How to Eat Less with Mindful Eating (Instead of Another Diet)Can Mindful Eating Work Better Than a Diet?
I’ve found this to be true with people who eat only healthy foods, and yet still struggle to lose fat.
Learn how to change how you eat in this article, and learn why it’s so effective.
And at the end, you can download our free Checklist of 25 Easy Ways to Eat Less.
In my experience as a nutrition coach, magic happens!
Why do I call it magic?
- A – it works
- B – it’s easy, especially when compared to a meal plan or something incredibly restrictive, like paleo or Whole30
- And C – my clients enjoy doing it and do it consistently.
People are eating less, making smarter decisions, and losing fat without the typical guilt or deprivation that comes with a diet.
And they’re seeing great results in ways that go beyond just the scale. (I’m a big fan in “non-scale victories”, and celebrate them whenever I can).
- Feeling more in control of their appetite (they’re overeating less)
- More aware of their hunger cues and feelings of being full
- Better, more comfortable digestion
- Weight loss, even when on vacation! (the blue moon of weight loss)
- More confident and relaxed when eating at social outings – like dinners, parties, and family gatherings
This is based all on two key skills.
First – eating slowly.
Second – eating only until satisfied, or 80% full.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“That’s it? That’s the big secret? This guy’s full of it. That’s too easy to work.”
But is it too easy?
- Do I eat slowly, or do I clear a plate as fast as I can and go for seconds?
- Do I stop when I’m no longer hungry, or do I keep eating until I’m full?
- (Bonus question: When’s the last time you had a visible “food baby”?)
I’ll tell you that I’ve met few people interested in losing weight that didn’t struggle with one or both of those two skills.
And I’ve had my share of overweight clients that only ate very healthy foods! They weren’t eating cookies and crackers and candies. They ate whole, unprocessed foods, but struggled with overeating.
Let’s be clear: if you’re ignoring your body’s natural hunger cues, you will gain weight. Even if you eat totally organic, sugar-free, grain-free, paleo, superfood, raw, etc.
How Common is Overeating (AKA “Mindless Eating”)?
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 38% of adults polled overate because of stress within the past month. 49% of those adults overeat on a weekly basis.
In his excellent Ted Talk on Mindless Eating, author and researcher Brian Wansink found that people overate based on the size of their bowl – not because of how they felt!
In fact, Wansink found that people ate an extra 220 calories worth of Chex Mix from a bigger bowl than they would from a smaller bowl.
Wansink also found that Americans ate until their bowl was empty (relying on external cues). In contrast, he studied the French, who are famously lean and more famously eat croissants, and found that they stopped eating when they no longer felt hungry (relying on internal cues).
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Quote, “”We’re finding that portion size can influence intake as much as taste,” said Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell. “Large packages and containers can lead to overeating foods we do not even find appealing.”
In another study, he served people a literally never-ending bowl of soup. And those people ate 73% more soup than from a normal bowl!
So it’s fair to assume that overeating is incredibly common in the USA. And that it can even be unconsciously driven.
My Own Story on Eating Too Fast & Overeating
In fact, eating too fast and overeating is something that I struggle with.
Now, I’m blessed with a fast metabolism and I’m quite active. I stay lean fairly easily. But I was also a cadet in Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets program for 4 years.
Back then, a hallmark of freshmen year was that we ate FAST. We had no time to eat and tons of rules to follow.
On the command, “fish, chow down!”, meaning that we had a short free for all to eat or face going hungry, I could clear a full plate of food in under 30 seconds
(Mashed potatoes were a blessing, because they didn’t have to be chewed.)
And I’ve struggled to break these habits. So have many of my fellow graduates, as have their fathers.
Now, I make sure to sit down for my meals.
- I put my fork down between bites.
- I chew slowly and focus on how my food tastes. How it smells, what the texture feels like.
- I only put one forkful into my mouth at a time.
- I pause for conversation and to appreciate how my body feels
- I (try) to pause and practice gratitude by thinking about my meal (work in progress)
I’ve enlisted the help of everybody I eat with. Because we know that making a goal public helps you to achieve it. So my friends and family keep me on track, and have free license to correct my habits.
Does Mindful Eating Really Work to Improve Your Health?
Anecdotally, yes. It absolutely does.
My clients that are practicing mindful eating (eating slowly, stopping when satisfied) are doing great. They really are losing weight, and without the restriction or guilt of a typical diet.
But what does the research say?
Check out the studies done on the “Healthy-At-Every-Size” model.
In one study, researches compared a mindful eating group to a dieting group for one year. 6 months of coaching and then 6 months of follow-up.
They measured the improvement of participants’ overall health results. This included weight loss, as well as: blood pressure, blood lipids, energy, eating disorder pathology, self esteem, body image, and depression.
The diet group:
- Lost more weight at 6 months, but also lost a whopping 41% of participants.
- Regained most of the weight after 2 years
- Lost most of the health improvements after 2 years
The mindful eating group:
- Lost weight AND kept it off at 12 months – which is quite rare (~80% of dieters regain the weight after 12 months).
- 92% of mindful eaters kept going 6 months.
