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An Introduction to Mindful Eating

In five steps, learn how to focus your senses to appreciate food and develop healthy food habits. Then put your knowledge into practice with 10 delicious recipes.

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Remember when Grandma told you to pay attention to what you were eating and chew your food slowly? Turns out she was onto something. In our busy world, with dinners often spent looming over a laptop, watching TV, or even standing at the kitchen sink, multitasking is the norm — and the result can impair cognitive ability, cause weight gain, and increase anxiety.

Fortunately, there’s help for that. We asked Michelle Sugiyama, a health and wellness coach and mindful eating expert from the San Francisco Bay Area, to share her strategies for how to slow down, savor a meal, and develop a joyful relationship with food. 

Rooted in the meditation practice of mindfulness — becoming more aware of, rather than reacting to, one's situation and choices — mindful eating has been gaining ground. Health experts encourage us to change our eating behavior and reap the health benefits. Eating mindfully means using all of your physical and emotional senses to experience and enjoy the food choices you make. By paying full attention to flavor, for example, we realize when our taste buds are satiated. By tuning into our emotions and feelings of fullness, we might be satisfied eating less. With practice, healthy eating habits, successful weight loss, and better digestion may follow. 

Read on to get mindful eating tips, and then put Sugiyama’s advice into practice with a collection of 10 recipes.

Jump ahead to:

Mindful eating Q & A with Michelle Sugiyama >>

5 steps to mindful eating >>

10 recipes to practice mindful eating >>

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Mindful eating Q & A with Michelle Sugiyama

Sugiyama, the founder of Mindful Eating, is the co-author of Break Free to Stand in Your Power, an inspiring book about self-empowerment and overcoming challenges. She is also a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu.

Q: What is mindful eating?

Sugiyama: Mindful eating is being fully present without judgment or criticism. It’s noticing your state of body and mind and the environment, and taking time to enjoy the colors, aromas, textures, and flavors of your dish. When we slow down and pay attention, we positively affect our food choices, energy levels, digestion, cognition, health, and even happiness.

Q: Who is mindful eating for?

Sugiyama: Mindful eating is beneficial for everyone. The focus on healthy lifestyle choices can promote less stress and more positive feelings about food.

Q: Why has mindful eating behavior been gaining traction? 

Sugiyama: Eastern healing methods such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture have been around for centuries and they have finally become mainstream in the United States. Many people opt for sustainable healthy lifestyles and realize quick fixes don’t work. Mindful eating helps them move towards their best self. 

Q: On the flip side, what is mindless eating or overeating?

Sugiyama: Mindless eating is reaching for a second plate of food without really giving our brain and gut enough time to connect. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to say, “Hey, you're full."

Q: What are the benefits of mindful eating?

Sugiyama: The health benefits could be immense. Mindful eating may help mitigate eating disorders, food addiction, high health care costs, and chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

Q: Are there pitfalls to eating mindfully?

Sugiyama: We are often our own worst critics. When we take an accidental detour, we judge, criticize, or overreact instead of simply being aware and learning from the event. When I get frustrated, I may grab something crunchy and salty, mindlessly munch away, and then get upset for being weak and out of control. In hindsight, I could have acknowledged that emotions triggered me to eat. From a calmer place, I could then decide what to do — walk, talk, or relax. [See step 2 below.]

Q: Can you pick and choose which meals you want to eat mindfully?

Sugiyama: There is no right or wrong way to eat mindfully. It’s not dieting, and you don’t have to eliminate certain foods. With consistency, it can become part of your lifestyle. Before long, you’ll eat mindfully a majority of the time, and you’ll be well on the road to a happier, healthier you.

5 steps to mindful eating

Sugiyama says mindful eating begins before we put anything in our mouth. Here are her steps for putting mindful eating patterns into practice.

Step 1: Be aware

The first step is to notice what is going on inside and around you. Decide whether you are truly hungry. Ask yourself:

• Am I thirsty? Dehydration can disguise itself as physical hunger, so drink a tall glass of water and decide if you still need to eat.

• What am I feeling? Emotional states, particularly negative emotions, can be big internal eating triggers. Emotional eating can mean we overindulge on unhealthy comfort food to numb our stress, frustration, disappointment, and anxiety. 

