What is mindful eating? According to the Harvard Health Letter, it’s “noticing the colors, smells, flavors and textures of your food; chewing slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; and learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about food.” Most people do the opposite. They don’t usually take the time to enjoy the experience of eating, but instead they quickly rush through meals and eat mindlessly. There are many health risks related to eating that pose potential harm to people, such as obesity and GMOs found in food. This is why it is important to develop the habit of mindful eating. Keep in mind what you eat, and you are bound to live a longer and healthier life. Here are seven steps to eat more mindfully.

1. Choose healthier foods when shopping

Mindful eating starts before you sit down at the table. Stocking your kitchen with the right foods, and saying no to junk food, is an easy way to ensure a healthier meal and a mindful eating experience. When in doubt, abide by this simple rule: Choose whole, unprocessed food whenever possible. This includes vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, and lean dairy, meats and fish.

2. Eat only when you’re hungry

Many people snack when they’re bored or as part of social rituals. However, you shouldn’t eat unless your body is telling you it’s hungry. Otherwise, you easily load up on extra calories and gain weight. If you’re hungry, there’s no problem with a healthy snack between meals, but don’t over do it by letting your light snack turn into a binge session.

3. Eliminate distractions when you’re ready to eat

Getting distracted while eating is very common. Many people like to unwind in front of the TV with their dinner, talk on the phone while eating or just “zone out” as they shovel food in their mouths. This is called “mindless eating.” To eat mindfully, you need to set aside the distractions and get focused on the task at hand, which is eating your food.

4. Take deep breaths to settle your mind

Before you eat, take a few deep breaths to calm your mind. Examine your emotions, and note how you’re feeling. Tell yourself you will consciously be in the moment until you’re finished eating.

5. Savor each bite

Bring all your senses to the table, and really experience each bite. Note the smell, the feel and texture of the food in your mouth and the taste of different ingredients. Chew slowly and deliberately. And don’t follow the “clean your plate” rule. If you overload your plate with food, put the rest in a Tupperware and save it for the next day. Better yet, buy smaller plates so you break the habit of piling mass amounts of food on your plate and thinking you need to finish it to be satisfied.

6. Allow your thoughts to flow freely

Your mind naturally wanders while eating, especially if you’re distracted by others at your table. This is okay. Just re-focus on eating slowly and deliberately when you notice this happening. Be aware of each bite you take despite the thoughts that may flow through your head. Let those thoughts flow like clouds, and keep shifting your focus back to the sensory experience of the food in front of you. Mindful eating is a process that takes time to learn. So don’t be discouraged if you make mistakes, because the next moment is an opportunity to re-focus on your mindful eating efforts.

7. Express gratitude

Acknowledge the time and effort you put into preparing your food. Be thankful that you get to enjoy your nourishing meal. Savor each bite, and express gratitude before and after you eat. This makes the experience of eating so much more enjoyable. And that’s really what mindful eating is all about: nourishing your body while providing a satisfying experience for your brain.

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