Welcome to the mindful eating challenge! You may already be familiar with the term mindful eating. It is a way of eating that emphasizes being present during meals and may offer health benefits such as higher self-esteem (1) and lower stress levels (2, 3).
Mindful eating is a powerful tool that can improve your relationship with food while also helping you feel confident to make thoughtful food choices.
Are you interested in mindful eating but aren’t sure where to start? This 7-day mindful eating challenge has all of the mindful eating steps, activities, and exercises you need to become a mindful eater in only one week.
All you need to get started is 15 to 30 minutes per day for the next seven days.
Let’s dive in!
Mindful Eating 101
Mindful eating has its origins in mindfulness, which is the act of tuning in to one’s thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
It is an approach to eating that focuses on bringing your full attention back to food in a nonjudgmental way. Unlike most diets, mindful eating has little to do with calories, carbs, fats, or even the foods themselves. Instead, the core principles of mindful eating include bringing awareness to the nourishing aspects of food, recognizing our hunger and fullness signals, and choosing foods that are both enjoyable and nutritious.
Take a moment to remember your most recent meal. Let’s start with an easy question- What did you eat? Perhaps you can instantly recall your entire meal, or maybe today was one of those days when you were on autopilot.
Here is another question- What sensations did you notice while eating? When was the last time that you felt really tuned into a meal?
Like many of us, you may not be able to answer all of these questions. As a society, we’re good at multitasking, especially when it comes to meals. Whether working, driving, watching television, or scrolling through our phones, we often do more than eat at mealtimes.
Mindless eating, or eating without full consciousness, can leave us disconnected from ourselves, our bodies, and our natural hunger signals.
Mindful eating is an effective tool that can help improve your relationship with food, curb mindless eating, and foster healthy eating habits.
Benefits of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating has been shown to have multiple health benefits. Some benefits of mindful eating include:
- Decreased emotional or stress eating- We eat for many reasons, and they aren’t always related to hunger. Mindful eating can help us distinguish between our emotional hunger versus our physical hunger (4).
- Improved digestion. Mindful eating can help digestion since you are eating slower—no more feelings of uncomfortable fullness.
- Better connection with internal hunger cues- Our bodies send us hunger and fullness signals to help naturally regulate the amount we eat. Mindful eating can help us better understand and respond to these signals (4).
- Improved relationship with food- The practice of mindful eating can help us trust ourselves to choose foods that are both enjoyable and nutritious (1).
- Better food choices- We’re more likely to choose healthful foods when we’re not running on autopilot.
- Decreased yo-yo dieting- Quick fix and fad diets don’t work in the long run. Many individuals have short-term success while dieting, usually because most diets severely restrict food intake. However, many dieters end up regaining that weight loss (or even gain more) within a few years after stopping the diet (5, 6).
Mindful eating isn’t a diet or lose-weight-quick scheme. Instead, it teaches you to trust your body and hunger, which can help break the cycle of yo-yo dieting.
What Is the Mindful Eating Challenge?
So now that you know about mindful eating and its benefits, the next question is how to get started. Mindful eating sounds deceptively simple. At its core, mindful eating involves being fully present at meals. Of course, bringing your full attention to your meals is easier said than done and takes practice.
In today’s fast-paced world, we’re used to staring at screens, working through lunch, or simply disconnecting from the moment.
The mindful eating challenge is a free week-long challenge that will help you learn and practice key elements of mindful eating. These include bringing awareness back to your meal in a nonjudgmental way (no foods are good or bad), slowing your eating rate, becoming better acquainted with your physical hunger cues, and learning how to savor your food.
Each day of this challenge will include an actionable mindful eating exercise or activity. All that you need to do is set aside one meal a day for mindful eating.
This challenge is perfect for anyone who wants to become a mindful eater but doesn’t know where to start. It is also good for those who already practice mindful eating and want to better their skills. By the end of the week, you’ll have multiple new tools in your toolbox to help you become a mindful eater.
Tips for the Mindful Eating Challenge
Before we dive in, here are some quick tips that will help you during the challenge:
- Most of these mindful eating activities will take place at mealtimes. You can choose which meals you’d like for this 7-day challenge.
