How to Use Mindfulness to Achieve Your Nutrition and Fitness Goals

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If you’re familiar with mindfulness, you probably associate its principles of present-moment awareness, letting go of what you can’t control, and non-judgement with improved mental health. You wouldn’t be wrong! Practicing mindfulness has plenty to offer for our emotional well-being.

But here’s an unexpected (and very welcome) twist: it’s possible to apply mindfulness techniques for improvements to your physical health as well. The same practices that bring greater peace and calm can also work for nutrition and fitness goals, resulting in a healthier, happier relationship with your body.

We’re sharing the details on how to take your mindfulness practice beyond the meditation cushion—and onto your plate and into the gym.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the intentional practice of bringing your attention to the present moment. As in, what is happening right now and how can you best engage with it? The idea goes that the present moment is all we really have—the past and the future exist, but we’ll never be in them. Therefore, we’re happiest when we remain rooted in the now.

To lasso our ever-wandering minds to the present, mindfulness incorporates behaviors like focusing on breathing, paying attention to our thoughts, withholding judgment, and having compassion for ourselves and others. Activities like yoga and meditation often help place us in this state of mindful awareness.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Most research on mindfulness has focused on its benefits for mental health. Some studies show that mindfulness interventions are comparable with cognitive behavioral therapy for treating anxiety and depression! “Practicing mindfulness can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression by helping you feel more engaged and present in your life,” explains therapist Paige Rechtman, LMHC. “It is also a tool that can be used any moment, which makes it very accessible.”

Rechtman adds that there are established physical benefits to using present-moment awareness, too. “Learning to practice mindfulness can help you focus more on your breath and your body, which can lower blood pressure. It also can help you feel more relaxed, which can improve
sleep and reduce symptoms of chronic pain.”

Why Resolutions Fail and How Mindfulness May Help

We all have the best intentions when we make resolutions for our health—but the reality is, resolutions often fail. According to Rechtman, this is because resolutions tend to focus more on an end goal than the moment-to-moment choices we make to achieve that goal. 

Approaching health goals with a more mindful perspective could offer a better solution for long-term success. “If you want to try and stick with a resolution, you also need to be aware of the changes you need to make,” she points out. “Practicing mindfulness can be very helpful in achieving health goals because it helps you be more present in the moment when it is time to make those choices. It helps you check in with yourself to see how you’ll feel if you work out, for example, and how you might feel if you don’t.” 

Bringing your awareness to the here and now is also a helpful tool for getting back “on the wagon” when your resolutions have fallen by the wayside. “Mindfulness is all about being present. So if you made an unhealthy choice yesterday, it can help you to leave it in the past and start fresh again today,” Rechtman says.

How to Apply Mindfulness to Nutrition

There’s no limit to the many ways mindfulness can be applied to your eating habits. (You’ve probably heard of the concept of mindful eating.) Here are a few to help you get started.

Begin Meals With a Centering Breath

“I always recommend starting with the breath,” says Pamela Malo, MHS, RDN, owner of North Star Nutrition. “Research shows several slow deep breaths are enough to shift the body out of a state of stress (or sympathetic dominance) and into a state of 'rest and digest' (or parasympathetic dominance). You can do this anytime, anywhere, with anyone, as well as before sitting down to eat a meal.”

Try taking a few deep breaths as you sit down to eat—or, if you don’t have time to sit, simply breathe deeply for a few moments wherever you are. This grounding technique might allow you to better focus on the food in front of you, leading to greater enjoyment and appropriate portion sizes.

Pay Attention to Your Thoughts About Eating

Let’s face it: eating is partly mental. “Our actions matter, but it is so easy to forget that our actions are highly driven by our thoughts,” says Malo.

Her solution? Tuning into (and getting curious about) our thought life as it relates to our diet. “By paying attention, we can notice if we think 'I am a bad cook'—which is likely to lead to not making dinner. On the other hand, if we tell ourselves 'I am learning how to make amazing meals,' this is likely to inspire us to do it."

