Scarfing down your food? Here’s how to slow down and practice mindful eating

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WASHINGTON (NPR) — You ever eat so fast that you get hiccups from just like inhaling the meal? Or you bite your cheek or tongue because you mistook it for food?

Yeah, I’ve done it.

So how do we slow down and eat more deliberately? And what are some techniques we can use to eat at a healthy pace?

Lilian Cheung, director of Mindfulness Research and Practice at Harvard University, practices and researches something called “mindful eating.” It “encourages us to make choices that are satisfying and nourishing to the body. And as we become more aware of our eating habits, we can take steps towards behavior that will benefit not only ourselves, but also an environment,” she says.

In fact, research has shown that mindful eating — using all your senses to enjoy the food, being aware of how eating makes you feel and expressing gratitude for your meal, among other practices — has had positive impacts on certain populations. One study from 2022 found that incorporating mindful eating into a weight-loss program helped reduce stress, anxiety and depression among adults with obesity. Another study from 2019 found that mindfulness eating training improved psychological wellbeing in pregnant women — and its effects appeared to be maintained 8 years later.

Cheung shares 5 ways to eat more mindfully.

1. Your meal should take at least 20 minutes

Very often we find ourselves eating while doing something else, says Cheung — and that can make us eat faster than we normally would. When you sit down to eat, spend about 20 minutes doing so. “It takes about that time for your body to get the signal to the brain that you are full,” she adds.

2. Put that phone away

Remove all distractions while you eat. They can interfere with your ability to enjoy your food and notice when you are full. “Allocate time to eat and only eat,” says Cheung. “Make sure your cell phone is face down and you’re not going to be responding to any messages that come through.”

A spoon full of circular cereal has three pieces that form a smiley face over a bowl of the same cereal.
[katesea | Getty Images]

3. Notice all the little details about your food

You might wonder how to spend 20 whole minutes eating a sandwich. Cheung says one way to slow down is to engage your senses and think through all the details about your meal. “Ask yourself: what’s on my plate? How hungry am I today? Is it too salty?” she says. Notice the smell, the texture and whatever other senses that arise as you eat.

4. Portion out food you might munch on mindlessly

Cheung suggests putting a small amount of snack food, like potato chips, in a separate bowl to help avoid mindless munching. “If you have a whole bag of chips, it is really challenging to stop after six or eight chips,” she says. “We love the taste, we love the crispiness and we just keep getting it from the bag, especially when we’re looking at our cell phone or watching a TV program and are distracted.” Portioning out these foods can help you eat less at a healthier pace.

5. Actually chew

If you’re inhaling your food you’re probably not chewing it. And chewing is an important part of digestion, says Cheung. It helps “break up the foods so it’s easier for absorption.” Look at each bite before popping it into your mouth, acknowledge what you’re eating and “chew, chew, chew,” she adds.

The audio portion of this episode was edited by Thomas Lu. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

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