4 Tips for Eating Mindfully as a New Parent

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about mindful eating

  • Why mindful eating is a useful tool, especially after having a baby

  • How to practice mindful eating

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is more than simply an awareness of what you eat and drink. This approach focuses on being present for the entire experience of eating, from being in tune with your degree of hunger before eating as well as your emotions while eating, to savoring the taste of the food and being aware of your body’s fullness and satiation.1

This purposeful attention to eating and our body’s response to food is to be done calmly and non-judgmentally.2

Read on to learn the benefits of mindful eating and how to begin incorporating this approach in your everyday life, even after your baby has arrived.

Benefits of mindful eating

Eating with purpose and without judgment can feel like a tall order in the age of multitasking and the ever-present pressure to “bounce back” after pregnancy, but mindful eating research shows that those who practice mindful eating, may:

  • Enjoy greater mental wellbeing

  • Report greater pleasure while eating

  • Have improved body satisfaction

  • Report fewer episodes of binge and impulse eating

  • Have an overall increase in physical activity from baseline

  • Make higher-quality diet choices

  • Better regulate their weight

  • Report an improved relationship with food2,3,4

Thinking about whether you’re actually hungry, why you’re eating something, and enjoying the taste of your meal takes practice and time, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to do it right away.

Start out by trying to be mindful during just one meal per day, building to other meals as you feel confident and comfortable.

Take cues from your baby

Babies are born with the innate ability to know when and how much to eat. As long as we listen for their cues, they are generally able to self-regulate their intake and stop when satisfied.8

But over the years, our environment, culture, and family beliefs about food that have been ingrained in us since childhood, are all factors that often interfere with our ability to self-regulate our food intake, which may lead to mindless eating.6,9

Read more:

Should I Formula Feed On Demand or On a Schedule?

Should I Breastfeed On Demand or On a Schedule?

The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

What is mindless eating?

Mindless eating is when we eat without paying attention to the food and ignore our body’s signals for fullness and satisfaction.

When we eat while distracted, we are more susceptible to consuming more than our body needs, which may lead to difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.2

Examples of mindless eating include (but are not limited to):

  • Eating while working, watching tv, scrolling on a phone, or while driving.

  • Eating because it is a certain time of day, whether you are hungry or not.

  • Impulse buying at the grocery store.2

Recognizing your triggers and then giving yourself time – a pause - between reaching for food and putting it in your mouth, gives you the power to make a mindful decision about if you are truly hungry, and if so, what food would help you feel most satisfied.10

Need some help with mindful eating? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

4 tips to help you eat more mindfully

1. Give yourself a ‘pause’ before eating

Before you grab for food: Pause. Ask yourself: Am I really hungry? Does my body physically need food to fuel it right now? Or am I bored? Stress? Anxious? Sad? Happy? Tired? Did I just see food on a commercial, pass my favorite bakery, or hear there is food in the break room that triggered the thought of eating?

Asking yourself if you’re hungry puts space and time between an eating trigger and your immediate desire to eat.10It gives you a moment to understand if you are physically hungry or if you are just emotionally hungry. And in that moment, you can make a decision that feels best to you.

Tip: Have a cabinet or drawer that you are drawn to most for triggered snacking? Place a sticker or motivating note on it as a reminder to stop and pause before getting food.

2. Use a hunger scale of 1-10 to assess your hunger and fullness

Hunger scales help you tap into your true signals and allow you to decide if you are truly hungry – or if what you are experiencing is a craving or emotional hungry.

Using the scale will also help give you a moment of pause before putting food in your mouth.7

1-10 Hunger Scale

  1. Starving, dizzy, crabby, headache. *Note: When you wait this long to eat, you may be more likely to overeat

  2. Very hungry, unable to concentrate, low energy. *Eat soon or it may be hard to stop eating

  3. Hungry, ready to eat, stomach starting to growl. *Note: You’ll feel your hunger urge last longer here. Eat when you get to this stage of hunger, your body needs to fuel.

  4. Beginning signals of hunger.

  5. Comfortable, neither hungry or full

  6. Satiated, a little full *Note: Stop eating right around here to help match your body’s needs

  7. Full but not too uncomfortable. *Note: Once you start feeling full, try to put your utensils down and pause.

  8. A bit uncomfortable and overfull

  9. Stuffed and uncomfortable, your clothes feel tight

  10. So full you feel sick *Note: This is a “Thanksgiving” type of full!

Tip: Part of mindful eating is not only knowing when to start eating, but also when to stop. Get to know what it feels like to be Comfortable and Satiated.

To help understand where you are on your hunger and fullness scale, stop eating about a quarter into the meal and then halfway into the meal and check in with yourself.

Remember that you do not have to clean your plate!

3. Slow down your eating

Slowing down how fast you eat can give your body time to send you signals that it’s full.2,5

In fact,it takes about 20 minutes after eating a meal for the feeling of satiety to register in your brain. If we eat too quickly, we may not give our body enough time to tell us it’s full – and by the time it catches up, we might have eaten too much.

Slowing down gives you the time to notice whether you’re still hungry or if you are satisfied and can stop eating.

Tips: Set a timer to help stretch your meals to at least 15-20 minutes. Put your fork down or take sips of water between bites. Take small bites, savor your food, and chew thoroughly. Notice all the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of your meal.10

If eating with friends or family, actively listen and talk more. Use this time to engage and reconnect!

4. Keep a food journal

Even if it’s just a few bullet points in a notebook or on your phone.

Journaling helps you be mindful of everything that you eat and drink. Include space to write down how you are feeling at the time of each meal and snack- were you hungry? Did you have a stressful meeting and then emotionally ate?

Don’t forget to track all the ‘BLT’s - Bites, Licks, and Tastes – they all add up!

Tip: Look for patterns between your emotions and your eating. Figure out what your emotional eating triggers are so that the next time these emotions arise, you can do something other than eat – such as call a friend, take a walk, or read to your baby!

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How to Minimize Processed Foods in Your Diet

Minimizing Added Sugars in your Diet while Pregnant and/or Breastfeeding

Stress Management 101

How Can I Practice Better Self Care as a Parent?

Managing Cravings While Pregnant

6 Tips for Eating Out: Making Good Food Choices Outside the Home