Reduce Eating with Mindfulness

Reduce Eating with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Eating as mindfully as we do on retreat or in a mindfulness course is not realistic for many of us, especially with families, jobs, and the myriad distractions around us. . . So have some self-compassion, and consider formal mindful eating on retreat and special occasions, as well as informal mindful eating in your daily life.” – Christopher Willard


Eating is produced by two categories of signals. Homeostatic signals emerge from the body’s need for nutrients, is associated with feelings of hunger, and usually work to balance intake with expenditure. Non-homeostatic eating, on the other hand, is not tied to nutrient needs or hunger but rather to the environment, to emotional states, and or to the pleasurable and rewarding qualities of food. These cues can be powerful signals to eat even when there is no physical need for food. External eating is non-homeostatic eating in response to the environmental stimuli that surround us, including the sight and smell of food or the sight of food related cause such as the time of day or a fast food restaurant ad or sign.


Mindful eating involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and may help reduce intake. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating. In today’s Research News article “Effects of a Brief Mindful Eating Induction on Food Choices and Energy Intake: External Eating and Mindfulness State as Moderators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Allirot and colleagues examined the effects of a very brief mindful eating instruction on subsequent food intake.


They recruited adult women (aged 20-60 years) and randomly assigned them to watch a 7-minute video on mindful eating or a control video on gastronomic science. In the mindful eating video “participants were shown how to taste foods, focusing on (1) sight (instruction: “observe the food as if you were seeing it for the first time”); (2) touch (instruction: “touch it and explore its texture”; (3) smell (instruction: “perceive olfactory sensations in each breath”; (4) taste and oral sensations, first without chewing and then while chewing the food slowly; and, finally, (5) ingestive effects while swallowing and immediate post-ingestive effects after swallowing.”


The participants then tasted 4 finger foods, tomato and mussel brochette with vinaigrette, ham and goat cheese brochette with pine nuts and walnuts, fruit brochette, of chocolate candy and rated their liking for the foods. They were then presented with a buffet containing the 4 finger foods and asked to fill out questionnaires about their eating and told to eat however much of the foods they wanted. They were measured before and after the taste test and after the buffet for subjective appetite, hunger, fullness, and desire to eat. They were measured for mindfulness after the taste test and the amounts of foods eaten during the buffet were recorded. The next day they completed measures of restrained, emotional, and external eating behavior.


They found that the group instructed in mindful eating during the buffet test ate fewer high-density finger foods and ingested less overall food energy (calories) than the control group. This occurred even though there were no differences in the liking for the foods, or intake of low-density finger foods. They also demonstrated that the mindful eating group in comparison to the control group ate fewer finger foods and less food energy when their mindfulness levels were high regardless of their propensity for external eating.


The findings suggest that mindful eating, even when only induced by a brief instruction, can alter the amounts and types of foods subsequently eaten. One design issue with the study is that the participants were only allowed 15 minutes for the buffet test. Mindful eating instructions specifically instruct slower eating. So, the instruction might have reduced intake by slowing down eating during a fixed period. Nevertheless, the results are suggestive of the ability of mindful eating to reduce intake.


So, reduce eating with mindfulness.


Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?” – Jan Chozen Bays


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Xavier Allirot, Marta Miragall, Iñigo Perdices, Rosa Maria Baños, Elena Urdaneta, Ausias Cebolla, Effects of a Brief Mindful Eating Induction on Food Choices and Energy Intake: External Eating and Mindfulness State as Moderators. Mindfulness (2018) 9: 750.



Mindfulness techniques have been shown to have protective effects on eating. However, no studies have been conducted on the effect of a single mindful eating (ME) induction on subsequent food choices and intake, and the way eating behaviors and the mindfulness state might moderate this effect. The objectives of the present study were to assess (1) the effect of an ME induction on food choices, intake, liking, and appetite, and (2) whether eating behaviors and the mindfulness state moderate the effect on intake. Seventy adult women (35.27 ± 1.27 years old; body mass index 22.79 ± 0.44 kg/m2) were invited to a tasting session. Participants in the mindful group received the instruction to taste the foods in a mindful manner (without meditation training). Participants in the control group were instructed to taste the foods with no specific recommendations. Afterwards, participants were offered an individual buffet-style snack containing the foods previously tasted. During this snack, the mindful group showed a reduced number of high-energy-dense food items eaten (p = .019) and a decreased energy intake (p = .024), compared to controls. No differences were found between groups on appetite and liking. Moderation analyses showed that the ME induction was able to reduce the total number of food items and energy intake in participants who combined higher levels of external eating and lower levels of mindfulness state. Results encourage the promotion of ME, particularly in external eaters with low mindfulness state levels, and they support ME as a strategy to promote healthy eating.


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