The 5 Day Mindful Meal Challenge

Mindful eating is the most underrated health habit everyone is talking about. Self-proclaimed wellness websites love to tout the benefits of slowing down and savoring your food, yet it almost never comes up in conversation with someone who is serious about losing weight or improving their health.

This is probably because mindful eating is a deceptively simple idea that is incredibly hard to implement.

Most people aren’t even sure what mindful eating actually is, and so they say things like “I try to eat mindfully” then just keep eating the way they always do and hope that one day they’ll magically stop going back for seconds. Fat chance.

But mindful eating really is an amazing thing if you can turn it into a habit. Focusing on the experience of eating has a bigger impact on how satisfying a meal is than the number of calories it contains (1). As a result you enjoy your food more, while naturally eating less.

Eating mindfully can also make you less vulnerable to eating triggers that can cause you to eat more quickly (2) and overeat (3).

For many healthy eaters, mindful eating is the last piece of the puzzle for finally losing those last few stubborn pounds.

Personally, mindful eating has helped me feel back in control of my eating experience. When I was a dieter one of the terrible eating habits I developed was gobbling my food in a frantic rush whenever I sat down to a real meal.

My frenzied eating was trigged by a combination of extreme hunger (since I rarely let myself eat when I wanted) and the guilt I felt from giving into it, making me want to get the meal over with as quickly as possible. These were not my finest moments.

Mindful eating is what enabled me to snap out of my frantic mindless eating habit and actually appreciate the beautiful food I am so lucky to have access to.

But dang is it hard to do.

Over the years my attempts at mindful eating would go something like this:

Thinks: “Mindful eating sounds great, I’m totally going to try that tomorrow.
Tomorrow breakfast. Sits, has coffee and muesli, takes a bite, then remembers, “I should probably just check the news really fast to see if anything important happened while I was sleeping.”
Breakfast disappears while scrolling through Facebook…. Oops.
Promises self: “I’ll definitely eat lunch mindfully.”
At lunch, sits down then remembers, “Shoot! I forgot to email that lady about that thing I need to order by 2pm today. I better do that real fast….”
Gets lost in email and cat videos. Oops.
Promises self again: “Dinner. Dinner will be mindful, I swear.”
Cooks lovely dinner, sets table, pours a glass of wine, sits down to husband already shoveling food in his face so fast half his plate is empty. Subconsciously thinks: “I’d better catch up or it’ll all be gone….”
Oops.
Promises self with renewed determination: “Tomorrow I’ll be mindful for sure. I’ll set an alarm to remind myself.”

And so it would go. I tried alarms, apps, breathing exercises, counting my chews, eating with chopsticks, and about a zillion other things to force myself to slow down and chew.

Ultimately I came up with a hack of putting down my fork whenever I noticed I had food in my mouth. This certainly helped me slow down and chew, but I can’t pretend it helps me focus on my food and enjoy it more. Mainly it helps me not choke.

It was not until this year — five years later — that I found an approach that has actually helped me eat mindfully every day.

I realized that one of my issues was that I came to mindful eating with the wrong mindset.

Mindfulness isn’t something you try to do or want to do, it’s a practice you commit to doing.

I had been waiting for the right circumstances to emerge for mindful eating to be easy or convenient (I learned the hard way that this never happens).

When it comes to mindfulness you must decide when you’re going to practice and make it happen.

“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda

Instead of vaguely hoping to remember to not eat mindlessly, set a specific meal aside to eat mindfully and don’t do anything else.

The most common excuse I told myself to avoid mindful eating was that I didn’t have time. “Today is too crazy! I’ll try it later.”

The truth is I just wanted to use that time for something else (reading, email, podcasts, socializing) and fooled myself into believing that multitasking is more efficient. It isn’t.

Eating a meal mindfully takes 10 minutes, 15 at most. This is not extra time you need to find, you are already using that time to eat. If you still want to use the rest of your break to squeeze in some extra work, mindful eating won’t stop you.

The real reason we avoid mindful eating (and mindful practices in general) isn’t lack of time. We avoid it because it is hard to focus our attention in the present moment and the rewards are not immediate.

The benefits of mindfulness sound like something you’d like to have, but because they are abstract and you’ve never experienced them directly it isn’t something you are willing to prioritize.

But here’s the thing: You have to commit to the practice in order to make it over the hump. You have to experience the rewards for the habit to form.

Today I’m introducing the 5 Day Mindful Meal Challenge to help you become a mindful eater.

To participate, all you need to do is enter your name and email at the bottom of this article, and commit to eating one mindful meal per day for five days.

Then head over to the Mindful Meal Challenge Facebook group and let us know you’re on board. That’s it!

Beginning on Monday, January 9, I’ll send you a short daily email and video to walk you through what to expect and how to overcome the most common obstacles. By the end of the challenge on Friday you’ll have a solid foundation for a real mindful eating habit.

If you’ve been wanting to become a mindful eater, but haven’t been able to stick with it then the Mindful Meal Challenge is perfect for you.

It’s a simple commitment to practice mindful eating just once a day for five days that will give you the experience you need to continue your mindful eating habit for years to come.

And it’s free.

Click here to sign up for the 5 Day Mindful Meal Challenge

(Sign up form is at the bottom of the article)

I hope to see you there!

Darya Rose, Ph.D. is the author of Foodist, host of the Foodist podcast, and creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME’s 50 Best Websites. She eats amazing things daily and hasn’t even considered going a diet since 2007.