It turns out that mindfulness — the practice of being fully aware of the present moment — can taste pretty good. 

Mindfulness comes the Buddhist concept of awareness, and it is now being brought to the dining room. Known as mindful eating, the practice is proving to be a powerful tool in developing self-control. As a result, it is known to promote healthy eating habits and help with weight loss. 

A delicious habit

When applied to eating, mindfulness is about becoming fully immersed in the experience of eating your food — how it tastes, the texture, how much you have eaten, and how it makes you feel in the moment and afterward.  

Mindful eating may be a new way to eat for Western society, but it is not a diet. There are no food restrictions, and one is welcome to eat whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants. Each bite and interaction with food, however, needs to be slow, deliberate and thoughtful.

“With mindful eating, you’re paying attention to foods on a daily basis — listening and honoring when your body is hungry,” said Jen Nguyen, a registered dietician nutritionist and a personal trainer for Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester, New York. “You become acutely aware of your food and the bio-directional relationship with food. If you are mindlessly eating, you are not reconnecting your brain to your gut.” 

Gone are the days of chowing down a quick lunch at your desk. One cannot be fully focused on eating while distracted with work tasks, scrolling through a phone or driving. Not only do tasks like these distract a person from paying attention to food, but it also makes people susceptible to emotion. The art of mindfulness is to observe and accept one’s emotions, not to react to or judge them. In doing so, a person eats what he or she needs.

“If anything, mindful eating is a type of meditation and a skill that can be translated to other areas of life,” Nguyen said. “You’re practicing how to be engaged and focused in a task. Think of it as self-care. It improves your nutritional health and well-being.”  

A guided practice

For those wanting to try mindful eating, Nguyen detailed a guided practice:

Sight — Before the first bite, look at the food and think about its origins and what it took for the food to get to the plate.

Smell — Note the aromas of the food.

Touch — Gently touch the food to your lips before putting it into your mouth. Chew slowly, and note the textures.

Taste — Identify flavors and ingredients. 

Sound — Listen for any sounds from the texture. While chewing, listen to your body and surroundings.

Check in — Give yourself a gut check after every bite, especially when you feel about 75% full. Aim to eat until you are 80% full, as it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register satiation.

And here’s a tip: If you find yourself eating too quickly, try eating with your nondominant hand or with chopsticks.