When people think about weight loss, their thoughts usually automatically go to foods--foods they ought to be eating and those they’re trying to stay away from. Don’t get me wrong, what you eat is critical to weight loss and overall health, but research is showing that how we eat --and our awareness around food and eating--may be equally important.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re going a mile a minute and don’t even have time to catch your breath, let alone sit down to a meal? Do you ever eat a snack or even an entire meal without really tasting it or really being able to remember it?
These days, most of us are so busy we have a million things going on in our minds at once and we’re going on autopilot. This leaves our eating vulnerable to becoming an automatic response to our internal cues, like “hey, I’m feeling bored” or external cues, like “oh, there’s a dish of chocolate in front of me.” In other words, we re-act—and then wonder why we didn’t make better choices. Make the same choice often enough and it becomes a habit. While some habits can lead to desirable results (as in the habit of exercise)--as most of us know all too well, many do not.
How Mindfulness Helps
Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords you’ve probably heard a lot lately. But you may not have any idea of what it can mean for you on a day to day, moment by moment basis -- or how it can help you lose weight and get healthy. You don’t need to sit through hours in the lotus position to experience mindfulness. At its essence, mindfulness is simply paying attention--being aware in the present moment--right here, right now.
A surprising number of our choices happen below the level of our conscious awareness. Research is showing that for most of us the unconscious mind is responsible for 80-90 percent of our decision making! This helps explain why so many of our best efforts don’t turn out as intended. Even when we think we are making conscious choices, it is our unconscious mind that is often running the show. Our conscious mind might know it wants to lose weight and get healthy, but other parts of our brains short circuit those plans. The unconscious mind tends to default to old habits, what’s convenient, what’s safe, what’s easy, what feels good in the moment. Don’t blame yourself here. This is our nature.
This is where mindfulness can make all the difference. Mindfulness takes thoughts and feelings that might otherwise affect us subconsciously and brings them into awareness. It creates a conscious connection between thoughts and actions. By increasing your awareness, you can begin to break old automatic reactions between your thoughts, feelings, and actions (aka habits). Like when you automatically go for that snack mid-morning just because it’s what you’ve always done. These powerful guidelines have helped thousands of people change their habits around food. Give them a try and see if you notice a difference.
Mindful Eating Guidelines
1. Eat only when you’re hungry.
The first step is to slow down and pay attention before you eat. Right at the moment you find yourself reaching for food ask yourself, “Why am I eating? Am I really, physically hungry?” If not, ask yourself what other thoughts or feelings might be causing you to reach for food? What else is going on? Are you bored? Antsy? Anxious? When you stop to make the connection between what we’re thinking and feeling and what you’re doing you create a space, an opportunity for choice.
2.) Eat without distractions.
This means no tv, radio, books, computer, loud music, eating in the car. This is a tough one for many people, but is a very powerful way to change things around.
3.) Pay attention as you eat.
This includes paying attention to the food as it sits in front of you, noticing it as you put it in your mouth. Noticing the flavors, aromas, temperature, textures. Do you ever realize that maybe the first few bites tasted great, but as you continued to eat you lost track of the fact that you were eating? If this happens, simply come back into the experience. Slow down and really pay attention to each bite, finishing each one before starting the next.
4.) Take a break part way through your meal.
Notice how you feel at this moment. Have you been paying attention to each bite as you’ve been eating it? Are you still hungry? Satisfied? Full? If you feel you’re not satisfied, think about how much more you would need to get you there.
5.) Eat until you’re satisfied. Then stop.
Pay attention to how your fullness or satisfaction level changes as you eat. When you become satisfied (but not yet stuffed), stop. Don’t eat another bite. Then, pat attention after you’ve eaten. Ask, “Did I enjoy that experience? Is there any learning for me here?” This is a great time to sit back and recall what you enjoyed about the meal.
The Bottom Line?
Pay attention. Notice--without judgement (the often tricky, yet crucial element). When you pay attention in the moment, you remove yourself from your past habits and automatic, subconscious responses. Rather than react, you give yourself a choice as to how you want to respond. Each time you choose a different response, you create a new connection in your brain. With repetition, your new thoughts and responses become your new habits. With new habits you’re on your way to different results.