Harvard Women's Health Watch
February 1, 2016

This ancient practice can transform the way you think about food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Like most of us, you’ve probably eaten something in the past few hours. And, like many of us, you may not be able to recall everything you ate, let alone the sensation of eating it. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American spends two-and-a-half hours a day eating, but more than half the time, we’re doing something else, too. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating. And this mindless eating—a lack of awareness of the food we’re consuming—may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic and other health issues, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, a nutritionist and lecturer at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” The tenets of mindfulness apply to mindful eating as well, but the concept of mindful eating goes beyond the individual. It also encompasses how what you eat affects the world. We eat for total health,” Dr. Cheung says. That’s essentially the same concept that drove the development of the 2015 pro-posed U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which, for the first time, considered sustainability of food crops as well as the health benefits of the foods.

Although the ideal mindful-eating food choices are similar to the Mediterranean diet—centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils—the technique can be applied to a cheeseburger and fries. By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may indulge in these types of foods less often. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. However, adopting the practice may take more than a few adjustments in the way you approach meals and snacks. In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life and companion website,, Dr. Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest several practices that can help you get there, including those listed below.

1. Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid the center aisles—which are heavy with processed foods—and the chips and candy at the check-out counter.

2. Come to the table with an appetite— but not when ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.

3. Start with a small portion. It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.

4. Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.

5. Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to color, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.

6. Take small bites. It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.

7. Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.

8. Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won’t bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates.

For help getting started

An increasing number of nutritionists and programs offer instruction in the technique, ranging from spiritual retreat centers to hospitals and medical centers. A medically based program may even be covered by health insurance. The website of the Center for Mindful Eating ( lists coaches throughout the country.


Reposted with permission from Harvard Health Publications, a division of Harvard Medical School. For more information, visit

Sumsita Baral, NPR
January 4, 2016

Researchers have been studying the links between TV viewing and mindless eating for years. The news isn’t good for our waistlines.

Bingeing has become many people’s favorite way to consume television. But marathon-viewing doesn’t just change how we watch, it also affects how we eat.

While the culture of the Netflix all-nighter is relatively recent, researchers have been studying the links between TV viewing and mindless eating for years. And the news isn’t good for our waistlines.

“There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television they watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” says Lilian Chueng, director of health promotion and communication at Harvard School of Public Health and author of SAVOR: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.

She says the sedentary nature of prolonged viewing as just one contributing factor: “TV viewing may also promote poor dietary behavior due to frequent exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing, as well as providing more opportunities for unhealthy snacking, and interfering with adequate sleep.”

Cameron Conaway
March 27, 2015

A look into one private company's mission to "revolutionize" the airport dining experience by bringing iPads to every table:

...The iPads were easy to use, the crew members were certainly hospitable, and it was nice not having to run to the flight board to see if there were any updates. But the continued delays and my piqued interest allowed me to take a page out of Blatstein’s book; I had about four hours to kick back with a beer (ordered seamlessly from the iPad) and observe how other customers interacted with the tech and with each other.

What I saw was troubling. Several families at different times entered the restaurant deep in conversation but when they sat down few words were said. The draw of the tech experience had essentially dismantled whatever it was they were talking about. And just as troubling was the way in which nearly all patrons ate — one hand swiping the iPad as the other mindlessly went from food to mouth...

 “Having an iPad at every restaurant table tempts people to use it beyond just ordering food...This implies that people will be more distracted from eating consciously; they may eat more, eat faster, take bigger bites, chew less, and not feel as satisfied with the eating experience.”
                                             -Dr. Lilian Cheung

Jamie Zimmerman, SONIMA
December 30, 2014

Most programs for weight loss and healthy living focus on the body and behavior but neglect the mind. Evidence shows mindfulness and meditation could help bridge the gap for sustainable progress.

If you intend on making a change in diet, health, or lifestyle this year, you’re not alone. Some sources estimate more than 126 million Americans set New Year’s resolutions. Historically, we’ve seen that only a fraction will be successful. There are many possible explanations for this drop-off, including unrealistic goals and expectations. Another factor could be that most lifestyle-change strategies focus directly on the body and behavior yet neglect the mind. Could mindfulness or meditation be a missing link?

Fox News
November 20, 2014

A look into the mindful eating trend and its potential to help manage weight.

