mindful footing.

    Finally, since Caroline set the precedent above, thought I’d share a blog post I wrote a few months ago about eating the fruits of a mindfully cooked meal. I found Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal, to be deeply inspirational in that regard.

    Thanks again for the breathing tip! Martha

  3. Hilary says:

    Hi Darya! I’ll have to try this out – but I’m really just commenting because just seconds ago I pre-ordered your book! So excited to get it! Do you think it will come out later in Canada? I honestly have no idea when it will arrive – I didn’t even think to check haha

    Thanks for all your sound insight!

  4. Steph M says:

    Love this post. I’ve been doing a breathing exercise similar to 4-7-8 (came across this concept from one of Anthony Robbin’s book). However, I don’t apply it directly to eating but do it the first thing I wake up in the morning. It puts my mind in a state of calm and mindfulness so I’m more prepared to start the day. But I would think that it will definitely help if directed to eating, as it generally takes me out of a mindless reactive state.

  5. Sarah Taggs says:

    I am the worst perp of this ever. I’m so busy that food is like a “get it in as fast as possible so I can do the next thing.” It’s such a difficult habit to break, so I’ll try this. Thanks!

  6. Sarah M says:

    I guess I should learn to slow down and pay attention to my food more. It is because I have tendency to do other things while eating my food. Sometimes I tend to focus on television so I could not concentrate on what I am eating. 4-7-8 breaths seem interesting. It is so nice for Dr. Weil to share this tip and even demonstrate how to do it. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Hi Darya! I love how you’ve found breathing so effective in reducing stress and anxiety! It’s so very easy! I love Dr Weill too, and I’ve done a post about Spontaneous Healing too 🙂 But I was wondering if you have heard of simply nose breathing? No counting, etc necessary. Well, there probably is some counting in some nasal breathing techniques, but I just stick with in/out my nose, and there are SO many benefits…benefits anyone doing 4-7-8 would also experience since that’s a mostly closed mouth ratio (4:15). Well, here you go! Hope you enjoy 🙂 Happy Sunday!

  8. I’ve heard before that a lot of people eat too fast and because of that they eat too much. Of course the cure for that is to slow down when you’re eating but like you said that can be difficult to do. With this breathing exercise it really would be easier to slow down and enjoy life whether it’s food (which I definitely love to savor anyway) or anything else in life.

    Taking away distractions really does make it easier for people to eat too much and too quickly as well. It’s so important I’ve even included it in my article about how to stop overeating.

  9. Tiffany says:

    I find myself often stressed. I will definitely practice 4-7-8 breathing to relieve myself of some of these pressures I’ve been experiencing lately. Thanks for the tips!

  10. Rosa Hall says:

    Darya, this is definitely something I’m excited to try now!

  11. Sara says:

    I struggle with this, and this may be a good tool for me. I have always eaten fast (when I was a kid it was because I wanted to hurry up so I could go outside and play) I still have the same attitude. I know this is an old post of yours, but it still resonates today. Thanks for all of the insight – I’m 101 pages into your book and you’d think I was reading a mystery – I’m so hooked. Your ideas are seriously changing my life in a way that I have simply been too afraid to try.

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