Your Guide to Mindful Eating in 2017

By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT

It’s that time of year --- gyms are packed, and diet detoxes and cleanses are in full swing. Over one-third of Americans resolved to lose weight last year, according to a Nielson report, and only 8 percent of people usually succeed in their New Year’s Resolution, per the Statistic Brain Institute.

Perhaps the issue is that while most efforts toward a healthier weight and overall healthier life are well-intentioned, they are often extreme and unsustainable. Maybe what we really need is a detox of the restrictive approaches to healthful eating, and instead, to shift the way we eat and think about food. In fact, some dietitians and psychologists are beginning to encourage a different approach -- mindful eating.

What is mindful eating?

It is a facet of mindfulness, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement.” Mindful eating is a form of meditation -- a developed awareness around food and eating. It includes engaging all of the senses while eating, and noticing the color, flavors, smells and textures of the food. It also means chewing slowly and eating without distractions.

Additionally, mindful eating is about tapping into the body’s hunger and fullness cues, and honoring them by eating satisfying, nourishing foods and knowing when to stop by listening to your body’s needs. However, there is no such thing as perfect anything, including perfect mindful eating. And another part of the process is creating awareness around when you are mindlessly eating – perhaps when you’re bored, anxious, sad or distracted.[1] [2]

What’s in it for you?

Developing mindful eating can help you get back in touch with your body’s signals, and can help in both weight maintenance and loss, according to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Plus, it can improve self-esteem and provide a sense of empowerment around food. Another term closely linked to mindful eating is intuitive eating, which involves no food restrictions, and relying on internal hunger and fullness cues to eat.[3]

One review of 20 studies of 1,951 participants who were encouraged to eat more intuitively found that the practice was associated with decreases in eating behaviors like binge eating and can help people create a better relationship with food. In the same review, increase in physical activity levels are associated with intuitive eating. It also found that intuitive eating is linked to decreased depression and anxiety, and improved body image. One limitation of the review is the study population, which was comprised mostly of white women. Another limitation is that it is difficult to measure intuitive eating behaviors because it cannot be measured by only one specific behavior. Additionally, the studies had a relatively small number of participants, ranging from 10 to 357 people.[4]   Further research is needed to assess the benefits and evidence surrounding mindful and intuitiving eating practices.

Helpful Tools & Tips[5] [6]


Tune in to your body’s signals. Try using the Hunger and Fullness Scale to help you decide when you are truly hungry, and also when you’ve truly had enough.

Limit distractions while you are eating, including the television, phone, computer, as well as multi-tasking, like driving. Start with one mindful meal a day, if not more, where you are simply eating. 

Create a relaxing atmosphere. When you’re at home, remove any clutter from the table and set the table. Even when you are dining alone, take a few minutes to prepare for an enjoyable, mindful meal. When eating out, try to choose places where you know your mindful eating practices will be easy to carry out. 

Take note of how you feel after eating certain foods in a journal, or just mentally. Which foods make you feel the best, physically, mentally and emotionally? Which foods leave you feeling “blah”? Without judgement, take these observations in to account as you move forward with mindful eating. This will help you to choose foods that bring you both pleasure and nourishment.

Take inventory of your emotions around food. Ask yourself: Am I truly hungry or am I really stressed out right now or feeling another strong emotion? If you answer yes to the latter question, take a deep breath and turn to another stress-reliever, such as a walk, meditation, talking to a trusted friend or journaling.

Slow down and notice. If necessary, you can use your non-dominant hand to help with this at first. Or just set the intention to pause in between bites and set your utensils down.

Notice the way your food tastes by engaging all of your five senses. You can try a mindfulness exercise to practice engaging the senses with any food – for example, a handful of roasted peanuts. First, look at the peanuts and notice their texture, color and smell. Once you begin eating, take at least two bites to finish the handful of peanuts and try to chew slowly. Notice how the flavor and taste changes in your mouth, and as you swallow.

Practice gratitude for the food on your plate. Before chowing down, take a moment to think about how the food was prepared, who prepared it and maybe even where it came from.

Cleanse your social media feed and become aware of what you are feeding your mind. There are always messages floating around, whether it’s about a new restrictive diet or a 7-day juice cleanse. It is a good idea to un-follow the outlets that deliver extreme messages, because it’s hard to hear what your body needs when you’re constantly hearing about how or what you should or should not eat. Instead, try following pages that inspire mindful eating, including The Mindful Dietitian.

Essentially, mindful eating is the opposite of a restrictive diet or detox. Instead of focusing on deprivation it focuses on nourishment of both the body and mind.

Have a mindful new year!



[1] Davis D, Hayes J. What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association. Accessed December 30, 2016.

[2] Mathieu J. What Should You Know about Mindful and Intuitive Eating? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2009;109(12):1987.

[3] Mathieu J. What Should You Know about Mindful and Intuitive Eating? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2009;109(12):1987.

[4] Schaefer J, Magnuson A. A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(5):734-760. Doi:

[5] Lifestyle Coach Facilitation Guide. Centers for Disease Control. Accessed December 30, 2016.

[6] 7 Tips for Mindful Eating. Smokefree women. Accessed December 30, 2016.

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