2 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

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Today we are going to talk about mindful eating. I have two practices in this post that you can use today to eat more mindfully. Before we get to that, we need to first understand a little about mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgementally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness for Beginners).

Paying attention: are you aware or are you distracted? A beginner meditator (like myself) might start by paying attention to the breath. When we notice that we are no longer aware of our breath, we let go of whatever distracted us and return our awareness to the breath. Or we might choose instead to shift our focus to the physical sensation or emotion and let that be the focus of our attention.

As Dan Harris of 10% Happier is fond of saying1, the point of this kind of mindfulness is to notice when a thought or emotion arises and to notice when we have become distracted by it. So if you are meditating and notice that you are constantly being distracted – great! You noticed the distractions, and that’s the point. And those meditation sessions where you feel blissfully calm, those are beautiful too. Chances are most will be somewhere in the middle.

In the present moment: Are you aware right now? Or are you focused on a moment that has passed or anticipating a future moment? Often, I find my thoughts drifting to an embarrassing moment in the past, or a wish or worry for the future. And often, I’ll start planning what I’m going to do the moment I’m done a seated meditation. As I mentioned before, when you notice yourself being caught up, bring your attention back to right now.

Non-judgementally: Here’s the big key to all this: drop the judgements. When you notice that you’ve become distracted, do you immediately start calling yourself names or feeling guilty? Do you start wondering what the whole point of meditation even is, or think you just suck at it? If you are non-judgemental, you able to take a breath, feel the guilt/shame/anxiety/whatever and let it go. The next breath, you refocus on the present moment. There is no lingering blame or guilt over having been distracted because you are focused on the present moment.

All three of these components are common sticking points for people who try to meditate or be more mindful. These are skills you can learn, and that are helpful across many different areas of life. I’ve described each of them from the point of view of a seated breath meditation (sitting as still as you can and focusing on the breath). You can also use those skills of mindfulness in many different areas of your life. Anything you do can be done mindfully2

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is taking those three pieces of mindfulness and applying it to the eating experience. Today, I’d like to share two mindful eating exercises: the raisin exercise, and a mindful meal exercise. Like any exercise, your ability to feel confident in doing them will improve over time. Your understanding will deepen with practice. And like many things I talk about on this blog, this is a practice.

Practice is a lifelong journey towards improvement. Practice can never be perfect, and perfect is not the aim. Practice is a humble acknowledgement that there is no such thing as perfection. Practice is the point, and there is no performance. (via How to Change Your Life)

The Raisin Exercise

There is one exercise called the “raisin exercise”. Nearly every teaching of mindful eating uses this3. The idea is to take one raisin and examine it as though you have never seen anything like it in your life. If you have raisins in your house, or something similar – a nut or a small slice of fruit would work fine too – go grab it and follow along.

  • Look at the object, examine how the light hits it, the colors and the shapes.
  • Feel the object between your fingers, slowly roll it around. What textures do you feel?
  • Bring the object to your nose and smell it. What smells do you smell?
  • Bring the object to your mouth and notice how your hand knows exactly where to place it.
  • Place it in your mouth but do not chew. What flavours do you notice on your tongue?
  • Roll the object around in your mouth and notice what textures you feel.
  • Bite into the object. Taste the explosion of flavours as you chew. Feel how the texture changes as you chew.
  • Notice when the urge to swallow arises. What does that feel like?
  • Swallow and notice how effortless it is.
  • Take a deep breath. How do you feel right now?

Reflecting on the raisin exercise

How do you feel after this exercise? What observations can you make?

When I do this exercise with people in person, they usually have the same couple of observations:

  • This is extremely different from normal eating.
  • If I do this for every bite of a meal, it would take forever to eat.
  • I feel very calm right now.

I’d like to talk about those last two statements. First, the calmness. This sort of extremely slow movement, paired with a small focus, does tend to lead to calmness. Even writing or reading those steps, I felt the same calmness.

Second, the observation that because this is so slow to take in one bite, a meal would take forever. That may be true. But you don’t need to do this for every single bite of every single meal in order to eat mindfully. I recommend doing this exercise as a stand-alone mediation or for the first bites of your meal. Another approach is the practice of a mindful meal.

A Mindful Meal

A mindful meal is a practice that you can use as often as you like. You’ll go through similar steps as the raisin exercise, but with the understanding that you’ll be eating a whole meal, or snack, and so you’ll speed up the steps (but it may still be slower than your normal pace of eating).4

  • The first step is to clear away distractions. Turn off the TV or radio. Put your phone or other devices out of reach, or at least turn it to silent (not vibrate), and place it face down. Ideally, you would be sitting down at a table that has very little on it.
  • Sit down with your food in front of you.
  • Close your eyes and let your hands fall onto your lap.
  • Take a slow, full breath, in and out.
  • Make a note of any emotions or thoughts that are running through you.
  • Breathe and let go of those thoughts and emotions for the time being. Set them aside until after your meal. This time is for eating, not worrying, not planning.
  • Feel the sensations in your stomach area, what do you notice?
  • Feel your hunger, how does that show up in your body and mind?
  • Breathe out and open your eyes.
  • Look at your meal and take in the colours, textures, and shapes.
  • Breathe in the smell of your meal and feel your mouth water in anticipation of food.
  • Pick up your utensil one mouthful of food and place it in your mouth. Set down your utensil and place your hand on your lap or the table.
  • Taste the flavours, feel the textures and temperatures, and notice how they change as you chew.
  • As you swallow, notice any sensations that arise in your throat or in your stomach.
  • Again, pick up your utensil and one mouthful of food and place it in your mouth. Set down your utensil and place your hand on your lap or the table.
  • Taste the flavours, feel the textures and temperatures, and notice how they change as you chew.
  • As you swallow, notice any sensations that arise in your throat or in your stomach.
  • Repeat these steps until your meal is done.

