Mental Health Benefits of Mindful Eating

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

In the busyness of today's world, most of us don't have time to plan and prepare meals, much less pay attention to what we're eating. You may snack when you're not hungry or eat what you're not actually craving, and as a result, our relationship with our food suffers, and we fall into a pattern of shame or guilt.

Adopting mindful eating habits may be the solution you never knew you needed. Mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on individuals' sensual awareness of the food and their food experience. It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, or fat.

Eating mindfully is about awareness and intention. The core of this healthy eating strategy is to slow down and be fully in tune with all tastes and textures of the food at hand.

Mindful eating is based on the philosophy of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term that emphasizes staying in the present moment, observing ourselves and our thoughts without judgment. In other words, it's all about maintaining conscious awareness of whatever your focus might be.

You can apply mindfulness to any area of your life, but "mindful eating" encourages you to gain awareness of your eating experiences specifically.

Mindful eating  — paying attention to our food purposely, moment by moment, without judgment — is an approach to food that focuses on individuals' sensual awareness of the food and their experience of it. The purpose of mindful eating is not to drop extra pounds, but those who adopt this eating style will likely lose weight. The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food by being fully present during the eating experience.

Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item on your list. Stick to your list to avoid impulse buying when you're shopping and fill most of your cart in the produce section. Avoid the aisles heavy with processed foods and don’t look at the chips and candy at the check-out counter.

Come to the table with a healthy appetite but not when you're ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to eat that your priority will become filling the void instead of enjoying your food.

Start with a small portion. It can be helpful to limit your plate size to nine inches or less.

Turn off or silence your devices. Even when eating from home, this can help minimize distractions. Take the time to relax and enjoy your food without all the interruptions.

Take a moment to clear your head. Pause for a few minutes before you begin eating to contemplate everyone and everything it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy your food and with your eating companions.

Bring all your senses to the meal. When you're cooking, serving, eating your food, being attentive to everything — the aroma, color, texture, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew and eat your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.

Take small bites. When your mouth isn't full, it's easier to taste food completely.

Chew thoroughly. Chew until you can taste the essence of the food. Depending on the food you’re eating, you may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times. You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.

Name the flavors. As you eat your meal or snack, consider the five basic tastes you're experiencing. The five basic tastes are umami, bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. Sometimes, foods contain more than one — can you tell the difference?

Notice the texture. Is the bite crunchy or creamy? Is it dry or moist? Paying attention to the texture of each bite you take may help make your eating experience more intentional.

Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won't bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with others around the table.

Set down the fork. In between bites, place your utensils down on your plate to help slow your pace. Mindful eating is an experience, not a race!

As you practice mindful eating, you'll notice it will start to feel more and more natural over time. You'll get used to the feeling of giving yourself permission to slow down, stay in the present moment, and enjoy your food, maybe more than you ever have before.

The benefits of mindful eating only get better the more you do it. However, the art of mindfulness and mindful eating is never meant as a substitute for mental health treatment. If you are experiencing challenging emotional experiences that are interfering with your ability to function or live a happy life, consider speaking with a licensed mental health professional.

Show Sources


Food Insight: "Mindful and Intuitive Eating: The Perfect Pair."

Harvard Health Publishing: "8 steps to mindful eating."

NCBI: "Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info