- Try setting aside 15 to 30 minutes per day for each mindful eating activity
- Eat slowly- Chew your food thoroughly, take smaller bites of food, and pause every few minutes.
- Try serving yourself a balanced plate of ¼ protein, ¼ carbs, ½ fruits or veggies, and a fat, and then pay attention to how the different components of the meal make you feel. Ask yourself, do different foods on your plate impact you differently?
- Finally, be patient with yourself. Mindful eating is hard at first because we’re not used to staying in the present moment and quieting the mind. Additionally, mindfulness, including mindful eating, can bring awareness to emotions and thoughts that we might be trying to avoid because they are uncomfortable. As with other forms of mindfulness, mindful eating requires practice, and it is a skill that you can build.
Day 1: Remove Distractions
In today’s world, we are bombarded by stimuli from the moment that we wake up in the mornings until the moment that we shut our eyes for the night, and mealtime is usually no exception.
When was the last time that you enjoyed a meal without interruptions or distractions? Many of us feel the need to multitask during meals, whether it’s working through our lunch break or absentmindedly scrolling.
However, all of these distractions can lead us to disconnect from the moment, resulting in mindless eating.
Your challenge for today is to do nothing but eat during your mindful meal. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes for this meal and eat without distraction. This may include stepping away from your desk, turning off the TV, and putting your phone down so that you will be present with your food choices.
After you are finished, ask yourself these questions:
“What would you have normally done during this meal (i.e. What is usually distracting you?)” “How do you feel now?” “What do you notice about eating in this way?”
Day 2: Eat Slower
For day 2, we are going to practice slowing down at meals. Eating slower gives you time to be mindful, savor each bite, and enjoy your meals. Additionally, eating slowly also gives you time to recognize when you are full.
Here are some strategies on how to eat slower:
- Putting your fork down after every couple of bites
- Taking a 1-minute break from eating after every 5 minutes
- Chewing your food thoroughly- Some mindful eating outlets will recommend chewing your food upwards of 30 times (or more!), which can be cumbersome and unrealistic. One of the goals of mindful eating is to enjoy food and not judge how many times we chew each bite. Instead, focus on chewing your food thoroughly versus counting every bite.
- Take smaller bites than you usually would
Day 3: Practice a 1-Minute Meditation
Today, we’ll take a step backward for a moment to start building the foundation of mindfulness. To put it simply, mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment in a gentle manner.
It can be easy to become disconnected from our thoughts and emotions for a myriad of reasons, and learning to be mindful is an ongoing process that takes practice. Perhaps it is helpful to think of mindfulness like you would a muscle in the body- it’s something that you can work on and strengthen over time.
For today’s mindful eating challenge activity, try practicing this 1-minute meditation before a meal:
- While in a comfortable position with your meal in front of you, begin by taking a deep belly breath in. Then slowly exhale.
- On your next breath in, slowly bring your attention to your head, face, and neck, releasing any tension or tightness as you exhale.
- Now, take another breath in, focusing attention on your shoulders, arms, and hands. Again, release any tension or tightness as you breathe out.
- Next, bring awareness to your chest, back, and belly, releasing any tension as you breathe out.
- Finally, shift your attention to your lower body, legs, and feet, releasing any tension or tightness from this area on the exhale.
- Take in a final deep belly breath, this time allowing your entire body to relax.
Once you’ve completed this 1-minute meditation, take a moment before starting your meal. How are you feeling right now? Are you in the moment?
As with any exercise, mindfulness takes time. These short, informal practices are a great way to start checking in with your thoughts and feelings before a meal.
Day 4: Savor Your Food
Day 4 of the mindful eating challenge is about enjoying your food with this mindful meal activity.
When was the last time that you savored each bite of food?
Begin by serving yourself a meal, preferably with a carb, fat, and protein, to form a balanced plate. Take a few minutes before eating to observe the food in front of you.
What do you notice about the colors or the texture? How does the meal smell? How is your body reacting to these offerings (i.e. salivating, stomach rumbling, anticipation, etc.)? Which part of the meal is most appealing to you, if any, and why?
