We all know that it’s important to think about what we’re eating, but how we’re eating can have a dramatic effect on our lives. Sitting down for a meal may seem like the last thing you have time to do, but developing the habit of mindful eating can be transformative.

Mindful eating as a practice

Practice yoga long enough, and you understand that the practice doesn’t end the moment you step off your mat. The life-sustaining practice of eating is inextricably tied to broader goals of being a fully realized person.

Eating mindfully is part of the eight-limbed path. The niyama, saucha (purity), directly relates to the dietary choices we make and the environment in which we consume our food. Tapas (discipline), the practice of doing right by our minds and bodies.

How you fuel yourself influences the way that you feel. The way that you eat impacts your energy level, inflammation in the body, and gut health. Since many diseases originate in the colon, being thoughtful about what and how you eat can improve your long-term health and quality of life.

Tips for eating mindfully

You don’t need lots of expensive equipment or special materials to start eating mindfully. Giving your meals the time and attention they deserve simply requires shifts in habits. Some of these may be more challenging for you than others, but you can start working on them right away.

  • Control the environment

Many of us are chowing down in front of the TV. After a long day of work, sometimes nothing seems more desirable than getting lost in something on television while you eat dinner. Eating in a loud and distracting environment keeps you from fully appreciating your food.

Dine in a quiet and peaceful environment. Find a place to sit up straight and fully appreciate your food. Your body will thank you.

  • Take your time and chew thoroughly

It’s not uncommon to wolf down a meal when you have a lot to do. Digestion starts in the mouth. As you chew, your body releases digestive enzymes. When you don’t mechanically break down your food by chewing, it means that your digestive system must work harder.

Give yourself enough time to savor your meal and chew thoroughly. Your dining experience is sure to be more enjoyable, and it’ll be easier for your body to extract nutrients from your meals.  

  • Pay attention to what your body is telling you

We get ourselves into trouble when we eat for the sake of eating. Give yourself an appropriately-sized portion when it’s time to eat. It can take 15 minutes for your body to realize when you are full. Before you head back for seconds, give your brain a few minutes to catch up to your stomach.

Ignoring our bodies when they are asking us for nourishment is also a habit worth breaking. A growling belly is your digestive system asking you for fuel. If you’re between meals, choose a nourishing and healthy snack to hold you over until your next meal.

  • Eat at the same time every day

Just like your brain loves a routine, your body also benefits from doing the same things at the same time every day. Eat a variety of nutritious foods at predetermined meal and snack times to reduce cravings, balance your blood sugar, and keep your energy level consistent.

  • Follow your senses

When was the last time you really savored a meal? Appreciate your food’s texture, taste, smell, and appearance. Take time to use all your senses to enjoy your meals.

  • Be mindful of your emotional state when you eat

Are you reaching for something to eat because you are truly hungry, or is your need to nosh a response to stress? When we’re feeling emotional, we tend to reach for unhealthy foods. Carbs and sugary snacks may equate to comfort in the short term, but this type of snacking can lead to all sorts of health woes.

Eating and emotions are closely linked. Change in appetite is usually an indicator that something is off balance in your life. If you notice yourself reaching for unhealthy options, take some time to reflect on what (besides hunger) might be prompting your cravings.

  • Don’t drink too much water when you are eating

Staying hydrated is critical, but you should get most of your hydration between meals instead of during them. Water dilutes the acid and digestive enzymes in your stomach, which makes it harder to digest your food.

Your body will have to work harder to break down your meal, which can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

  • Consider how food makes you feel after you eat it.

How your food makes you feel after you’ve finished your meal is just as important as the experience of eating it. If what you’ve eaten causes irritation, it could be a sign of food sensitivity.

The best meals leave you feeling nourished. You should feel satisfied, but not overstuffed. If you’re having trouble reaching this state, consider whether your meal is balanced and healthy. Take note of the circumstances under which you ate.

  • Be grateful

Every meal is a gift. People cultivated the various components of your meal. Someone prepared what’s on your plate. Having a full belly is a gift. Give thanks for this opportunity that you have to nourish your body, and commit to using that energy to be your best self.  

You can start eating mindfully today

You don’t need a detailed plan to take the first step toward eating mindfully. If these tips seem challenging, implement them one at a time. You’ll be amazed at the ripple effect of these small changes.