How you eat your food is as equally important as what type of foods you eat when it comes to regulating your weight. By focusing on the food in front of you and avoiding distractions—aka eating mindfully—you can lose weight or maintain a healthy weight without much effort.
Mindful eating is definitely gaining traction: 49 percent of registered dietitians say that consumers will choose mindful eating over dieting, a national survey found. It should come as no surprise when you look at the results: Practicing mindful eating can help you choose healthier foods, eat when you're actually hungry, reduce the likelihood of overeating, and experience more pleasure while eating, according to a study published in the journal Eating Disorders.
To help you adopt a more thoughtful approach to mealtime, we spoke to mindful eating experts and combed through dozens of studies to put together a list of the best simple mindfulness tricks to eat less. Try these genius tips to help you cut calories, lose weight fast, and enjoy your meals more. To lose even more weight, consider starting your day with a smoothie. Explore all the benefits with What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Smoothie Every Day.
Get quality sleep
"Staying up late affects sleep patterns. Missing one hour of sleep can make you hungrier the next day," Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in mindfulness eating and the author of Eating Mindfully tells us explains. In fact, a study published in the journal Sleep discovered that folks who didn't sleep the recommended seven to eight hours per night were more at risk for weight gain. "Set a firm bedtime and turn off the TV to help you avoid mindless eating the next day."
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Sit down to eat
"It sounds simple enough, but think about how often you eat in front of the refrigerator or on-the-go. A recent study found that people ate five percent more while walking around. Eating at the kitchen table can feel obsolete in a busy world; but, sitting at the table helps you focus on your food and be more mindful of your portions. Use the motto, 'always eat off your feet!'" Albers recommends.
Eat with your family
"There are a number of 'external' factors—such as the people with whom you are enjoying a meal—that play a critical role in your ability to eat mindfully," Dan Childs, author of Thinfluence, tells us. According to an Appetite study, people are more likely to consider eating episodes as a meal, as opposed to a snack, when eating with their family. In fact, that study found that eating with family is the strongest indicator of a meal, which the researchers say may influence what and how much one eats, and whether they decide to eat later.
"Think of ways to optimize your environment that will help you achieve this goal. For example, make others who are eating with you aware of your goal to eat mindfully. Invite them to try it, too. You may find that experiencing a meal together will help you both savor what you are eating and pay closer attention to how much you are eating, so you don't overindulge," adds Childs.
Shut off your devices
Think about how many times you found yourself scrolling through social media feeds during supper. "A recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who bring their phones to the dinner table use them for about 11 percent of the meal," Albers says. "Plus, those who used their phones during mealtime rated the meal less pleasurable and were distracted while they ate. Distracted eating = mindless eating. Instead of allowing your cell to become your dining companion, create a drop box for phones at mealtimes."
Leslie P. Schilling, MA, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC agrees with Albers. "We eat for many reasons but the main prompt for mindful eating is physical hunger. It's hard to be present if you're eating at your desk, cyber-loafing, or watching television. When your mind is focusing on something besides your food, you don't realize things like: 'Was the food actually good?' and 'Am I getting full?' This often leads to 'do-over' eating which isn't so mindful," says Schilling. "Eat with purpose and presence! Minimize distractions as often as possible."
Use real plates
"How many meals do you eat directly out of the bag? Plates matter!" says Albers. One study found that when participants ate food off a ceramic plate as opposed to a paper plate, they were more likely to perceive that meal as a meal rather than a snack. This is important since we're more likely to overeat snacks as well as consume more calories at our next meal.
Pace yourself by taking smaller bites and chewing more
Stopping at a red light is more challenging when you're flying at 100 miles per hour than when cruising at a slower speed. Knowing when to put down your fork is similar. Experts say gauging your body's subtle "I'm full" cues is easier when you take smaller bites at a slower pace. In fact, one study published in the journal PLOS One found that people who focused on taking "small bites" of food consumed about 30 percent less soup for their meal than those who didn't make the conscious decision. The mindful soup slurpers also more accurately estimated how many calories they had consumed. And a second study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found simply slowing down had similar results. People who focused on doubling the number of times they chewed before swallowing ate 15 perfect less food and 112 fewer calories over the course of a meal. So pump the brakes, and slow down to slim down.
Eat with your non-dominant dand
It may feel awkward at first, but switching your spoon to your non-dominant hand can help you save calories during mealtime. "Research shows that people consume 30 percent less food when they eat with the opposite hand. Your motto should be 'pace, don't race,'" Albers advises.
Stop to ask yourself if you're actually hungry
"Mindful eating can help you break free from old automatic, habitual patterns of reacting to environmental and emotional triggers. So whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask, 'Am I hungry?' and choose how you'll respond. Then, eat mindfully with intention and attention: Eat with the intention of feeling better when you're finished eating than you did when you started, and eat with your full attention on the food and your body for optimal enjoyment and satisfaction." — Michelle May, MD, Founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs.
The warm smell of cinnamon, the charred stripes on a grilled chicken breast, the crunch of an apple … experts say paying attention to the sensory details of food is a simple way to start eating mindfully—and start dropping pounds. In fact, a British Journal of Nutrition study found that participants ate 9 percent less soup when it smelled strongly compared to a weaker scent. A second study found that people served a monochromatic plate of food—like fettuccine Alfredo on a white plate–ate 22 percent more than those served a more visually-appealing plate that provided more color and contrast. Texture also comes into play. Researchers in Florida found people tend to eat more of soft, smooth foods–which tend to be higher in fat–than of hard, crisp ones. In one study, participants consumed more soft brownie bits than hard brownie bits, until they were asked to focus on calorie content. Just being mindful of how things like aroma, mouthfeel, and food presentation can influence how much we eat can help increase the satisfaction we get from a meal and also prevent overeating.
Of all the gym-goers, yogis tend to be the most mindful eaters, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. In a survey of more than 300 Seattle residents, researchers found that people who ate more mindfully weighed less than those who ate mindlessly (those who reported eating when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression). The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but not between other types of physical activity, like walking or running. According to the authors, yoga, as it teaches how to maintain calm in uncomfortable or challenging situations, can increase mindfulness in eating and lead to less weight gain over time—independent of the physical aspect of the exercise. So consider adding a few minutes of downward dog to your daily routine, and make your approach to mindful eating a holistic one. (If you're looking for a perfect way to end your yoga session, reach for a cup of green tea. It's the best tea for boosting your weight loss success.)
Be aware of portion sizes
Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps, and simply being aware of something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much you eat. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics found children who were given a 16-ounce bowl served themselves twice as much cereal than children given an 8-ounce bowl. And don't get us started on restaurant portions. It should be no surprise that you're almost guaranteed to eat more calories when you're served a meal with more calories than you should eat in a day as opposed to a healthier, smaller serving. Bottom line: It's easier to change your environment than to change your mind. Employing simple strategies like eating off salad plates instead of large dinner plates are more likely to succeed than willpower alone.