- The mindful eaters improved on every health measurement
- The mindful eaters sustained the health improvements and the weight loss 2 years later
A similar study found the same positive effects for metabolic fitness, psychological health, and eating behavior when compared to a dieting group. And again, 92% of mindful eaters stuck with it while 59% of dieters quit.
Here, the mindful eating group lost less weight on average, but they were healthier. (And I bet that they’d do even better with guided coaching to help them make healthier food choices.)
Other studies have shown the negative effects of deprivation on mental health. They’ve shown connections between deprivation and the learning of binge eating.
And there are a number of studies on how an obsession with dieting “rules” can negatively affect the health of young women – including menstrual irregularity, lower self-esteem, and losses in bone mass.
The TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) approach, also based on long-term mindful eating instead of dieting, is also showing promising effects for long-term weight loss success.
To recap: mindful eating is more effective over the long term for improving your health than dieting is.
And what’s the #1 goal of 80% of my clients? To be healthier!
Why It’s So Effective (and Sneaky)
Did you know that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize that you’re body is full?
Yep, it’s true! So it can be very easy to overeat if you’re wolfing down food right off the bat. Slowing down curbs overeating by giving your body time to realize that it’s full.
But that’s not all.
Think about the toughest situations for a dieter.
- Eating out at a restaurant
- Eating out with family (especially those that insist you try their homemade treats)
- Going on vacation
- Resisting “red light foods”, those foods you know you’ll mow on nonstop
What is the common denominator here?
Each of these situations is out of your control.
But – Mindful eating gives you back your control over your eating.
No matter what is on your plate, you can always eat it slower. You can always pay attention to how you feel and stop when you’re no longer hungry.
For my clients that aren’t ready to give up their favorite foods (like pizza, birthday cake, and pasta), this relieves so much of the stress and the guilty of dieting.
If you’re not ready to give up your favorite foods, that’s fine! You don’t have to.
Go ahead and eat it. Really. Just promise yourself, and commit to it, that you’ll eat it slowly
How Mindful Eating Helps You Eat Healthier Foods
Now, I’m not suggesting that eating slowly and stopping when you’re no longer hungry are all that you have to do to lose weight. (The studies didn’t say that, either).
At some point, you will need to make smarter food choices. But it gets easier when you’re paying attention to how you eat.
You may notice that your favorite snack actually makes you feel really lousy.
(Like my client Trish, who swore off of Chinese food when she realized that it made her feel physically ill).
You may realize that your favorite meal from Taco Bell is chewy and bland.
(Like I did, after wrestling season ended and I tried to return to junk food).
It’s a lot easier to make smarter food decisions when you’re choosing foods that taste good and make you feel healthier.
How I Help My Clients to Lose Weight and Feel Better
With my nutrition coaching clients, we start off by discussing how they eat.
They start with awareness – simply paying attention to what they do when they eat. How fast, where they are, what kind of a plate they use, how they felt afterwards.
Sometimes, they even write it down in a modified food journal (beats using a calorie counter!)
From there, they decide upon one way that they could enjoy their meals more.
My job is to provide accountability, guidance, and troubleshooting.
From there, I help my clients improve what they eat. They often start by adding a healthier option to a meal, like adding lean protein to breakfast.
They focus on improving what they already do well – rather than throwing out everything they do and like to eat for a meal plan that worked for a stranger.
Over time, we progress to more difficult habits. We spend two weeks building a new habit, and then continue to work on it over 12 months.
My nutrition coaching clients are in charge the entire time. They’re deciding how to work on their new skills, and they know that they can ask me for help at any time.
And the entire coaching curriculum is powered by Precision Nutrition’s ProCoach. The course is designed and written by PN’s top coaches and researchers.
Sound like something you’d be interested in?
Fill out the form below for a FREE 30-minute nutrition coaching consultation.
You and I will discuss your eating habits, either in-person or over the phone. You don’t have to live near Franklin, MA to participate, as I work with clients all over the world.
10 Easy Ways to Eat Less with Mindful Eating
- Eat slower
- Put your fork down between bites
- Eat from a smaller spoon or fork
- Be sure to have a conversation at your meal – “never eat alone”
- Chew for a set amount of chews, say, 11 times.
- Sit down for every meal at the same place
- Turn off the TV, phone, or computer while you eat
- Drink a glass of water before you begin eating
- Use a smaller plate (6”)
- Use a smaller bowl
Want more tips like this?
Further Reading, Watching, and Learning:
More Original Content from Devin:
“Meal Plans Usually Suck” by Precision Nutrition (6 Things to do Instead)
“The Rules of Normal Eating” – Interview with author Karen Koenig
“The Rules of Normal Eating” – Book by Karen Koenig
“Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” – Book by Brian Wansink
Meet the Author: Devin Gray
Founder, Head Coach
NSCA-CSCS, FMSC, Pn1 Certified
B.S. in Exercise Science – Texas A&M University
Devin is the owner & head coach of Optimize Fitness & Performance. He helps people become stronger and perform their best. Devin is especially focused on helping people with injuries learn to workout safely after they finish physical therapy.
You can book a free 15 minute coaching call with Devin by clicking here.