On Distraction-Free, Focused Eating

by Andie Mitchell on December 2, 2012

Most weekday mornings, I eat the same oatmeal breakfast. I’ve prepared it so many times now that I barely have to pay attention, which is a relief considering I’d prefer to mainline my cold-brewed iced coffee before attempting anything more advanced.

Ten minutes after I’ve begun, I’m settling down at the table with a piping hot, fluffy bowl of oatmeal. I dip my spoon into a jar of Teddie peanut butter, emerge with a gritty dollop, and lay it in the center of the bowl. I wait a few seconds, watching as the peanut butter spreads into a puddle, as it melts from the heat of the oats. I smear it across the top of the oats, frosting them with a thin glaze. When I’ve covered it sufficiently, I eat. And each spoonful is fluffy and hot and containing at least a drip of salty peanut butter. It’s the best.

And all the while that I’m eating the oatmeal, I’m reading blogs, checking my favorite websites, and catching up on email. This morning routine is so, so dear to me. It may very well be my favorite part of the day. It’s quiet. I’m drinking coffee. To-do lists don’t have to be tackled just yet. I’m wearing the softest popsicle-print pajama pants. If those aren’t the criteria for a good time, I don’t know what is.

What’s different about my breakfast hour in comparison to my other mealtimes is that there’s a lot of distraction present. At any other time–lunch, dinner, dessert–I make a point to focus exclusively on the dining experience. I pay attention to the food and my companions, and I tune out all the rest. No computers, no television, nothing outside of my plate, my partners, and the ambiance. The point? Mindfulness. The benefit? Complete sensory satisfaction.

I’ve heard it said that the more you enjoy your meal, the more fondly you’re likely to think of it afterward, which will lead to a greater feeling of fullness and satisfaction for hours after. I know that this is true for me. When I savor a meal, when I stop all else and pay attention to the gratification of the whole experience, all five of my senses are heightened. They’re receiving pleasure. And I’m able to leave the table with greater ease.

When I practice distraction-free, focused eating, mealtime becomes a special ritual. It becomes sacred, something I practice daily. I’m more purposeful in what I choose to consume. I’m more acutely aware of my hunger and fullness cues. I begin to associate eating with unique times of day, and circumstances, while simultaneously weakening my associations to eat in less mindful circumstances, like while watching TV, driving, or standing up.

Mindfulness has been one of the most beneficial practices I’ve added to my life. It allows me a sense of calm in the chaos of our food culture. It gives me the power to savor my meal on my terms.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you try to eat without distractions? Has it been helpful? 

photos: flickr users kennymaticemmadiscovery

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah (The Simple Dietitian) December 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

I’m a huge advocate of intuitive/mindful eating and I encourage all of my outpatients to adopt this type of eating. I notice that for myself especially, when I rush through a meal (either accidentally or on purpose, before heading off somewhere,) I’m hungry not long after. If I take that same meal and eat mindfully without distraction, enjoying the smells, textures, etc., I am satisfied and content much, much longer.

Food is meant to be enjoyed. Once we take the fear out of it and start to savor the foods we love in a mindful way, we can make peace. With food and with ourselves.

Lovely post!!!

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kristen February 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

this makes a lot of sense. I’ll try that!

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Mary December 2, 2012 at 11:47 am

I’m terrible about this. I eat in my car, on my way out the door, while watching tv, listening to music and cleaning…. I’ll be holding a bowl of whatever in one hand, swiffer in the other, zooming around my apt dancing to some embarrassing song. I actually have had to stop myself from eating and sitting on my couch, because once i’m done with my meal, I want to lay down. My friends and I have a thing where when we’re eating together, all our phones go in the middle of the table, then you cant be distracted by texts/facebook when out together. I should probably do the same for myself when eating….

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Lola December 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Hi Andy,

Great, thought provoking post as always. I have a (slightly unrelated) question (which will also sound stupid most probably) but when you’re mindfully eating, do you find you can still overeat? as in enjoy all the cake and cookies you want mindfully, but still eat too much?

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Jennette December 3, 2012 at 6:13 am

@ Lola- I have found that sometimes I still overeat when I am mindful, but it’s usually because I wasn’t really paying attention to everything.

I would say I am always “satisfied” with less when I eat each bite mindfully. But then there’s is one more piece. . . Being mindful of the feeling of “satisfaction”!

Recognizing the point where maybe your mouth says it wants more, but your body is done– and then quickly doing something to get the taste out of your mouth (brushing teeth always works for me).

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Au Naturel December 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Not unrelated, and definitely not stupid! If you are truly eating mindfully (completely aware of your motives for eating in the first place, and eating slowly enough to “hear” the fullness cues before you’re stuffed), then I believe you cannot overeat. If you are still overeating, then you are not being entirely mindful of when you are full. The two are contradictions. Mindful eating and overeating cannot go hand in hand!

