What is Mindful Eating and Can it Help You Lose Weight?

Eliminating distractions during meal times may play a role in maintaining a healthy weight

Be honest, did you eat lunch at your desk today? If so, were you multitasking by answering emails in between bites? Do you finish your dinner in front of the TV or pick on finger foods while chatting on the phone?

If these situations sound at all familiar, you’re most likely not eating mindfully. And whether you’re aiming to lose weight or simply embrace a healthier lifestyle, it could be the reason you’re failing to reach your goals.

You know that both the quality and quantity of your food play an important role in maintaining a healthy diet, but did you ever think about how the way that you eat might affect your relationship with food?

The amount of calories that you consume in a day certainly has an effect on your weight and so does the quality of the foods that you eat, but a growing amount of research is beginning to reveal that eating mindfully may also play a key role in helping you maintain a healthy weight.

One literature review from 2014 evaluated 21 papers regarding the topic of mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviors.  After analyzing the papers, which among other therapies investigated the effectiveness of mindful eating programs, the authors concluded that “the results of this first review on the topic support the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions for changing obesity-related eating behaviors, specifically binge eating, emotional eating and external eating.”

But what does eating mindfully actually mean? And how can you implement it as part of your strategy to lose weight or eat more healthfully?

“Mindful eating is being aware of your food experience, including the tastes, smells, textures, and feelings you have while eating,” says Darya Rose, Ph.D, author of Foodist and creator of Summer Tomato one of TIME's 50 best websites. “It's incredibly powerful, since paying more attention to the sensory attributes of your food makes people enjoy it more, and also eat less of it.”

Rose says that mindful eating can help you learn to better control your portions (even when it comes to wholesome foods, which can still cause weight gain if you eat too much of them) so that instead of approaching your diet with a restrictive mindset you can slightly reduce your intake simply by paying more attention to your food and your body’s hunger cues.

If practiced consistently, over time the caloric deficit from those slight reductions will start to add up and you’ll begin to lose weight.

Of course, learning new habits isn’t easy, and breaking bad ones can be equally as challenging. But Rose says that it’s simple to implement mindful eating into your day to day routine by practicing habits like chewing your food more (she recommends at least 25 chews for each bite), putting your fork down between bites, and eliminating all outside distractions like the phone, computer and TV.