Mindful eating: How to slow down, enjoy your meal and appreciate the food : Life Kit Lilian Cheung, a mindful eating lecturer at Harvard, shares helpful tips on how to slow down while eating — including saying 'The 5 Contemplations' by Buddhist master Thích Nhất Hanh.

Wolfing down your meals? Here's how to slow down and eat more mindfully

Wolfing down your meals? Here's how to slow down and eat more mindfully

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Photo of a spoon over a bowl of cereal. Three pieces of cereal in the spoon form a happy face.
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You ever eat so fast that you get hiccups from just like inhaling the meal? Or you bite your cheek or tongue because you mistook it for food?

Yeah, I've done it.

So how do we slow down and eat more deliberately? And what are some techniques we can use to eat at a healthy pace?

Lilian Cheung, lecturer and director of Mindfulness Research and Practice in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, shares helpful tips on how to eat more mindfully. That's when you use your senses to enjoy the food, notice how it makes you feel and take time to express gratitude for your meal.

This practice "encourages us to make choices that are satisfying and nourishing to the body. And as we become more aware of our eating habits, we can take steps towards behavior that will benefit not only ourselves, but also our environment," she says.

Benefits of mindful eating

Research has shown that mindful eating has had positive impacts on certain populations. One study from 2022 found that incorporating mindful eating into a weight-loss program helped reduce stress, anxiety and depression among adults with obesity. Another study from 2019 found that mindfulness eating training improved psychological well-being in pregnant women — and its effects appeared to be maintained 8 years later.

So how do you eat more mindfully? Cheung shares 6 tips.

1. Use mealtime as a moment for reflection

Cheung shares an invocation she learned from the late Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hanh called "The Five Contemplations," outlined in his book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. She says that reciting these lines before meals have helped her practice mindful eating.

Reciting "The Five Contemplations" for mindful eating by the late Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hanh before a meal can help you eat more slowly and deliberately, says Lilian Cheung, a lecturer and the director of Mindfulness Research and Practice in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Kaz Fantone/NPR hide caption

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Kaz Fantone/NPR

This food is the gift of the Earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work and loving work.

May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.

May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.

May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change and heals and preserves our precious climate.

We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, our family, and realize our ideal of serving all human beings.

2. Take at least 20 minutes to finish your meal

Very often we find ourselves eating while doing something else, says Cheung — and that can make us eat faster than we normally would. When you sit down to eat, spend about 20 minutes doing so. "It takes about that time for your body to get the signal to the brain that you are full," she adds.

3. Put that phone away

Remove all distractions while you eat. They can interfere with your ability to enjoy your food and notice when you are full. "Allocate time to eat and only eat," says Cheung. "Make sure your cell phone is face down and you're not going to be responding to any messages that come through."

4. Notice all the little details about your food

You might wonder how to spend 20 whole minutes eating a sandwich. Cheung says one way to slow down is to engage your senses and think through all the details about your meal. "Ask yourself: what's on my plate? How hungry am I today? Is it too salty?" she says. Notice the smell, the texture and whatever other senses that arise as you eat.

5. Portion out food you might munch on mindlessly

Cheung suggests putting a small amount of snack food, like potato chips, in a separate bowl to help avoid mindless munching. "If you have a whole bag of chips, it is really challenging to stop after six or eight chips," she says. "We love the taste, we love the crispiness and we just keep getting it from the bag, especially when we're looking at our cell phone or watching a TV program and are distracted." Portioning out these foods can help you eat less at a healthier pace.

6. Actually chew

If you're inhaling your food you're probably not chewing it. And chewing is an important part of digestion, says Cheung. It helps "break up the foods so it's easier for absorption." Look at each bite before popping it into your mouth, acknowledge what you're eating and "chew, chew, chew," she adds.

The audio portion of this episode was edited by Thomas Lu. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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