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Mindful versus mindless eating? How can mindful eating help manage cravings?

How often have you found yourself reaching for a snack or junk food on autopilot? Why do we do that? Well, there are many reasons…. The main ones are we aren’t concentrating, we just feel hungry and need something quickly, we are experiencing a negative emotion and want to fill a void, or we weren’t able to plan meals. Before we know it, we consumed something we didn’t really want to, and we can’t remember enjoying it.

When we are in a hurry or driven by our emotions, we are unlikely to be present or mindful in our food choices.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is a little bit like meditation. It is about being present and paying attention to our food, specifically with regard to the sensory awareness of the food and the experience it gives us as we eat.

It does not consider the calorific value of food, the carbs, fats, or proteins, and it is not connected to a specific outcome, like losing weight. The intention and purpose are to enjoy and savour the food so that the whole eating experience is a process whereby you are fully present.

Approaches to dieting and weight loss centre on being outcome driven and are rarely sustainable unless we see the results we want. We can also be influenced by stress and other external pressures which affect the outcome as well.

How can mindful eating manage cravings?

Mindful eating centres on the experience. Given that it is about focussing on choice, and not restriction, a mindful approach coincidentally leads to weight loss, since the choice is often to consume less and savour food more, and the selection of foods that support health outcomes. If we slow down and enjoy the process of eating, it helps us to be more considerate in our choices and helps us to avoid and manage cravings.

Mindful eating focuses on the moment-by-moment experience of eating the food, and it begins with the first thought about the food through to the final bite is swallowed. With this approach, people can change their approach to diet and nutrition completely. It is important to say that the goal of mindful eating is not weight loss.

As we know, mindfulness practices may help improve symptoms related to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and stress. If we can apply the same practice to the food we eat, it may help promote healthy eating and reduce overeating, while also improving mental health.

What are the major differences between mindful and mindless eating?

How to eat, mindfully

· Listening to your body when you feel full and stopping

· Eating when we have a grumbly tummy and energy feels low

· Eating with others, at regular times

· Eating foods that are nutritionally good for us

· When eating, only eat (no distractions like scrolling through social media, watching the news etc)

· Taking time to consider where food comes from (appreciation)

· Enjoying the eating process, mouthful by mouthful

· Sensory awareness (how the food looks, smells, tastes, sounds, feels)

Eating mindlessly!

· Eating past being full and ignoring the signs of discomfort

· Eating when emotional (sad, bored, lonely etc)

· Eating alone at random times (no set routine)

· Eating and doing things at the same time

· Eating fast, on the go

Why is mindful eating a good thing to do?

1. Better digestion as we slow down the consumption of the food

2. Mindfulness is connected to stress reduction and thereby

less cortisol (stress hormone)

3. Weight loss due to a reduction in overeating. As we eat more slowly, we recognize the signs of feeling full earlier

4. Increased enjoyment of food and better nutrition choices

Head Space have shared a 7-day mindful eating plan, which is super helpful!

1. At the start of your week, write down a food plan that you can stick to when you do your food shopping

2. Chew each mouthful a minimum of 10 times, and halfway through the meal pause and acknowledge how full you feel

3. Sit down and consume food

4. Use a trigger to remind you to eat mindfully (iPhone reminder, tie a piece of string around your wrist)

5. When you eat savour each mouthful – close your eyes and acknowledge all your senses and treat it as an experience

6. Mindful eating takes practice, so try to do it regularly. Start with 1 meal a day and make time for it.

7. Equally, don’t beat yourself up if you are short of time. Try again at the next meal.


Mindfulness techniques have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Applying these principles to eating has been proven to show the same benefits as well as healthy eating and weight loss.

Mindful eating is about enjoying the process of eating, rather than the outcome. In mindful eating we focus on the sensory awareness of the food, and how it makes us feel, connecting us to the present. It forces us to slow down, helping us to identify earlier when we are full, which can avoid overeating.

Why don’t you give it a try, just for 7 days and see how you feel?

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