Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders

In today’s society, we are bombarded with advice about how to eat, what to eat and when to eat. Many of us have lost touch with our own intuitive sense of what we want to eat, like to eat and how to eat. We are driven by dieting rules, the notion of good versus bad foods, the do’s and don’ts of eating and advice on when and where to eat. What happened to “normal” eating? How do we return to eating mindfully?

What is Mindful Eating?

  • Mindful eating is paying attention during eating.
  • Mindful eating helps us to become more in tune with your body’s physical feeling of hunger and satiety.
  • Mindful eating is the act of being aware and re-connecting to the experience of a meal by using all your senses.

The most difficult part of mindful eating is becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues. These cues guide our decisions of when to begin eating and stop eating. One of the main reasons this can be difficult for some people is because we are disconnected from our bodies. That is, we rarely pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Over time, sensitivity to true stomach hunger cues is reduced, and may become confused it with emotional hunger. Through the process of mindful eating you may learn to acknowledge your genuine responses to food, such as fullness and satiety, and your true likes and dislikes, without any judgement. This process takes time, as you are re-connecting to your body’s hunger and satiety.

Mindful Eating can be Explained Through a Few Different Principles:

  • Eating primarily for physical rather than emotional or environmental reasons.
  • Nourish your body through the process of purposefully paying attention to what tastes, textures, and smells you like in a meal.
  • Identifying what your true food likes and dislikes are through the mindful process of what you want to eat and your body feels throughout the meal.
  • Acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat

Many of us may not be aware of the reasons we engage in mindless eating. Some common contributors can be:

  • Not recognizing the difference between hungry and non-hungry eating
  • Not stopping to listen to what your body signals are telling you
  • Confusing hunger and thirst
  • Allowing yourself to get too hungry and/or eating too fast
  • Eating an amount that should make you feel full, but not feeling satisfied
  • Eating in response to emotions
  • Eating out of boredom or tiredness

The Practice of Eating Mindfully

Eating mindfully means eating with intention and awareness to the actual experience of eating. This intention is combing an awareness of the foods on your plate in addition to the act of eating. The practice of mindful eating may be helpful to those struggling with eating disorders, such as bulimia, binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating. It is common for individuals with eating disorders to numb emotions through restricting, binging or choosing foods that are not pleasurable while eating. Mindful eating can help a person reconnect to the joy and experience of eating by creating an awareness of thoughts, emotions, feeling, and behaviors associated with the eating experience. Mindful eating can help you acknowledge your feelings and refocus your attention to your body’s needs prior to an episode of eating

Mindful eating takes practice of being present and aware in the moment with the act of eating during the meal. This allows you to be in tune with your body’s senses of taste, smell, texture and temperature of the food. It is very important to give yourself some grace when you begin to practice mindful eating and not to pass judgement when you are having difficulty. Your mind may wander; you may overeat or you might realize you are eating something you genuinely dislike.

You can return to mindful eating by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is my hunger physical or emotional hunger?
  • What am I feeling right now? What are my needs at this time?
  • How hungry (or full) am I?
  • In this moment, during this meal, am I enjoying my food?
  • Is there something else I need to make this meal a more pleasurable experience?
  • Do I really like what I am eating or would I rather be eating something else?
  • How can I listen to the internal signals my body is giving me?
  • What are my current distractions during this meal? Why is my mind wandering?

With our busy lifestyles, it may feel intimidating to find time for mindful eating. Many people eat on the go, rushing to consume food before the next appointment, or picking something fast and easy up when we don’t have the time or energy to prepare a meal that we truly want. But mindful eating doesn’t have to be perfect. You can start small by setting an intention to practice mindful eating one time per day. With more practice, you’ll find that it becomes more natural and habitual.

Mindful Eating Techniques

Mindful eating techniques can help reduce the act of mindless eating, binge eating and overeating. Eat balanced meals every 2-3 hours. This includes 3 meals and 2-3 snacks. Before eating asking a few basic questions:

  • Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? If so, what type of food/drink do I want?
  • Do not eat standing or walking!
  • Eat without the distraction of your phone or television
  • Be in the present by taking 3 deep breathes to help clear your mind before beginning to eat
  • Eat with intent to pay attention to your senses of taste, smell, texture and appearance of the food
  • Put utensils or food down between mouthfuls.
  • Check in with your hunger signals every few minutes
  • Try to stop eating when you begin to feel your fullness/satiety.
  • Enjoy your meal. If you don’t enjoy the food you are eating, you will never be satisfied.


Return To Normal Eating

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Additional Reading:

Reducing Mealtime Stress
Intuitive Eating
Questions Often Asked By Intuitive Eating Newcomers
Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Eating Disorders
Challenging and Changing Eating Disorder Thoughts
Eating at Restaurants
10 Ways to Rebel Against Diet Culture
The Urge To Diet After an Eating Disorder

About The Author:

Julia Cassidy, MS, RD, CEDRD-S is the Director of Dietary for Center for Discovery where she has worked for over 13 years. Julia is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and a Licensed Body Positive facilitator. Julia is also the Co-Chair for the Nutrition SIG with AED (Academy for Eating Disorders), which allows for her to be the liaison to DEED (Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders) through the SCAN DPG (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition – A Didactic practice group for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).


Jean L. Kristeller & Ruth Q. Wolever (2010) Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation, Eating Disorders, 19:1, 49-61, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2011.533605

Albers, S. (2012). Eating mindfully: How to end mindless eating & enjoy a balanced relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, with an introduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn, released February 3, 2009 by Shambhala Publishing.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, published 2006 by Bantam Books

Written 2017