This Expert Explains The One Thing You Need To Do If You Want To Try Mindful Eating

Woman sitting outside eating an apple
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Ever been on a diet and found it tough to stick to? Perhaps you’ve tried cutting out food groups or restricting calories but found it a struggle to sustain and reach your goals. Mindful eating could be the answer.

Dr Romi Ran is a clinical psychologist specializing in food, eating and body image, who champions a compassionate approach to food in Bite-Sized Peace: Change How You Eat, Accept Your Body, Transform Your Life. Mindfulness is proven to help with mental health, and, according to Ran, mindful eating can help fix your dieting problems—in fact, it can change your relationship with food entirely.

What is mindful eating?

“Mindful eating is about tuning into your body,” says Ran. “When you’re hungry, you eat, and when you’re full, you stop eating.” Sounds simple, right? But you’ll have to do a bit of work to get to that point.

“This is an approach to food that emphasizes being fully attentive to the entire eating experience, without any judgment, guilt or evaluation,” says Ran. “Noticing the colors, the smells, textures, the flavors, temperatures, even the sounds it makes as we’re chewing it.”

It’s not only the physical eating process to be aware of. “It’s the whole relationship we have with food,” says Ran. “You learn to tell physical hunger from emotional cravings, and wanting to eat because you’re bored or stressed, for example.”

Cultivating this approach can help to avoid slipping into yo-yo dieting, where the deprivation and undernourishment of restrictive diets can lead to overeating, either at the end of a diet or if you fall off the wagon.

What’s the secret to eating mindfully?

“The most important thing of all is to learn to make this connection with your body's innate wisdom,” says Ran. “Your body knows what, how much and when to eat. Rather than relying on external diet rules, societal norms, or even your thoughts, learn how to listen and trust your body’s signals. If you do that, you’ll find it will tell you what it needs.”

Ran shares an example. If it’s 11 o’clock and you’re hungry but lunchtime for you is usually at 1 o’clock, it’s OK to eat now. The idea is to eat when you’re hungry, choose foods that nourish you and make you feel good, and then stop when you’re full, even if that means leaving food on your plate.

Ran’s book, Bite-Sized Peace contains exercises to help you listen to your body’s signals. She suggests developing a hunger scale, where for example:

  • Five is neutral, not hungry or distracted by food;
  • Four is starting to get hungry or feeling like a snack;
  • Three is craving specific food, losing focus on other activities;
  • Two is getting irritable, stomach growling, craving exact dishes;
  • One is when you would eat anything, you’re starting to panic about getting food;
  • Zero is feeling dizzy, sick or faint with hunger and almost going off food. 

Ran suggests spending a couple of weeks tuning into your hunger at different levels and working out what hunger cues feel like for you. This enables you to recognize the perfect level of hunger when eating feels most satisfying and enjoyable, and when you’re less likely to overeat.

“Mindful eating can help you become aware of how different foods will affect your mood, how they will affect your energy levels, and how they can make you feel physically, mentally and emotionally,” says Ran.

“Your whole relationship with food, your body and eating will change if you really nurture that connection with your body’s innate wisdom and let that guide you rather than following external cues,” says Ran.

Will I lose weight?

“The best approach is to set value-based aims rather than goal-based ones,” says Ran. A goal-based aim might be losing 15 pounds, for example. “That is driven by fear and thinking that you’re not good enough, that you need to change yourself.” A value-based approach on the other hand would be something like, ‘I want to start nourishing my body better’.

“Now that’s compassionate, that’s coming from a place of love, from feeling worthy,” says Ran. “It says ‘I deserve to eat good, nourishing food that makes my body feel well and satisfies me’. The emphasis is completely different. One is about changing and the other is about being.”

You may well find that you lose weight with this approach. But in shifting your focus from slimming to improving your health and wellbeing, coupled with kindness and self-acceptance, you may also find that you no longer care about the number on the scale because your whole outlook has changed for the better.

About Our Expert
Dr Romi Ran headshot
About Our Expert
Dr Romi Ran

Dr Romi Ran is a clinical psychologist, a protected title in the UK which requires her to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council. She is also a member of the British Psychological Society. She gained a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from The University of Oxford and has worked as a research coordinator in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. 

Camilla Artault
Content editor

Camilla Artault is a writer and keen runner. She has covered women’s running gear – testing leggings, jackets, running bras, tops and shorts – for Coach since 2018, as well as interviewing experts and writing about a range of health and lifestyle topics.