Mindful Eating

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The Holiday Challenge has started! The challenge is to maintain our weight during the holiday season.Family toasting on Christmas dinner at home This is a seven-week virtual educational program that was developed by the Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less (ESMMWL) team at NC State University, N.C. Cooperative Extension and NC Department of Public Health.

One of the first tips they’ve given us for this season is MINDFULNESS. The whole idea here is to be aware of what, when and why we’re eating. Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to the present moment without judgement.

Research has shown us that there are many health benefits related to mindfulness including reduced stress, improved chronic pain management, improved immune function and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Logically, it makes sense that mindful eating can assist with weight loss and/or maintenance.

The ESMMWL team has created these 12 Steps to Mindful Eating. Incorporating them into your life can have great results. Being mindful of your eating habits can allow you to make intentional choices instead of just responding to external cues, emotions or the environment. Give them a look!

  1. Make eating an exclusive event. When you eat—only eat. Give eating the attention it needs to fully enjoy your food and be mindful of every bite. Eating without distraction can help you better recognize when you are full.
  2. Check your stress level. Eating is a common response to stress. During times of stress, you may find yourself turning to food even when you are not hungry. Try to get your mind off of food and deal with stress in other ways, perhaps a few deep breaths or a short walk.
  3. Appreciate food. Acknowledge the gift of food and the effort needed to grow and prepare it. Enjoy your food with gratitude.
  4. Eat slowly. Eating slowly may help you better recognize your hunger and satiety cues. Try to put your fork down between bites, chew your food well, and make each meal last at least 20 minutes.
  5. Be mindful about the taste, texture, and smell of food. Savor your food. Notice the flavor, shape, and texture of each bite.
  6. Be mindful of portions to enjoy quality, not quantity. When more food is served, we are tempted to eat more. Be mindful of the portion sizes being served on your plate.
  7. Be mindful of how hungry you are. External cues such as seeing or smelling food, may be signaling you to eat, but are you really hungry?
  8. Eat before you get too hungry. When you get too hungry, you may be tempted to make impulsive choices instead of mindful selections.
  9. Be mindful of your protein. Choose plant-based proteins often such as beans and legumes.
  10. Be mindful of your calorie budget. Everyone has a number of calories that can be eaten each day to maintain a healthy weight. One way to be mindful of the calories you are consuming is to track what you eat and drink. Tracking for even a few days can increase your mindfulness of what and how much you are consuming.
  11. Determine if the food is calorie-worthy. When it comes to special holiday foods or “sometimes” foods, ask yourself, is this calorie-worthy? If you are going to splurge on a high-calorie food, make sure it is something you really enjoy—then have just a few bites.
  12. Take one bite. Follow the one-bite rule when it comes to special foods or desserts. You will not feel deprived from missing out on a favorite food and will not feel guilty for eating too much. The maximum pleasure of eating a food usually comes in the first bite.

If you’d like to learn more about the Holiday Challenge program, it isn’t too late. It runs through December 31. It’s all virtual and you can participate on your computer or cell phone. And it’s free of charge. The program provides strategies and resources that can help you maintain your weight during the holiday season. You can sign up on-line at the ESMMweighless.com website.

In addition to the Holiday Challenge, the ESMMWL team offers the Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less, a 15-week online weight management program held in real-time with a live Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). And the Eat Smart, Move More, Prevent Diabetes, a 12-month online diabetes prevention program recognized by the CDC. Classes are held by a live coach. Both classes are launching in January 2024. You may be eligible to participate in these classes at a reduced fee. Contact the ESMMWL team for details.

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at
Cheryle_Syracuse@ncsu.edu