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Eating with Mindfulness Guide

Mind, meet fork. Studies consistently show that recording your meals and eating patterns leads to both weight loss and better health. This is in part because journaling helps you practice mindfulness, which is loosely defined as focusing your awareness on the present moment. 

Simply taking a photo of what you eat counts here, too, and it can help make you more conscious of things like idle snacking and trips to the pantry. It can also help you pay attention to your hunger cues and how your body feels, as well as remind you to slow down your pace and give your brain the 20 minutes it typically needs to register fullness. 

What to do

Perhaps you’ve tried food journaling before. Maybe you loved it. Maybe it’s not for you. We have a twist. Instead of writing down everything you eat, grab your smartphone and take a picture of your meals and snacks before you eat them (this is the Instagram era, after all!). Searching for your phone, opening up the camera app, and snapping a quick picture rarely takes more than 10 seconds, but it’s enough time to give you a few beats to slow down and notice how you’re feeling and the circumstances around the meal or snack. 

Then, at the end of the day, take a minute to reflect on the exercise by asking yourself “what decision within the Food Pillar was I most proud of today?”. You can either grab a sheet of paper, use the notes section of your smartphone, or even use a free app like Ate (, which lets you take pictures within the app and includes a notes section. 

If you want to get a little deeper, consider writing a little more each night. Where are you when you’re eating? Who are you with? How hungry were you? Were you stressed? Bored? Exhausted? Glued to The Bachelor? Jot it all down. And if you want to go all in and you feel comfortable reviewing your photos, you can pull them up and look for patterns and wins. (Which meal had the most green foods? Which made your body feel the best?)

Remember, no judgment. The point of this exercise isn’t about shame, but about slowing down and taking stock of your emotions. Gaining awareness of when and under what circumstances we eat mindlessly is vital to becoming more mindful with food.  

Tips to keep in mind 

As you continue to photograph your food, you’ll invariably start to notice patterns. Maybe you’ve connected dots between grocery shopping on an empty stomach and scarfing a pastry in the checkout line, or between weekend loneliness and greasy takeout. That awareness is hard won—you’ve done important work already. Now what? Try these tools: 

  • Eat when you’re medium hungry—avoid getting eat-someone’s-face-off zombie hungry. Use the notes in your journal to get a sense of your hunger patterns. If you’re getting hungry and the next meal is a ways off, have a snack.
  • Because it’s easy to confuse hunger and thirst, always have a glass of water before eating. But also, start paying attention to how both of those feelings show up for you so you can better differentiate them. What’s different about them? What’s the same? As for hunger, start trying to pinpoint how it progresses. The goal is to get better at the signs so you can start noticing it sooner and not be caught off guard. 
  • In addition to regular meals, snacks are perfectly fine. We’re sharing our snack guide again here for some ideas.
  • Plate your entire meal (even if it’s a snack!) and sit down before eating. 
  • Use a small-ish plate (like an appetizer plate) for portion control. 
  • At the table, take a moment to see and smell your food. Say thank you (in your head or out loud). 
  • Savor your food: focus on the taste, the texture, and the smell. 
  • Take small bites (we love chopsticks or eating with your non-dominant for this), put your utensils down between bites, and thoroughly chew. 
  • Instead of watching the news, reading, or scrolling Insta, be present with your meal (and your companions). This can be so uncomfortable at first—but that will change as the behavior becomes a habit. 
  • If you finish what’s on your plate and still feel hungry, wait 10-20 minutes to let fullness signals travel to your brain. If you remain hungry, eat about a quarter portion more of the protein portion of your meal or snack (protein helps you feel full and stay that way longer).

A photo food journal and any of these tips will help you begin to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger, and increase your awareness of your triggers, giving you the freedom to choose how to respond. That mindset shift will stay with you long after the photos are deleted.