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Q
What Does "Mindful Eating" Really Mean?

The term "mindful eating" seems to be tossed around a lot in connection with losing weight. I've always thought it meant paying attention to what you eat, but I suspect it's not that simple. Can you explain it?

A
Answer (Published 4/22/2014)

Mindfulness is a Buddhist meditation practice that involves bringing all your awareness to the here and now, to the sensations in our bodies and our breathing, for example, rather than letting much of our attention slip away in contemplation of the past and future or of thoughts and images that are not real. The assumption is that when we act with full awareness, our actions are more likely to achieve what we intend, and that when we feel with full awareness, we are more likely to feel fulfilled.

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Many people eat semiconsciously, chewing and swallowing food without really tasting it or focusing attention on the next bite before they have enjoyed the present one. Others talk, read, or watch television while they eat, directing their attention incompletely to their food. One consequence of this type of unmindful eating is overeating and, of course, the end result of that is being overweight or obese. Who has not mindlessly shoveled in quantities of popcorn or chips while watching a movie or staring at a television screen? Another consequence of unmindful eating is missing the full sensory pleasure of food and enjoyment of meals.

A famous exercise in mindfulness training is putting a raisin in your mouth to see how long you can keep it there without chewing and swallowing it, while focusing all your attention on its taste and texture. Try it for some firsthand mindfulness practice.
 
I’ve noticed that when food is really good, conversation at the table is reduced to a minimum as people concentrate on the enjoyment of the moment. As a result, they are likely to eat less and enjoy their meal more.

Breaking mindless habits of eating requires motivation and practice. When food is served to you, take a moment to fully appreciate its appearance and aroma before starting to eat. When you first taste it, try to give it your full attention.

To me, eating mindfully means slowing down, expressing gratitude for the food we are eating, being satisfied with food, and paying attention to why we eat. If you get into the habit of mindful eating it will help steer you away from unhealthy relationships with food, and I think you will find, as I have, that it heightens the pleasure of the experience.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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