Surely I’m not the only one who has eaten lunch while working only to look at an empty plate and wonder where my food went. Chances are, you’re also guilty of the occasional distracted and mindless eating—chowing down while texting, grubbing in front of a computer, or munching at a movie theater. In fact, it’s probably difficult to recall a recent time in which you were concentrating totally on your meal.
Being more mindful while eating can help you feel more relaxed and present, which creates a more enjoyable experience. It’s also a tactic you might want to employ to lose weight without dieting or working out more. An article published in the American Journal of Nutrition reviewed 24 studies and found that “attentive eating” plays a part in the types of foods people consume—as well as how much they consume—and it helps people remember what they ate later on. When you aren’t eating mindfully, you’re also more likely to overeat. Researchers are beginning to study mindful eating as a technique that can help people who are overweight or obese lose weight.
Practicing mindful eating is an exercise that can help you appreciate the entire experience. Eating lends itself very well to a mindful exercise, it’s about bringing your mind to the physical senses and appreciating the process, says Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe “[Mindful eating] is about training the mind to be present, more aware, calmer, clearer, more content, while using food and eating as a vehicle for that,” he says.
Just as you try to stay focused on your breath during meditation, aim to stay focused on the experience of eating from the first bite, throughout the meal, and how you feel after you’ve finished. This will create a more satisfying experience. Here’s how to try it:
Take a break from technology. Put your phone on silent and turn off notifications. Turn off any music or podcasts. Also, try doing this exercise alone the first few times, and apply what you learn to future meals when the opportunity presents itself.
Set up your environment
Plate your food. Consider setting out napkins, utensils, using a placemat, and even lighting a candle at the table if you can. Sit at a table in front of your food.
Notice your meal’s color, shape, texture, and portion. Does it look like a lot of food? Too little? Is it all one color? If you’re eating a white bread sandwich with a side of chips, maybe notice how bland that looks. Could you add a side of berries? Would lettuce leaves, juicy tomato slices, and pickle spears make the sandwich look more appealing? If there are improvements you want to make to your meal to add more color, do that now and you could enhance the mindful eating exercise.
Place food on your eating utensil, bring it up to your nose and take a deep inhale. If you’ve sautéed mushrooms, onions, and garlic, your mouth might water as you take a whiff. Or you might feel more energized as you breathe in the fresh citrus scent of a fresh orange.
Read more: How to break bad habits with your brain
Savor the flavor of the food you’re eating. Are you noticing the fresh herbs you added to the grilled chicken breast coming through now? Are you feeling heat or smokiness from a pepper tingling on your tongue? Try to identify a few flavors and tasting notes, just as you might if you were doing a wine tasting.
Notice the textures of the food. Is it crunchy? Tender and juicy? Crispy on the outside and soft inside? Eating slowly helps with satiety and you may find that you feel full faster.
Take your time
Eating mindfully is an experience that will likely take you longer than usual. You might find while slowly chewing each bite and savoring it, that there’s still food on your plate as you start to feel full. That’s because it takes your brain about 20 minutes to realize your stomach feels full. When you realize you’re satisfied, put your fork down and sit back. Take a moment to appreciate the meal you ate.
You might find that eating mindfully helps you make better food choices, eat less, or, helps you better remember your meal so you’re less likely to snack soon after.
Check out the Eating single on the Headspace app for a guided meditation to listen to while you eat. It can help you apply a greater sense of mindfulness to mealtime, which can bring more appreciation to what you’re actually eating.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.