• Did I get hit by an external eating trigger? Seeing or smelling a perfectly baked chocolate chip cookie, for example, may have caused you to want one. 

Step 2: Walk, talk, relax

If you experience an eating trigger rather than being truly hungry, try one of these three things: talk to a friend, take a short walk, or relax — maybe listen to music, journal, or take deep breaths. Another option is to eat one serving of food, savor it, let it comfort you, and move on. 

Step 3: Nourish yourself

When you do eat, focus on good-for-you foods that meet your needs. If you know you won’t have time for a snack, choose a meal with quality protein, healthy fat, and fiber so you don’t crash when you’re busy. Consciously make good food choices at the grocery store or restaurant. Focus on real whole food, especially a rainbow of plants, and try to limit processed food and added sweeteners.

Step 4: Savor the experience

Express gratitude for your meals. Pause to notice the beautiful colors, smell the tantalizing aromas, taste the complex flavors, and appreciate the myriad textures of your food. 

Step 5: Be kind to yourself

Skip judgment or self-criticism. Health is a journey, not a destination. 

10 recipes to practice mindful eating

Guided by Sugiyama’s advice for healthy well-being, we’ve rounded up a collection of recipes worth eating mindfully at every meal. 

Vegetable Breakfast Scramble

This simple egg scramble is a protein-packed meal to start any mindful eating program. Low in carbs, this is the perfect healthy dish to sit down and enjoy with the family while letting fresh veggies such as tomatoes and red bell pepper shine. 

Sunrise Detox Smoothie

Banana, mango, pineapple, and strawberries make this a delightful way to wake up. “If you want to fight inflammation, choose a smoothie to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables,” Sugiyama suggests. Slowly sipping a cold smoothie (caution: brain freeze!) is a fun and fiber-rich way to practice eating mindfully.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Hummus with an array of crunchy, dunk-worthy veggies is a good example of a healthy snack that promotes mindful eating, Sugiyama says. This recipe also happens to be high in fiber, gluten-free, and rich in protein, with heart-healthy fats. 

Creamy Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

Yummly Original

Here’s a challenge for a mindful eating experience: When you serve these cheesy snacks, pause and enjoy the toothsome texture and think about the healthy antioxidants in each bite. Then calmly pay attention to hunger cues and emotional well-being, and stop eating when you feel full.

Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup

Warm soup begs eaters to slow down, cozy up, and sip every last spoonful — making it an easy option for beginners who want to eat more mindfully. This classic comfort food pairing of chicken and rice includes refreshing lemon and dill. 

Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut and Ginger

In lieu of heavy cream, this velvety soup relies on coconut milk for its silky texture and nuttiness. Use an immersion blender to puree the squash right in the pot. The versatile veggie is a healthy source of fiber, potassium, and calcium. 

Superfood Salmon Salad

Salads are also an easy way to introduce yourself to mindful eating, Sugiyama suggests. Think about the different textures and vibrant colors coming together, and what goes into preparing the meal. Low in carbs and full of flavor, this protein-rich salmon salad is brimming with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Feel at ease knowing that this delicious dish is also high in vitamin A, thanks to the kale, and healthy fat from avocados.

Thai Quinoa Salad

This star-studded quinoa salad has the benefit of plenty of colorful veggies, including carrots, cucumbers, red cabbage, and edamame. The high protein in quinoa may increase your metabolism, and its fiber will keep you feeling full.

Quick Chicken Stir Fry

To maximize mindful eating practices, Sugiyama suggests finding dishes that contain healthy protein, fat, and fiber for satiety and blood sugar stabilization. Creative stir-frys are an easy way to think about incorporating these benefits as well as colorful veggies and appetizing flavors. Hearty and low-carb, this chicken stir-fry comes together with snap peas, bell pepper, spring onions, and chili. Crunchy snap peas are an excellent source of vitamin K, which plays a key role in blood clotting. For added fiber, serve the stir-fry with brown rice.

Broccoli Tofu Stir Fry

Loaded with broccoli and tofu, this spicy vegetarian stir-fry is flavored with sesame, ginger, and garlic, and it pairs beautifully with noodles. For extra nutrition, add more veggies, including sliced carrots, bok choy, or shiitake mushrooms. 

To your health!

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