What the Heck Is Mindful Eating and Why Should I Bother?

Is this practice just another hippy-dippy craze, or is it a thoughtful way to approach food? I gave it a shot for two weeks, and here's what I discovered.

Vending Machine at a HospitalPhoto: Shutterstock / Lissandra Melo

I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about mindful eating, my eye roll was big enough to burn a few hundred calories. After all, the last thing I needed was another kooky trend like consuming the proper greens to satisfy my spirit animal or gnawing on peach stones to improve my memory.

My attitude changed one morning while unconsciously scarfing down a cinnamon roll from the vending machine at work. Let that sink in for a moment: a cinnamon roll. From a vending machine. At work. Maybe it was time I looked into this thing called “mindful eating” after all. I decided to give it a shot for two weeks.

So, What Is Mindful Eating?

It’s pretty much what it sounds like: paying attention to what you’re eating, and eating it with great intent. Think of it as the “what, when, where and why” of your daily eating habits.

  • What am I eating?
  • When am I eating?
  • Where am I eating?
  • Why am I eating?

It’s not necessarily about eating healthy. Want to eat a dozen tacos? Go for it. You need to thoroughly invest in making that decision first, however. If you move forward with your choice, then relish the total experience of your tacopalooza.

Getting Started

Begin by turning off your autopilot and staying focused on the present. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Think about how hungry you really are. Is your body truly in need of food?
  2. If you’re eating because you need to, which foods would best help your body?
  3. Eat slowly and thoughtfully. Focus on the task at hand—eating.
  4. Savor the experience. Appreciate the many sensations your food delivers. Enjoy the textures as well as the flavors.

My Results

Jumping into the practice of mindful eating was easier than I thought. A self-described couch potato, I started by turning off the TV at dinnertime.

I also began planning meals, sometimes a few days in advance. I immersed myself in preparing the food, even if simply reheating leftovers. I started living in the moment and genuinely enjoying the meal in front of me.

Soon, I was thinking about the foods I ate. How had vending-machine pastries ever been an option? When I craved a cinnamon roll, I found the right one and delighted in every ooey-gooey bite. I even learned how to bake my own cinnamon rolls!

By the end of the second week, I was eating less and eating healthier. I began listening to my body and putting down my fork when I was satisfied. I even lost 5 pounds.

I also better understood why I ate when I wasn’t hungry. Often it stemmed from a need to walk away from what I was working on. I learned that taking a break didn’t necessarily require eating.

Great Lessons

I packed a lot into my two-week journey into mindful eating, but I have more to learn—and that’s okay! I’m looking forward to discovering more about myself and exploring all of the options when hunger hits.

Is mindful eating some New Age flavor of the day? Maybe. There are, however, eye-opening aspects of the practice that can contribute to your overall well-being. Give it a try. If a cinnamon-roll-loving couch potato like me can benefit from mindful eating, anyone can!

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Mark Hagen
The former owner of his own catering business, Mark’s been part of the Taste of Home team for the past 20 years. His work has also appeared in Quick Cooking, Light & Tasty and Country Woman magazines as well as in various Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cookbooks. When he’s not spending time in the kitchen with his Westie, Rocco, he’s working in his yard, doing stand-up comedy or devouring a platter of nachos. (Most likely the latter.)