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Win at Weight Loss Using Mindful Eating

Being more present with what’s on our plates can help us eat less and shed pounds. Here are 7 easy ways to do it.

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A woman practicing mindful eating sitting in the grass
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You’re snacking on a bowl of popcorn. Do you…
A: Pick up and eat the pieces one at a time?
B: Grab the popcorn by the handful?

You’ve brought your lunch to work. Do you…
A: Take it to a quiet space and actually take a break?
B: Eat it at your desk while reading email?

You’re enjoying dinner with a friend at a restaurant. Do you…
A: Stop eating when you notice you’re full and ask for a to-go container?
B: Ignore that you’re beginning to feel stuffed and continue eating and talking?

If you answered B to any of the questions above, you’re missing out on powerful little ways to help you reach or keep a healthy weight. And most don’t involve counting calories or fitness minutes.

In fact, a slower, more thoughtful approach to eating — called “mindful eating” — may help us manage our weight and make healthier choices. When you’re eating mindfully, you are fully aware of the present moment and the taste, texture, color and smell of what’s on your plate, according to Harvard Medical School’s newsletter, Healthbeat. Charmaine Jones, owner of Washington, D.C.-based nutrition counseling service Food Jonezi, says mindful eating teaches her clients how to control their eating habits by making better food choices, controlling portions and learning to listen to their bodies’ hunger cues. She says the practice can definitely support a busy sister who is on a weight-loss journey.

Plus, researchers at North Carolina State University who did an analysis of studies on mindful eating and weight management found that all of the studies resulted in weight loss. What’s more, 4 out of 5 studies that had conducted a follow-up found that participants had managed to maintain the weight loss.

When it comes to eating speed, nearly 60,000 patients with type 2 diabetes were asked to self-report how quickly they ate, in a study published in 2018 in the medical journal BMJ Open. Those who considered themselves slow eaters or normal eaters were less likely to be obese than fast eaters.

One key thing mindfulness helps us do is listen to the body and tap into its connection with the mind. “Our brains have a reward hierarchy,” psychiatrist Judson A. Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at the Brown University School of Public Health, told AARP. “They’re always comparing different types of behavior and how rewarding they are. They’re always looking for the bigger, better offer.” As he explained, if you check in with your body and realize that you’re tired before reaching for a candy bar, you might instead opt to take a nap. In that case, actually observing and giving your body what it really needs — rest — becomes the better, more satisfying offer.

“When you practice eating mindfully, you are conscious of what you put into your body,” says registered dietician Jones. It’s a structural shift in behavior that can support multiple healthy habits. She says these habits may include “knowing when to stop eating [because] you’ve had enough, selecting nutrient-dense meals over high-fat meals or sharing a dessert with a friend versus eating the entire thing and feeling guilty afterwards.”

Here are seven ways to slow down, savor your food and enjoy the slimming benefits of mindful eating.

1. Say grace or give thanks. This simple spiritual practice brings presence, gratitude and consciousness to the act of eating.

2. Use a food journal or a food tracking app such as MyFitnessPal or MyPlate. “Research shows that the mere process of tracking your intake, food choices and exercise can help with increasing self-awareness and inspire continued motivation to meet your personal weight and health goals,” says Weston, Florida-based dietitian and nutritionist Lillian Craggs-Dino.

3. Try eating with your left hand if you’re a righty, suggests Healthbeat. Or, try eating with chopsticks if you normally use a fork. Getting out of your routine forces you to turn off autopilot.

4. Chew each bite longer. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, participants who were instructed to chew their pizza for up to twice as long as their baseline ate less food.

5. Invite all your senses to dine with you. Is that a hint of nutmeg you taste in the lasagna? Isn’t the creaminess of that soup satisfying? Doesn’t the smell of the coffee perk you up before you’ve even sipped it? Noticing your food’s texture, shape, temperature, color, aroma and flavor helps you savor each bite and can help you realize when you’re satisfied so that you don’t overeat.

6. Turn off the TV, ignore social media and don’t check your messages while you dine. Company and conversation are fine.

7. Pay attention to how you feel. According to the Center for Mindful Eating, you can learn to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin eating — and to stop.