4 Reasons Why Practicing Mindful Eating Should Be Your New Year’s Resolution

— By Kayla Parsons, MS, RDN, PhD student, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

It’s 2024 and it already feels like it’s going to be a positive year – one filled with growth, intention and vitality. The beginning of a new year is always a great motivator to start setting attainable goals, especially goals that cater to both your mental and physical health. Practicing mindfulness, or the non-judgemental awareness of moment to moment experiences, can boost your overall sense of well-being.
Daunting thoughts of silent meditation may immediately pop up when contemplating how to practice mindfulness, but you can be mindful in anything you do! One easy way we can sneak mindfulness into our busy schedules is through informal practices, like mindful eating. Keep reading to learn about four reasons why you should consider making the practice of mindful eating your New Year’s resolution.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is non-judgmental awareness of internal (i.e. thoughts, moods, memories) and external influences (i.e., tastes, the environment, advertisements) during the act of eating. Mindful eating stems from the practice of mindfulness, which originated from the Buddhist tradition. Core principles of mindful eating include:

  1. Allowing awareness of positive and nurturing opportunities of food selection and preparation.
  2. Using all senses and choosing foods that both nourish and satisfy the body.
  3. Acknowledging responses to food without judgment.
  4. Being aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide decisions on beginning and ending eating.

Mindful eating may seem like a trendy buzz-word, but Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is here to provide you with the facts on how practicing mindful eating can benefit your health.

Reason #1: Your food will taste better.

Have you ever been scrolling through your phone over dinner, happen to glance down at your once filled plate, and realize you’ve eaten your whole meal without tasting a single flavor? Practicing mindful eating can overcome this dilemma by helping us truly enjoy the taste of our meal. Removing electronics from the table and turning off the TV can help us better focus on what makes our meal delicious. Still feeling distracted? Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian nutritionist and mindful eating advocate, states that one potential goal would be to have three mindful bites during a meal: the first bite, a bite to check in with your hunger signals mid-meal, and the last bite. During these three bites, focus on the smells, textures, nuances in flavor, colors and intricate details of your food. Over time, you’ll grow an appreciation for every scrumptious bite!

Reason #2: It’s free!

Cue my infomercial voice – Did you know that you can take control of your health for the low price of $0.00 per meal? Unlike a gym membership or food delivery service, practicing mindful eating is a health behavior that doesn’t require a monthly subscription. Practicing mindful eating may cost a few more minutes than you’re used to for meals, but it will feel worth it in the end. Looking to increase your mindful eating ability? There is evidence that people who practice meditation have an easier time mindfully eating. Similar to all skill sets, the more time and effort you spend enhancing your practice, the easier it will become.

Reason #3: You’ll be able to navigate your food environment.

Have you ever noticed how much of a role your environment plays on your eating decisions? For instance, one might go to the movies and feel obligated to purchase popcorn and soda, even when they’re not hungry. Advertisements and social media can sneakily persuade you to purchase trendy foods that you might not otherwise consider. We often stroll past magazines in grocery stores touting unsafe dieting to lose weight quickly. Practicing mindfulness and mindful eating can help you become more in-tune with your hunger cues and critically think about your food environment. Consider this as a superpower of sorts; the ability to listen to your body and respond by adequately meeting your nutritional needs, despite what our environmental influences are.

Reason #4: Mindful eating can help regulate your mood.

Like the environment, our emotions can impact what we choose to eat. Whether it’s boredom, excitement or anxiety, many people turn to food as a stress-coping mechanism. This is normal and there are worse things in life that we can do in response to stress, but eating fueled by emotion (rather than hunger) won’t solve our issues at hand. Practicing mindful eating and mindfulness makes you aware of your emotions as they arise, and helps you identify appropriate responses to meet your needs.

How does this look in a real life scenario? Let’s say I dig into a bag of sour cream and onion chips after a stressful day at work. Then, I remembered my New Year’s resolution to be more mindful and begin to practice awareness of both internal and external influences. During mindful eating, I might start to notice a few things:

  1. Checking in with my body, I don’t feel any of my usual sensations of hunger.
  2. I’m not registering the flavor or texture of the food, but instead I find myself focusing on the stress I’m experiencing.
  3. From here, I’ll start giving myself compassion and approach the situation without judgment (i.e., “It’s normal to react this way and emotionally eat, but what would be a more effective solution?).

Convinced to become a mindful eater this year? Wonderful! As you start your mindfulness journey, remember that mindful eating is an act of self-care that promotes self-compassion. You don’t need to be a ‘perfect mindful eater’, but instead, embrace the nonlinear process of rediscovering your food. It may be helpful to start your resolution off with small attainable goals, like mindfully eating one snack a few times a week. Once you’re feeling confident and comfortable, try mindfully eating one meal per day (or whatever best fits your lifestyle). Interested in learning more about mindfulness and mindful eating? Check out some of our resources below.