On the other hand, if you are intent on overeating and totally aware that you are overeating & just keep doing it, then you must ask yourself “why”… At that point, you are sabotaging yourself and must get to the root of why you would treat yourself that way. These are just a few things I’ve learned about myself over the last year!

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Rachel (Two Healthy Plates) December 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I definitely think that distraction free eating is important – I enjoy the food so much more and I tend to eat less because I’m mindfully eating.

However, like you, I eat my breakfast while catching up online and although it’s not the best habit, it is a ritual that I love.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll trade my one no-so-mindful meal a deal (which is usually the most boring – hah!) for one of my favorite daily activities. =) I’m okay with that.

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Rachel Manes Dallis December 2, 2012 at 8:40 pm

I try as hard as I can to not get distracted when I eat, but being in law school most of meals are on the run or in short breaks. Usually a couple of friends and I will run out to eat or grab hummus wraps. It is so hard to find the time. I have started my weight loss journey at 270 pounds. And I have slowly made it to 263. I am having the hardest time. I try to use my blog, http://illegally-bland.blogspot.com/ to help me lose weight but it is not coming off. I stay at about 1200 calories a day and try to exercise 3 times a week doing Couch to 5k and 30 minutes of weights. I’ve been doing this for about 2 months now but haven’t been able to exercise in 2 weeks due to finals. :(

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Emily December 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm

oh my sweet dear….please please please eat MORE calories! 1,200 is bare minimum. If you want to lose weight and be able to maintain it when you’re done, you need more calories. If you know your body fat, you can get a more accurate measurement of how many calories you should eat, but if you don’t it’s not that far off. Try this simple calculator.

http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calorie_calculator.htm

If you know your body fat percentage, go into the advanced options and choose the second one (Katch-McCardle) where you can put in your body fat.
I am 160 pounds and it says I need about 1,300 for “extreme fat loss”, 1,650 for “fat loss”, and 2,060 for maintenance. (I used my body fat percentage)

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Hannah@AllThingsLovely December 5, 2012 at 6:57 am

I second Emily! I weigh much less, but to lose weight I need to eat in between 1500-1800 calories! SO many people underestimate the calories they need- and in response their body holds onto the weight.
Hope this helps! :)

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Wendy December 3, 2012 at 5:02 am

I had gastric bypass surgery on 10/23. Since I have been able to eat again, I do find myself trying more to make my plate pretty, and to take time to savor the look and taste of my meal. I notice textures more, and delight in the temperatures, the seasoning, the combinations of the food that I am eating. I sure would like to find something interesting for breakfast though. I do not like oatmeal, and am getting tired of eggs or cottage cheese.

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Rebecca January 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Breakfast is my favorite! I love nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a handful of granola, or whole wheat toast with banana or peanut butter (or both!). Also, there are tons of recipes out there for “lightened up” pancakes or waffles with health-boosting, nutritious ingredients. Make a big batch and freeze them for quick mornings!

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Sheri December 3, 2012 at 5:24 am

Peanut butter on oatmeal I’ve not heard of. I like my oatmeal hot and coated with butter and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Sounds like the peanut butter might be right up my alley!

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Carrie @ Season It Already! December 3, 2012 at 7:00 am

I really know that I *should* eat without distractions, but I don’t. We live in a multi-tasking world. Maybe I could start by making one meal a week completely distraction free!

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Trista December 3, 2012 at 7:37 am

Now this is something I really need to work on. I got halfway through my lunch break yesterday and all of the sudden realized that I was inhaling my food while reading a magazine. Not attractive. So it was nice to find this post today. I do think it’s something I need to work on.

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Natasha December 3, 2012 at 11:06 am

Funny…I’m a 1/4 of the way through the book – “mindful eating” – I’m using it in a paper I’m writing…you would like it!
- Natasha

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Danielle December 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I have such a hard time making sure I eat a healthy breakfast. There are days I go without (I know! Awful!). I’d love to see this recipe, as maybe it will help as a quick breakfast fix that I can enjoy every morning!

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Mike Manzano December 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Sometimes I have chips with my TV.

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Less December 4, 2012 at 12:23 am

I know that eating without distraction is what’s best, but I have such a hard time with that. I always eat in front of the computer, tv, or with a friend. Whenever I try to just eat, it feels so wrong to not be multi tasking.

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Jennifer December 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

And then you have kids. The end.