Next, place one small bite of food into your mouth and wait about 10 seconds to begin chewing. You don’t necessarily have to count if it becomes too cumbersome, but take a moment to pause before chewing. What did you notice about the flavors or texture of the food before you started chewing? How about after you started?
Repeat this same activity with another food item that is on your plate. How is this bite different than the first?
Continue until you’ve finished your meal. How did this mindful meal compare to your typical eating experience?
Day 5: Learn Your Hunger Signals
There are many ways that our body signals to us that it is time to eat. From the familiar rumbling of the stomach to emotions such as “hanger,” we all experience physical hunger differently.
Many of us also have experience with ignoring or disconnecting from our hunger and fullness cues, whether skipping lunch to go to a work meeting or clearing our plates even after we’re already full.
Today’s exercise involves becoming acquainted with your hunger and fullness cues using the mindful eating hunger scale. The mindful eating hunger scale is a rating system from 1 to 10, with one being very hungry to the point of feeling faint or famished and ten being overly full, stuffed, or on the verge of being sick.
Ideally, we’d like to be about a four before meals and a seven after eating when using this scale. In other words, not too hungry and not too full.
Using this hunger scale before, during, and after a meal or snack can help us in several ways. First, it helps us identify when we are hungry versus eating for an emotional reason such as sadness or boredom.
Additionally, it allows us to recognize when we are full, which is our body’s way of regulating how much we eat. It can be extremely easy to become disconnected or override these natural fullness signals.
Try using the mindful eating hunger scale the next time you eat. Where are you on the scale before the meal? Where are you halfway through? And, where are you at the end of the meal?
Day 6: Eat Only When You Are Hungry
Not all hunger is biological hunger. There are many reasons why we eat, and it is not always because we are physically hungry.
Sometimes, we eat out of boredom or to dull an uncomfortable emotion. The first step to combatting emotional or mindless eating is identifying the cause of our emotional hunger.
The next time that you find yourself automatically reaching for a food, take a moment to notice what you are feeling and what you truly need at this time. Is it physical hunger? If so, then go ahead and eat!
Or are you anxious, bored, lonely, angry, or sad? Unfortunately, no amount of food will quell these uncomfortable emotions, and overindulging will only temporarily numb the problems. It may even make us feel worse in the long run since feelings of guilt often accompany overeating.
Today’s activity is to practice learning the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Try keeping a mindful eating diary to help pinpoint why you eat when you aren’t physically hungry.
Some things to note in your mindful eating journal may include the time you ate, your hunger ranking on the mindful eating hunger scale, what you ate, and what you were thinking and feeling during the meal.
Day 7: List 5 Things You Will Do Instead of Eating When You Aren’t Hungry
During yesterday’s mindful eating challenge activity, you practiced identifying some of the reasons you eat that are unrelated to biological hunger.
Now that we recognize some of the thoughts and feelings that drive our emotional eating, we can look for alternatives that don’t involve food.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t eat if you’re hungry- absolutely eat if you are hungry! Instead, we’re focused on becoming more aware of our natural hunger signals as well as reasons that we may eat when we’re not hungry.
For the final mindful eating activity, make a list of five things that you can try instead of mindless eating. Below is a shortlist of ideas to help with the brainstorming process, and it is in no way exhaustive. What is on your list? Leave a comment below.
- Take a walk
- Do some jumping jacks
- Take a nap
- Go to bed early (or on time)
- Talk to a friend or loved one
- Walk away from your desk or computer screen
- Make a cup of tea or coffee
- Spend quality time with your pet
- Try yoga
- Do something that will make you smile or laugh
Mindful eating is a resource that can help you improve your relationship with food. After all, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and we should enjoy it without guilt or shame.
However, today’s fast-paced lifestyle often shifts our attention from the present moment, even at mealtime. Additionally, many conventional diets have a myriad of food rules which can further disconnect us from our natural hunger and fullness.
The mindful eating challenge was designed to give you the essential tools needed to build your routine of mindful eating.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed this challenge and feel more confident in your skills as a mindful eater!
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