Check in with Your Hunger and Fullness

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we’ll say it again: mindfulness is all about awareness. You can always bring that awareness to your body’s cues, especially those around hunger and fullness. “Instead of mindlessly finishing a bag of chips without even realizing it, mindfulness allows you to check in with yourself as you’re taking each bite, to see how you feel, if you want more and why you want more, or if you feel satisfied,” says Rechtman.

How to Apply Mindfulness to Fitness

Just like bringing awareness to your current reality can create healthy eating habits, it can elevate your fitness, too.

Stay Present During Workouts

“While performing exercises, you would think you’re present—however, it’s easy for your body to move and mind to wander,” says Raphael Konforti, CPT, senior director of fitness for YouFit gyms.

Still, working out is one time when it’s especially critical to remain present. “For building muscle, using movement to mend physical ailments, and re-establishing posture, you must be fully present,” says Konforti. “Focusing all your mind into contracting a muscle and feeling every muscle fiber throughout the repetition improves the quality and effectiveness of the movement.”

When your attention wanders to the talk show on the gym TV or to your commitments later in the day, try to notice and re-focus your attention on the physical task at hand.  

Breathe Through Exercise

Sure, mindful breathing is a foundational component of exercise like yoga, but you might be surprised at how your breath can impact any exercise.

“Focusing on breath is foundational to proper core function and intramuscular coordination,” says Konforti. “Every movement has a specific breathing pattern to maximize the exercise.”

One rule of thumb is to exhale during motions that contract muscles and inhale on those that expand them. For example, during a push-up, Konforti recommends breathing in while lowering to the ground, then breathing out while pushing back up.

Pay Attention to Your Fitness Habits

Do you really want to head straight home after work–or do you have time to hit the gym? Paying mindful attention to your use of time could mean the difference between getting in a great workout and missing a fitness opportunity.

“In order to establish new habits that lead you towards your fitness goals, you must have awareness throughout the day of the decisions you’re making and process you’re following,” says Konforti. “It’s much like driving—it’s completely automatic unless you bring awareness or you’re forced on a detour.” Rather than let your daily grind take control of your fitness behaviors (or lack thereof), try frequent mental check-ins to assess when you might make time for exercise.

A Word From Verywell

Incorporating mindfulness practices in your nutrition and fitness habits might be easier with the help of a professional. If you’d like to tap into the power of the present for health goals, consider discussing it with a registered dietitian or personal trainer who specializes in the connection between mind and body.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. How does mindfulness contribute to balanced eating habits?

    When we’re not paying attention, it’s all too easy to eat more (or less) than we intended to or eat foods we really didn’t want. Bringing our awareness to the food in front of us allows us to make the balanced food decisions we actually desire, rather than eat on autopilot.

  • 2. How does mindfulness help with exercise?

    Mindfulness practice could not only improve your personal experience with exercise, it could also enhance athletic performance. According to a large 2017 research review, several studies found that mindfulness interventions had positive effects on sports performance.

  • 3. What is a good mindfulness activity?

    If you’re new to mindfulness activities, you can begin anywhere you like, from a quick meditation on Youtube to an hour-long in-person yoga session. As a starter exercise, though, you might simply sit in a quiet place for a pre-determined length of time (such as 5 or 10 minutes), paying attention to your breathing and any sensations in your body.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and DepressionThe Psychiatric clinics of North America40(4), 739–749.

  2. Herrerias M, Soler-Ribaudi J, Roca-Cusachs Coll A, Arroyo-Díaz JA. Benefits of mindfulness meditation in reducing blood pressure and stress in patients with arterial hypertension. J Hum Hypertens. 2019 Mar;33(3):237-247. doi: 10.1038/s41371-018-0130-6.

  3. Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical TrialJAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494–501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081

  4. Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., Colaiaco, B., Maher, A. R., Shanman, R. M., Sorbero, M. E., & Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysisAnnals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine51(2), 199–213.

  5. The University of Toledo. Deep Breathing and Relaxation.

  6. Michael Noetel, Joseph Ciarrochi, Brooke Van Zanden & Chris Lonsdale (2019) Mindfulness and acceptance approaches to sporting performance enhancement: a systematic review, International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12:1, 139-175, DOI: 10.1080/1750984X.2017.1387803

By Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.