It’s the end of a seemingly endless workday, and you’ve prepared yourself a delicious meal to eat while you watch Netflix. Before you know it, an episode of “Selling Sunset” has flown by and your plate is empty—but you feel like you haven’t tasted one bite. While this is a common human experience that certainly constitutes self-care every once in a while, mindful eating can help you find deeper pleasure when you want to enjoy every last bite.
If you’re ready for 101 on mindful eating, below, dietitian Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, certified intuitive eating counselor and author of “Gentle Nutrition,” explained what you need to know. From the benefits of mindful eating to why it’s different from intuitive eating, here’s the TL;DR on bringing your mindfulness practice to the dinner table.
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What is mindful eating, anyway?
“Mindful eating is eating with the intention of paying attention,” Hartley explained. “It’s not just bringing awareness to the sensory experience of eating, like the taste, smells, and textures of food, but also noticing thoughts and bodily experiences, like hunger and fullness levels.”
As its name suggests, mindful eating stems from mindfulness—a practice that involves checking in with your thoughts, feelings, environment, and body throughout the day in a gentle, non-judgmental way. This attention-based practice originates from Hindu and Buddhist cultures and dates back thousands of years (and you’ve probably heard it mentioned a time or two on the Calm app).
The most important thing to remember about mindful eating is this: It’s about being kind and attentive to yourself. “Mindful eating is a non-judgmental practice, so while these thoughts, feelings and senses are noticed, they are not judged,” Hartley said.
What isn’t mindful eating?
Mindful eating is not a punishment, and it’s not a diet. Like meditation, it’s simply a practice of paying attention. “Try not to judge what comes up for you when trying to eat mindfully,” Hartley suggested. “Mindful eating is about nonjudgmental awareness. Instead, cultivate curiosity over what arises.”
What is the difference between mindful eating and intuitive eating?
Mindful eating and intuitive eating often get confused, and although the two are compatible, they’re not the same thing. “Mindful eating and intuitive eating are two separate, but related eating interventions,” explained Hartley.
Intuitive eating is a framework founded by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole, RDN, and Elyse Resch, RDN, in 1995 to help people cultivate a kinder relationship with food. “It involves 10 principles which address everything from body image to interoceptive awareness to movement and nutrition,” Hartley added. By contrast, mindful eating can be used by anyone, whether they’re following intuitive eating principles or not.
That said, if you find yourself curious about mindful eating, getting to know the intuitive eating principles may help you expand your mindfulness practice beyond mealtime. That way, you can adopt a positive, attentive relationship with your body even once the dishes are clean and you’re onto the next part of your day.