Slow down and savor your food! Mindful eating can help reduce “automatic” eating and emotional eating. By chewing your food thoroughly and in a mindful way you will allow your body time to get messages back to the brain about whether you feel hungry or full. One study in lean and obese men showed men who chewed their food 30 times ate 11.9% less food and consumed a lower energy intake. Not to mention that chewing at least 30 times improves the digestive process and absorption of nutrients.

Inattentive eating (automatic eating) is a learned behavior that starts as children. It occurs when we eat around mealtime, even in the absence of hunger. Or think of when we see food or have it readily available at arm’s length via the tempting candy bowl on a colleague’s desk or your coffee table.

It also manifests as emotional eating, wherein we use food to cope with depression, stress, or anxiety. When food is used as a coping mechanism it is likely to become habitual and automatic. So, what can we do besides improving our diets and increasing exercise?

Integrating Mindful Eating into a Weight Loss Program

Mindful eating is characterized by paying purposeful attention to our food and it can disrupts automatic responses to food and inattention to emotional triggers for eating. It increases our sensitivity to hunger and satiety cues, eating pace, and characteristics of the food being consumed. It directs our attention to the activity of eating and helps bring conscious awareness to the task of eating, which can mitigate habituated responses to food. Simple steps include putting down your fork between bites, turning off the TV and putting the phone aside, and eating more slowly and deliberately as discussed above.

Mindful eating can’t completely replace diet and exercise, but it can reduce automatic eating and make us more aware of hunger and satiety cues.