Don’t Stress: A Guide to Mindful and Emotional Eating

by | Apr 20, 2022

Mindful eating is the practice of fully engaging with your food, paying attention to each bite, and savoring the flavors and textures.

It’s no surprise the majority of us have been undergoing an extraordinary amount of stress the past few years—more so than usual—resulting in burnout and other mental and physical conditions. Stress eating or emotional eating helps us escape the overwhelm, boredom, or anxiety we may be feeling but can also have us feeling shameful or guilty when making certain food choices.

There’s a reason why they’re called “comfort” foods: some of these meals remind us of warm and inviting times in our lives or allow us to soothe our emotional distress. And while we’re all about food flexibility here at DishWithDina, we also know that you may not always make the best choices for yourself when under stress, an especially important factor if you’re trying to manage or prevent a chronic condition.

It’s also not uncommon to find ourselves multitasking during meals. Whether it’s eating while working at our desks, watching TV, or scrolling through our phones, many of us are guilty of not giving our full attention to our food, but being mindful during meal times and can help you slow down and savor the flavors and overall experience of eating a meal.

Practicing mindful eating, keeping healthy food options on hand, and watching portion sizes can help us manage our food intake, but if your reaction to a stressful situation is to reach for indulgent snacks, you might need to dive a little deeper to understand what’s really going on.

The Importance of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the practice of fully engaging with your food, paying attention to each bite, and savoring the flavors and textures. Here are some compelling reasons and benefits you might want to consider in adopting this practice:

  • Stress Management: Mindful eating can help reduce stress. When you focus on your meal, you take a break from the worries and distractions of daily life. This can lead to a more relaxed dining experience and better stress management.
  • Improved Digestion: Rushing through meals can disrupt the digestive process. Chewing your food thoroughly and eating slowly allows your body to properly break down and absorb nutrients, potentially reducing digestive discomfort.
  • Enhanced Enjoyment: Food is meant to be enjoyed. When you pay attention to what you’re eating, you can fully appreciate the flavors and textures, making your meals more satisfying.

Strategies for Mindful Eating

Like anything, change takes time and consistency. Implementing new habits may require a plan of action. Consider the following to help you practice mindful eating:

  • Set Aside Distractions: Create a dedicated space for meals, free from work, screens, or other distractions. This will help you focus on your food and the act of eating.
  • Use All Your Senses: Before taking a bite, take a moment to observe your meal. Notice the colors, smells, and textures. Engaging your senses enhances the eating experience.
  • Chew Slowly: Aim to chew each bite at least 20-30 times. This not only aids digestion but also gives your brain time to register that you’re full, preventing overeating.
  • Practice Gratitude: Before or after your meal, take a moment to express gratitude for your food. Recognize the effort that went into producing and preparing it.
  • Listen to Your Body: Tune in to your hunger and fullness cues. Before reaching for seconds, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or just eating out of habit.
Three slices of French toast with berries and nuts atop a purple-rimmed plate and orange napkin
Image credit: Dina R. D’Alessandro

Potential Challenges

A mindful eating practice may not be easy or realistic for everyone. Aside from factors like a busy lifestyle or emotional eating, certain health conditions or other situations may present challenges.

  • Diabetes: Navigating mindful eating with diabetes can be complex. Balancing blood sugar levels requires careful meal planning and timing. However, mindfulness can still play a role.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Individuals with gastrointestinal issues may encounter discomfort during meals, and thereby be apprehensive when making food choices. Mindful eating strategies, like chewing thoroughly and choosing easily digestible foods, may help.
  • Cancer: Cancer treatments and side effects can impact appetite and taste. Mindful eating may seem daunting, but adapting to these changes is possible. Smaller, nutrient-dense meals, along with the support of your interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, can contribute to a more mindful and nourishing eating experience.
  • Older Adults: Dental issues or reduced appetite may present challenges when trying to eat mindfully. Creating a supportive environment, choosing nutrient-rich, easy-to-chew foods, and incorporating social aspects into meals can enhance the mindful eating experience for seniors.
  • Eating Disorders: Anyone dealing with a complex relationship with food requires professional guidance from therapists or dietitians who specialize in eating disorder behaviors. With oversight and support, mindful eating may be a part of the recovery journey by focusing on rebuilding a positive connection with food.

Mindful Eating Is a Privilege

Despite its benefits, the practice of mindful eating is recognized as a privilege, acknowledging disparities in resources and lifestyles.

  • Access to Resources: Mindful eating often involves choosing nutritious, whole foods, which may be costlier and require access to diverse food options.
  • Time and Environment: Practicing mindful eating necessitates a calm environment and time for focused attention during meals, aspects not always feasible for individuals with hectic schedules or unstable living conditions.
  • Cultural Influences: Socio-cultural factors impact eating habits, and adopting mindful eating may be challenging due to cultural norms that prioritize quick or communal meals, potentially limiting individual mindful practices.

Being mindful during meal times can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. By practicing mindfulness, you can manage stress, improve digestion, and savor the pleasures of eating. The next time you sit down for a meal, consider putting away any distractions, take a deep breath, and truly relish each bite.

It’s also essential to recognize that mindful eating doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing practice. Tailoring mindful eating principles to your individual needs, seeking professional advice (from a Registered Dietitian like me, for example), and fostering a supportive community are vital steps toward making mindful eating accessible to everyone.

Check out our “Stress Awareness” webinar replay on YouTube to learn more about the significant role stress plays in our mental and physical well-being. Discover effective mindful eating strategies to recognize, reduce, and manage stress while nourishing yourself.



I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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