What if I get distracted?

As you go through your meal, thoughts and emotions may arise. This is normal. You may begin to think about what you will do after the meal. You might judge yourself for what you are eating (or not eating). You may notice strong emotions, especially if you tend to eat for emotional reasons often. When you notice that your thoughts and emotions have distracted you from the flavours, aromas, textures, and sensations of eating, return your focus back to the activity of eating. You may need to pause, before taking another mouthful of food.

  • Close your eyes. Take a deep full breath.
  • Feel your emotions, feel the physical sensations that they cause.
  • Breathe and release any tension around those sensations.
  • Let go of any judgements you have about this emotion and this sensation. Give yourself permission to feel it.
  • As you breathe out next, let go of the emotion and, if you need to, promise yourself that you will take care of the emotion after your meal.
  • Open your eyes, take a deep breath, and re-engage with your meal.
  • Take another bite. Set down your utensil or place your hand on your lap or the table.
  • Taste the flavours, feel the textures and temperatures, and notice how they change as you chew.
  • As you swallow, notice any sensations that arise in your throat or in your stomach.

Repeat this until your meal is done.

At the end of your eating experience

As you move through your meal, notice how your feelings of hunger subside and are replaced by feelings of satisfaction or fullness.

  • Notice when those feelings of satisfaction or fullness signal the end of your meal. What does it feel like to have enough?
  • After you have finished, take a slow, full breath. Notice how you feel.
  • Stand, and clear the table, taking the dirty dishes to the kitchen.
  • Now breathe, and carry on with your day.

Stumbling blocks in mindful eating

If I am eating mindfully, I will eat less and I will lose weight, right?

People often come to mindful eating thinking that if they have less mindless eating in their life, they will lose weight. This can be a very unhelpful thought, because it bring judgement to the table. To eat mindfully, we must let go of judgements on what foods are “good” or “bad” and whether we are eating “too much” or “too little”. Without dropping our judgements, we cannot be fully mindful.

Being non-judgemental is a practice. Some people find so much relief in hearing that they can drop the judgements that they find it easy – Congratulations, keep going! Some people will struggle with this because they have been told (directly or indirectly) that they cannot trust themselves. The messages seem to come from everywhere and nowhere and get lodged in deep in our brains. So it takes time and practice to learn to be non-judgemental while we eat.

If you want to read more about this idea, come back to the blog next week (Oct 28) and I’ll be talking about intuitive eating.

To do it right, I must always be mindful

If you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ll probably know that I don’t agree with that. I do think that it is super helpful to do a full mindful eating exercise when you can. But it’s hard to do this when there are other people around, unless those people are also following along. In this exercise, there is no room for conversation. Yet, having a conversation over a meal is an amazing way to connect with other people. So how do we integrate this into our lives?

Here are some things to consider:

  • When you are eating a meal or a snack alone, this can be a good time to do this exercise more formally. Depending on your life, this might happen often or it might be rare. Regardless, in those times, can you try this practice on?
  • If you live with other people and you usually eat with the TV on, or with devices in hand, can you have a conversation with them?
    • Let them know that you would like to have fewer distractions over meals and ask them what they think about turning off the TV during meal times.
    • If they are not very enthusiastic, frame it as an experiment, and keep the conversation going. Feel free to send them to this blog as well 🙂

When you are eating with others, here are a few key points to focus on.

  • Take a deep breath and let go of any tension before you begin your meal.
  • Breathe in the smells and comment on how the meal looks or smells (especially if someone else prepared it – It’s a great way to connect and show gratitude 🙂 )
  • Set your utensil down between bites. Each time you pick up your utensils, it is a little reminder to bring a sense of calm and mindfulness to the conversation and your meal
  • Rather than aiming for the whole eating experience to be mindful, aim for small moments of mindfulness. Even a split second of mindfulness counts. (And this is true even when you are doing the full exercise).
  • Tune into your physical sensations and feelings of hunger and fullness at key points in your meal. When you have eaten roughly 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of what you started with, check in.
  • When you feel like you have had enough, tell the other person. You might say something like, “I’m getting full, but wow! that was good.” This can be helpful if you feel an expectation to finish your plate, or you think the cook will be offended if you don’t finish it all.


Today we’ve covered quite a lot of ground in 4 main parts.

  • a tiny intro to mindfulness
  • the raisin exercise
  • a mindful eating exercise
  • and some ways to make your eating more mindful, every day

Let me know, what did you think of these exercises? How do you plan to bring more mindfulness into your eating?

  1. I love listening to his podcast, and it seems like this idea comes up every other episode!
  2. Leo Babauta of zenhabits.net is very skillful at exploring how mindfulness can be applied in everyday life. His discussions were how I first became open to the idea of meditating. And his guides surely influenced the way I have written out these exercises.
  3. I tried to find out where this exercise came from. Most people reference Jon Kabat-Zinn when they discuss this exercise
  4. My first exposure to this was through Michelle May, MD at a Dietitians of Canada conference. She did a similar exercise with the dessert served with lunch – dark chocolate mousse – and I’ve been talking about mindful eating ever since.

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