Peppermint Magazine
July 1, 2014

"Every day throughout the course of our lives, there is one constant: we must eat...but how often do we think - really think - about the food we choose to eat, and the impact this has on our health, our communities, our children, the growers, the food system, and the planet?"

Dr. Lilian Cheung shares her approach to food through Mindfulness. See the attached interview, and check out Peppermint Magazine to learn about other individuals who see food in their own, unique, way.

Weight Watchers Weekly
April 20, 2014

Taking pleasure in a meal isn’t merely a matter of how it tastes. Other elements come into play: your food’s aroma, its colors and shapes, whether it’s chewy or crunchy—even how it sounds! If that burger’s sizzling when it arrives on your plate, your mouth will start to water (not so much if it sounds like a dropped hockey puck). Immerse yourself in a meal via all of your senses—not just your taste buds—and you’re likely to leave the table feeling more satisfied even if you eat less than you would have had you gulped your meal without paying attention, says Lilian Cheung, director of Health Promotion & Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition and author of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. That’s because you’re probably eating at a leisurely pace, giving your body time to signal to your brain that you’ve had enough. It can take 20 minutes or more for the “I’m full” message to register; wolf down your food and you can easily eat past the point of satiety because your head hasn’t caught up with your stomach.

Dr. Lilian Cheung
April 11, 2014

Shifting our mealtime attention from distraction to food is the first step in the many possible layers of mindful eating. As you move through your meal, try looking even more deeply into each ingredient, thinking about all the elements that came together to bring this food to your plate. Reflect upon the chain of many individuals, including chefs (whether it's you or someone else) who hand selected each piece of food to create a cohesive dish, store clerks, truck drivers, and the farmers who carefully tended to the development of their product. Also consider the essential balance of natural elements, including sunshine, wind, rain, and fertile soil.

Of course, in our current food environment, carefully tracing the journey from farm to table might not always evoke the most idealistic picture, but rather awareness, so that we might be compelled to make better choices for our own health and for the health of our planet...

Keith Wagstaff
February 14, 2014

Kevin Spacey's slick Southern statesman in House of Cards may not be much of a romantic, but plenty of singles and couples home on Valentine's Day may spend their time watching episode after episode packed with his political machinations.

Yes, Netflix’s Emmy-award winning drama is back for a second season, and plenty of viewers are expected to indulge in the new American tradition of binge-watching. That could include former President Bill Clinton, whoreportedly watched the first season in only three days. (Coincidentally, the show’s star, Kevin Spacey, plays a slick Democratic politician from the South who rises to power in Washington).


Clinton isn’t the only one binging. In December, Netflix released a study that looked at how people watched 10 of its popular shows. For one drama, 25 percent of users finished an entire 13-episode series in only two days.


If binge-watching cuts into sleep time, that could have a serious effect on your mental health. And no, watching football players do laps on “Friday Night Lights” doesn’t count as physical exercise.

“There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television people watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” Lilian Cheung, a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote to NBC News in an email. “And there’s emerging evidence that too much TV watching also increases the risk of weight-related chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.”

Even worse: The negative effects of “sit time” aren’t mitigated by exercise, meaning that running a mile won’t undo the damage done to your body by watching the entire first season of “Walking Dead” on your couch.

On the plus side, binge-watching lets you skip fast-food commercials, Cheung wrote, which may be a major factor in the link between TV and obesity.


Dr. Lilian Cheung, The Huffington Post
January 22, 2014

Our society is suffering from an ever-increasing epidemic, caused by an addiction to the consumption of products, food, and resources. Symptoms may include stress, burnout, a sense of entitlement, a lack of fulfillment, and a depletion of resources. Appropriately coined "affluenza," the disease is defined as a "socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." Although it's not your typical virus, there's no doubt that it is contagious.

* * * * * * 

Do we really need all this stuff? Why are we eating so much? Why can't we focus on what's happening right now? The symptoms and effects of affluenza are plentiful, but there is good news -- relief is possible, and it can be put into action right away. Rather than consuming on an autopilot fast-track, we need to slow down, stop and think -- we need to consume mindfully.

If you're ready to reflect on your own habits, here are some tips to help you make the conscious shift from "more is better" to "less is more..."