Mindful eating is all about slowing down and savoring your food. It takes a little practice, but here’s a list of tips and tricks to get you started. Don’t feel the need to master everything at once; just choose a few, then sit back, relax and enjoy where your new mindfulness journey takes you.
1. Pick a proper plate.
It may sound silly, but it’s true: A smaller plate will help you eat less. We’ve been conditioned to think we have to clean our plates completely. So if you choose a large plate, you’ll pile food on it to fill it up, and then you’ll probably eat until every last morsel has disappeared. Instead of a jumbo, 12-inch dinner plate, try a 10- or even 8-inch plate. Use the same trick with calorie-laden beverages: opt for a smaller glass. And yes, dishes and glasses are a must for meals. Never eat directly out of the bag or box or drink directly from a large container.
2. Be aware of portion size.
Know what the recommended portion size is for any foods you choose to eat, and stick to it, especially for meats and starches. If necessary, measure portions using a small kitchen scale. And it’s worth repeating: Unless it’s a food with an unlimited portion size (like carrot sticks), never eat directly out of the bag or box (especially if it’s a Chinese take-out container; those things are virtually bottomless).
3. Switch up the location of your meals.
Eating a meal in a different place than usual might allow for more reflection as you pause to take in the not-as-familiar surroundings. If it feels like your family normally eats in a rush, huddled around the kitchen table, try serving dinner in the dining room, if you have one. If it’s good weather, take everything outside, savoring the sights, sounds and scents of nature (or bustling city life) as a backdrop. Kids might also enjoy an impromptu indoor picnic. Simply sit together on a blanket you’ve spread on the floor.
Bonus Tip: Eating farther away from the kitchen (read: farther away from the food) will make it more difficult to load up on seconds. Which brings up another point: Put leftovers away before you start eating. Out of sight, out of mind.
4. Serve foods that require work to eat.
Being forced to eat more slowly is a built-in benefit of foods like fruits that aren’t yet peeled, nuts or seafood still in the shell, and edamame that has to first be removed from its fibrous outer casing.
Bonus Tip: If a food requires a little effort, chances are it’s a healthier, natural food, not something highly processed and packaged.
5. Banish distractions.
Dinnertime is the highlight of the day for many families, a chance to reconnect and catch up after a busy day. But other than conversation around the table, there should be no other distractions—no TV, no phones, no computers. If you enjoy listening to music while you eat, find something on your playlist with a slow, relaxing rhythm, and keep it at a low volume. Loud music with a fast tempo makes the body feel rushed, which leads to non-mindful eating. (In fact, moving diners in and out quickly is why many restaurants have upbeat music playing in the background.)
6. Change your utensils.
After years of using a fork to eat, you’ve no doubt mastered it. To slow down, try using your non-dominant hand, or turn the fork so the tines are pointing down, requiring a bit more work (and time) to get the food onto it. You could also try using a different utensil altogether; while you probably can’t eat soup with a fork, you could try using a spoon for different foods that you usually eat with a fork. For foods normally eaten by hand, like sandwiches or pizza, try using a knife and fork instead, and take smaller bites. This would also be an excellent time to practice using chopsticks.
7. Express gratitude.
Before you start eating, take a moment to be grateful for the meal you are about to enjoy. For some people, this may involve saying a prayer or reciting a short mantra. For others, it simply means expressing gratitude for the people (and, if your meal includes meat, poultry or fish, the animals) that made the meal possible. Where did your food come from? Is it organic? Did it cause any suffering? Do you feel good eating it? Think of the farmers who grew your food and, if it’s from your own garden, thank yourself. Think grateful thoughts for the laborers who picked it, the truck drivers who delivered it to the store or farmers’ market, the person who prepared it, and your dining companions, if you have them.
8. Channel your inner food critic.
Learn to really taste the food you’re eating. Roll it around on your tongue. Move it to the opposite side of your mouth. Notice if it’s salty or sweet, or neither. Is it crunchy or soft? Does it taste good or is it bland? Is it overcooked? If you made it yourself, what might you do differently next time? If you feel so inclined, jot your notes down in a food journal.
9. Chew… and chew again (and again).
Try to chew every bite of food 30 times. It won’t work every time or for every type of food, but just the act of attempting to do it—and counting to 30 in your head—will slow things down.
Bonus Tip: Smaller, well-chewed bites of food are easier for your system to digest.
After every bite, as you’re chewing 30 times and truly experiencing the tastes and textures of the food, put your utensils down on the table. Pause, for even a few moments, before picking up your utensils and taking the next bite.
11. Don’t worry about cleaning the plate.
When you eat too quickly, your stomach doesn’t get the “full” signal until it’s too late. But when you eat mindfully, your body will signal when it’s had enough. Most of us were admonished early in our lives to finish everything on our plate, but if you’re truly full, it’s okay to leave a little bit of food remaining on your plate rather than forcing it down and possibly making yourself sick. Save the rest, or compost what you know you won’t eat later. It seems wasteful, but once you master the practice of mindful eating, you’ll become more aware of portion sizes, and you’ll eventually reach the point when you serve yourself the correct amount to begin with.
12. Be patient.
As with any new behavior or habit, mindful eating takes time and practice. Success won’t happen immediately, so go easy on yourself (and your family) and be content with baby steps.
To learn more mindful tips, peruse our other articles on all things body, mind and spirit.