This time of year you can’t glance at any social media feed without being bombarded with (bad) advice on how to lose weight/be healthy/shape up. There IS an alternative to all that diet & clean eating crazy speak: Mindful Eating. I understand that it can be a hard to understand concept- so I have embarked on a project to help you understand what it is and how it can help you and (perhaps more importantly) how you can start practicing it today. This is a collaboration between myself and The Grounded Therapist.
I met Rachel Dougherty, The Grounded Therapist, through a bloggers group. Since I write & talk a lot about the psychology behind eating, I am always eager to collaborate (and learn from) psychologists who are experts in mindfulness. After some exciting exchanges, we decided to collaborate on a Mindful Eating series!
Without further ado, here is our first post:
You’ve probably heard that mindful eating can help you manage your weight, reduce any disordered eating and help repair your relationship with food. Understanding what mindful eating is and how to practice it is the challenging part. This is mainly because it requires inner reflection, paying attention and lots of practice.Being a mindful eater means much more than just eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Most people have heard the advice to “stop when you are full” and roll their eyes because, let’s be honest, you’ve probably tried it, and without the proper support, it may not have worked for you. For a greater chance of actually stopping when you are full, there are many things to practice and that is what this series is all about! In fact, the goal for many people is to use mindful eating as a way to reduce emotional and mindless eating. This means practicing being able to recognize when you are full, estimating how much food you need, letting go of judgement about your body & food and learning to trust your instincts.Going beyond the “eat when hungry and stop when full”, mindful eating includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; eating more slowly; getting rid of distractions like TV or reading; hearing hunger and fullness cues and learning to eliminate guilt and anxiety about food. Noticing these things means deliberately paying attention and being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself.Inside yourself includes what is going through your mind such as any emotions or thoughts you may be having- “I am stressed” or “I feel fat”. Mindfulness includes paying attention to the experience in our body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? (in the head or in the stomach?) What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
Outside yourself means your surroundings:
- Where are you physically?
- sitting or standing?
- at your desk with emails coming in every 2 minutes?
- or alone in the kitchen with everyone gone to bed?
- Who are you with?
- Compassionate people who make you feel confident?
- Or people who judge your eating and weight.
The idea is to eventually learn in what way these thoughts, emotions and environment affects what, how and how much we eat. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, lets stick to practicing observing.
Eating mindfully can sound a bit abstract and practicing concrete activities to increase mindfulness can help you get started. To start becoming more mindful of when, how and what you eat as well as what influences you to eat, there are hands on exercises you can practice. Let’s start with this exercise:
Before eating, take a minute to observe your environment (outside your body) and your thoughts, emotions and how you physically feel (inside your body):
- are you stressed? Anxious? Happy? Sad? Tired?
- at the table and discussing stressful news? Standing up at the counter? Sitting in front of the tv?
- are you at your desk? In a stressful meeting? Rushing around in the car and feel you have no time to eat?
The goal is only to observe. Take notice. Pay attention more to your surrounding and your body and mind. This is invaluable for later, when trying to find patterns or barriers to eating mindfully.