Will mindful eating help me lose weight?
This is one of the most common questions I get, and I totally understand why: many people want to live in a smaller body and are looking for anything they can use to help them achieve that. So my short answer is this: yes. Yes, you can employ mindful eating techniques at the same time as weight loss efforts and you'll most likely benefit from combining the two.
I'm not one of those dietitians who thinks that pursuing weight management or weight loss is bad, wrong or futile. If someone wants to drop weight in a healthy, sustainable way I think he or she should be allowed to do that and not have to justify that desire.
However, I'm also a realist. And there are things to consider about blending mindful eating with weight loss. So, my longer answer to this question is this: #mindful eating in and of itself is not a weight loss technique. While you may experience benefits from it that support weight loss, don't expect to drop pounds just by starting to eat more mindfully.
So now that I've put that out there, you can stop reading (haha, please don't)! I want to share some of the more subtle points about the relationship between mindful eating and weight management, as well as a few tips for making this combination work for you.
Yes, you can employ mindful eating techniques with weight loss efforts, and you'll likely benefit from combining the two
Eating mindfully can enhance your ability to recognize fullness
Over the years, some of us lose touch with our body's natural way to say "Hey, I've had enough food now!" We know how to do this very well when we're babies, but then schedules, planned meal times and rushed, "zoned out" eating becomes more common and we gradually pay less and less attention to the information coming from our bodies. However, mindfulness is known to boost interoceptive awareness (the ability to tune in to the body's signals and how one's body is feeling at any moment). And that, combined with the slow pace of eating that happens during a mindful meal, can help us feel our fullness sooner. And that means less overeating.
You get more enjoyment from food when you eat mindfully
On the surface, this might seem like a reason to eat more, not less. But actually, it usually works the opposite way. When we eat quickly and aren't paying much attention to anything about our food (except to quite our rumbling stomach), we aren't getting full enjoyment of the food at all. Not even close! We are eating simply to fill ourselves, and in the hurry to do so, we can easily eat more than we really want or need. On the other hand, when we eat mindfully, we savor our food—the way it looks, smells, tastes—and feel gratitude for everything it took to bring that food to our tables. Focusing on the pleasures of eating gives your body and mind time to register satisfaction and experience it deeply. It's what I sometimes call the "anniversary dinner" effect. Maybe the scenario is familiar to you: you're out for a special meal and there's no rush. You might be getting numerous small courses and a nice glass of wine (or two) to go with it and you want to savor each one. Before you know it, you find you are feeling totally satisfied after having consumed a relatively small amount of food. A little food that's savored is infinitely more satisfying than a lot of that's gulped down without notice.
Focusing on the pleasures of eating gives your body and mind time to register satisfaction...
Mindful eating is a skill you can use in conjunction with any style of eating
Although eating mindfully is not a diet, it's a skill that anyone can learn and use along with any type of eating plan they wish. If you're focusing on eating more protein, you can do that mindfully. If you're working on cutting back the sweets in your diet, you can do that mindfully, too. Here are a few ways that mindful eating skills can be employed to help with weight management efforts:
Make sure you're sitting down when you eat anything. Sitting and focusing solely on eating (as opposed to grabbing random things from the pantry or fridge as you pass through the kitchen) increases the chance that you'll eat mindfully.
Stop halfway through the meal to "check in" on your hunger/fullness level. A small pause to tune in helps you eat in accordance with your hunger and need for eating satisfaction.
Practice what I call the 3 Bites Technique for those times when you want dessert but aren't at all hungry anymore. Enjoy 3 small, mindful bites and truly savor them (you may find you don't even need 3 bites—2 might do just fine). You'll be amazed at how satisfying three little bites can be.
Ready to finally take charge of your eating?
Looking for more info about mindful eating? Want to start creating new, healthy eating habits? There are a few ways you can get started:
Join my Eating Habits Lab free Facebook group for women! I show up weekly in the group to give live trainings, answer questions, give tips and easy ideas for creating new habits, and more. Plus, the value of a friendly, supportive community can't be overstated. Join us and make today the day your eating habits start changing for the better.
Get a basic mindful eating book. Here is one of my favorites that's easy to read and includes some easy tips and exercises to give you practice: The Mindful Eating Workbook: Simple Mindfulness Practices to Nurture a Healthy Relationship With Food by Vincci Tsui, RD. (This is an Amazon affiliate link, meaning I'll earn a small percentage if you purchase through the link, but it does not increase your cost.)
Get my free guide called Creating Mindful Eating Habits. Click the button below to get this resource.