NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Mindless or Mindful Eating

Mindless or Mindful Eating

A newer phrase on the nutrition scene is “mindful eating”. Have you ever been surprised when your hand hits the bottom of the popcorn bucket at the movies? Or been surprised when the bag of chips is empty before you’ve finished reading a favorite book? These are all symptoms of mindless or unconscious eating.  We aren’t aware of how much we’ve eaten and so are surprised when we reach the bottom of the popcorn bucket.  Mindful eating focuses our attention on the food we are enjoying.

Many Americans multi-task and combine eating with other activities.  We eat while we watch TV, drive, work-- even while talking on the telephone/cell phone.   And many people eat too fast, so busy filling the next forkful that they don't notice the bite in their mouth. Since your brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, you'll miss the subtle signs of fullness which in turn means you won't stop until you feel uncomfortable or until you run out of food.

The opposite of absent minded eating is mindful eating.  Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention to what you are eating.  Proponents of mindful eating propose that it will allow you to have optimal satisfaction and enjoyment from food without eating to excess.  As mindful eating can enable you to become more fully aware of every bite you take, mindful eating can lead to a significant decrease in mindless eating—where you just ‘nosh’ on snacks and aren’t even fully aware of what and how much you’re taking in.   Mindful eating can also help you really savor your food; enjoying it more fully so you require less of it to feel satisfies.  Mindful eating is also promoted as a great stress management technique

The first—and simplest—step you can take to develop a mindful eating approach to your regular meals is to stop eating while you engage in other activities.  Most importantly, that means not eating in front of the television. Studies show that adults who eat in front of the television tend to eat more and enjoy their food less; research also shows that children who eat in front of the television are at a higher risk for obesity.

While removing distractions can go a long way in reducing mindless eating, the practice of mindful eating goes a step further. When practicing mindful eating, focus deeply on each sensation you experience, both inside and out. Some specific things to pay attention to include:


  • The taste of the food - Specifically, focus on each individual flavor, how it feels on your tongue, how long the flavor lasts and how it fades.
  • The texture of the food- How does it feel to eat it? Is it satisfyingly crunchy? Smooth and creamy? Juicy?
  • The thoughts you experience as you eat - If other thoughts come into your head, notice them, but then gently redirect your attention to your mindful eating.
  • Physical sensations in your body- Notice how your hunger gradually moves into satisfaction. Try to pinpoint specific moments when you no longer feel hungry, and no longer need more food to feel satisfied. Often when people eat mindlessly, they’re left with a ‘stuffed’ feeling afterward because they didn’t notice when they were full.
  • Tension in your body.
    If you feel tense from a stressful day, try to relax your muscles. Let your shoulders drop and relax, let your breathing switch to deep breathing, and just relax and enjoy your food!

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