Mindful Eating


Some dietitians describe mindful eating as focusing on the actual acts involved in food preparation and meal consumption rather than multitasking while cooking or eating. The theory underlying this definition of mindful eating is that distractions caused by such other activities as reading, watching television, or working at the computer while eating interfere with the body's messages to the brain about satisfaction with the food and fullness, thus, increasing the risk of overeating.


Mindful eating grew out of research carried out since 1980 of the effects of mindfulness practice on a range of health issues, including stress-related illness, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and heart disease. Mindful eating is considered a complementary alternative medicine (CAM) approach to the treatment of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and eating disorders.


Mindfulness as a meditative practice originated in Buddhism, and has been taught in the West by such psychologists as Jack Kornfield (1945– ) and Joseph Goldstein (1944– ). The application of mindfulness practice to clinical illness, however, is usually credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn (1944– ), the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn's 1991 publication of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, a paperback book intended for the general public, aroused interest in the application of mindfulness practice to such concerns as eating disorders and obesity as well as chronic pain and traumatic injury, Kabat-Zinn's original focus.

Related to or specializing in the treatment of obesity.
Complementary alternative medicine (CAM)—
A group of medical practices and/or products not considered standard care for a variety of diseases and conditions. Examples include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and chiropractic care.
In psychology, a sensory signal that triggers a learned response of some kind. Cues related to eating may involve the smell, taste, or sight of food, or even the sounds of cooking or meal preparation.
A nonjudgmental conscious awareness of one's present thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and physical sensations.


There is no single overall program for mindful eating. The practice involves a combination of approaches including research, support, and communication with support professionals and peers.

General principles

In general, mindful eating is based on the following components:

Mindful eating is also individualistic. People who take this approach to food and nutrition are invited to trust their own inner wisdom about food likes and dislikes; to choose foods that are pleasing to their senses as well as nourishing to their bodies; to accept their particular food preferences without judgment; to practice awareness of their body's specific signals to begin eating and stop eating; and to understand that their food preferences and eating experiences are unique to them.

The CAMP system

The CAMP system is a more structured approach to weight management that incorporates mindful eating within a larger framework of self-help psychology and specific strategies for coping with temptations to mindless eating. It places greater emphasis on control and power issues than most other discussions of mindful eating.

CAMP is an acronym for Control, Attitudes, Mindful eating, and Portion control. Together, these components can help an individual to regain control over food.

An exercise in mindful eating

A common way to introduce the concept of mindful eating to people who are new to it (or to mindfulness practice in general) is an exercise in consuming food mindfully. The following exercise is to be done with a friend; one person reads the instructions while the other carries out the steps in the exercise. Participants need two small slices of apple, one for each person.


The point of this exercise is not to consume all meals this carefully, but rather to learn more about a person's own eating habits and attitudes toward food. Other exercises that can be done to practice mindfulness while eating include:



There are no known risks to practicing mindful eating, and no reports of malnutrition or other health problems arising from this approach as of 2017.

As with any CAM therapy or treatment, people considering mindful eating should consult their primary care physician. They may also wish to consult a dietitian, as the public health/community nutrition dietetic practice group (DPG) of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) has recommended that its members incorporate mindful eating into their nutritional counseling.

A person under medical supervision for type 2 diabetes, eating disorders, or obesity should consult their doctor while practicing mindful eating. A dietitian knowledgeable about this approach to food and nutrition may provide additional nutritional education and counseling.


Research studies on mindful eating report that it is helpful in treating some obese patients seeking to lose weight, some older adults diagnosed with binge eating disorder, and some college students diagnosed with eating disorders. There are, however, no large population studies that have reported on the effectiveness of mindful eating compared to weight loss surgery or other mainstream approaches to weight management as of 2017.

Fewer than two dozen articles about mindful eating have been published in mainstream medical journals as of 2017, probably because this approach to eating and nutrition is considered a CAM form of therapy and is less than 30 years old.

Mindful eating is intended to be a lifelong approach to food and nutrition that can be extended to other aspects of a person's life.



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Bly, Terri, et al. “Exploring the Use of Mindful Eating Training in the Bariatric Population.” Bariatric Times (December 10, 2007). http://bariatrictimes.com/exploring-the-use-ofmindful-eating-training-in-the-bariatric-population/ (accessed January 20, 2017).

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American Dietetic Association, 120 S Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2190, Chicago, IL, 60606, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, http://www.eatright.org .

American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), 100 SW 75th St., Ste. 201, Gainesville, FL, 32607, (352) 331-4900, Fax: (352) 331-4975, info@asmbs.org, http://www.asmbs.org .

Center for Mindful Eating, PO Box 4286, Portsmouth, NH, 03802, (603) 664-3444, info@tcme.org, http://thecenterformindfuleating.org .

Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Chang Building, 222 Maple Ave., Shrewsbury, MA, 01545, (508) 856-2656, Fax: (508) 856-1977, mindful ness@umassmed.edu, http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm .

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD, 20892, (877) 22-NIAMS (226-4267), https://www.niddk.nih.gov .

National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD, 20892, (301) 496-4000, NIHinfo@od.nih.gov, http://www.nih.gov/index.html .

U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD, 20894, https://medlineplus.gov .

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.