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Christina D December 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Hi Andy, I’m a first-time reader of your blog and am so glad to have found it. Your balanced approach and calm, non-judgmental tone are music to my ears. As an Australian psychologist specialising in eating, weight and emotions I hear a lot of hysteria and see a lot of desperate people. If food becomes our enemy we are constantly in battle. If we pay attention to what we eat it is a lot easier to draw a truce. Feel free to check me out at http://www.eatTHINKbemerry.blogspot.com.

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Janet Vaught December 8, 2012 at 10:06 am

I’m scarfing Taco Bell in front of my laptop at work and reading your blog. I think I could use your advice today!

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Allison December 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm

How did you learn more about mindfullness? Are there certain books you recommend that helped you the most?

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Becky December 12, 2012 at 8:27 am

Hahaha – I have 5 children. I never eat without distractions.

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Beth December 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I just discovered your website, and I am really enjoying your perspective and your recipes!

I’m a graduate student, so having the time to sit down and eat mindfully during the day is often not possible. I try to make breakfast and dinner as distraction-free as possible to compensate for this. A routine can also be a version of mindful eating in that your body and mind are used to receiving a certain satisfaction from a meal at a certain time in a certain way. Doing it in the same way over and over gives you that satisfaction regardless of the presence of other stimuli.

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Nones December 29, 2012 at 11:02 am

Quick cooking(in the microwave)oatmeal with added salt, fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries or strawberries, chopped pecans or walnuts, and a little butter and milk of your choice is simply delicious. You can add 2Tbsp of Cool Whip on top for creamier oatmeal. Try it, you’ll like it. Thaw your berries 2 or 3 days before and chop or use chopped nuts.

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Nones December 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

To the above, you add berries, etc., after you cook the oatmeal.

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Melissa December 30, 2012 at 5:44 am

I’ve just found your website as well and I love it! Having four kids its so easy to become distracted and in a hurry. My 6 year old is not an eater at all. I would love to know your oatmeal recipe because I feel she would eat this before school each morning. She loves peanut butter. Thank you for sharing your life with us and thank you for being so transparent. :)

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this newbie January 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

You had given a good point in this post. Mindfullness can indeed help you to feel fuller after meal. Nce share.

By the way, nice blog!

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Danielle January 17, 2013 at 10:39 am

I know that whatever I eat something while someone is talking to me, or requires my attention.. my food is gone before I realized i started eating it, and I’m not satisfied. So you have a major point.

I’m going to try your oatmeal too, it sounds awesome

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Meredith January 31, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Hi Andie!
I just started following your blog, but I’ve been reading Geneen Roth’s books for years and I love reading a blog that follows the same ideas. I’m so glad to have read this post, because I always try to follow Geneen’s rule to never eat while distracted, which is great for most meals, but for breakfast it’s torture to me. I love to spend my breakfast catching up on blogs and reading e-mail, and cutting that out of my morning routine made me feel awful. I like that you say, ‘the more you enjoy your meal, the more fondly you’ll think of it afterward.’ I think from now on I’ll allow myself to enjoy my breakfast to the fullest, in whatever way that might be. Thank you for this blog, it’s truly wonderful!

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Rachel February 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Great book written on this very subject by one of my favorite Buddhist Zen masters, Thich Nhat Hanh. Check it out!

http://www.amazon.com/Savor-Mindful-Eating-Life/dp/0061697702

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Maura March 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

I just discovered your blog a couple of days ago. Thank you so much for sharing your story, your vulnerability and your lessons learned.

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Stacey April 11, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I love the idea of mindfulness becoming a habit that leads to, more or less, a ritual. I notice my daily habits around mealtime and how I don’t consider the food I’m eating to be important enough to be focused on without distraction. Breakfasts are hurried, lunches are consumed while plugging away at work, and dinners are the only time I have to really think about my food. I want to make a goal to be more focused on the food I’m consuming when, after all, I’ve spent the time to prepare it! I want to give my mind and taste buds the opportunity to really savor what I’m fueling my body with and appreciate it. Thanks for this post! :)

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Online Sunshine June 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

The oatmeal pictured doesn’t seem to match the text, so I was wondering how you prepare your daily oatmeal and do you add anything else besides peanut butter?

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Andie Mitchell June 9, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Hey!
Most often, it’s this oatmeal (which I think you’ve tried): http://www.canyoustayfordinner.com/2011/12/12/the-best-300-calorie-oatmeal-youll-ever-have/
I switch off between using the egg whites and just using a whole egg. The egg whites make it so amazingly voluminous and fluffy so I do prefer them, but the whole egg is just wiser in a lot ways because then I’m not wasting yolks or missing out on the nutrients contained within them. As far as toppings, I almost always only use a scoop of peanut butter (about a heaping tablespoon). On the side, a banana.

Andie

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