The other day I sat down at the table and stared down at a plate that, based on the presence of crumbs, I can only assume very recently had food on it. I don’t remember eating, but the plate seemed to argue otherwise. I suppose I had been so hungry that I scarfed down the entire plate without even being aware of what I was doing. I was then faced with an empty plate and (what felt like) an empty stomach. I was the David Copperfield of dinner but I lacked any of the satisfaction that should come from such a feat of magic. Unfortunately, I think this sort of disappearing act happens to us frequently in our hectic, multi-tasking lives. We belly-up to the table (if we even bother to sit down and eat at all) and begin shoveling in the food. Food is so easy to acquire and prepare that we grab it and down it without even paying attention to what is happening. The worst part of it all is that we eat more but enjoy less.
This reality has led to an approach to dietary behavior modification called “mindful eating”. We all have very strong emotional, psychological, and physiological responses to food. These completely take over our behavior unless we consciously control them. The Center for Mindful Eating published The Principles of Mindful Eating, which describes mindfulness as being composed of three parts. 1. Deliberately paying attention, without judgment, to one’s experiences. With mindful eating, you simply pay attention to your feelings and reactions to food. The paying attention allows you to make decisions about your eating rather than allowing your emotions and physical drives to control you.
2. Cultivating an openness to, and acceptance of, all experience. If you pay attention not just to the sensations and emotions related to the food but to all sensations in the surrounding food environment you will slow down your eating. It will also allow you to learn what foods might satisfy your hunger. You will be guided to stop eating by your own inner experience of satisfaction and satiety instead of being a slave to your appetite. You will also enhance your enjoyment of eating by expanding the sensory experience of the food.
3. It happens in the present moment. Ignore all emotions related to the eating. Remove any feelings of guilt, fear, hopelessness that distract from what you’re doing. It is important that it be non-judgmental to prevent your emotional baggage from getting in the way and hijacking your eating.
For most of us in our busy daily lives, we have lost track of the connection between our sensation of hunger and satiety and our food behaviors. We are slaves to our habits. Mindful eating helps to heal the break between our mind and our eating. The reason this is such a powerful weight loss tool is that it not only addresses the chemistry of calories in and calories out, it address the mechanisms of appetite and satiety and, most importantly addresses the psychological and behavioral mechanisms of weight gain. The benefits are many as listed in an article in The Huffington Post:
1) Mindful eating reconnects you to the natural cues your body is giving you about hunger and satiety. It plugs you back into your body’s cues so you know when to stop and start eating. This can be such a difficult task if your senses of hunger and fullness have been skewed or warped by large restaurant portions, fad diets, or comfort eating.
2) Being mindful can bring about better management of your emotions. Sometimes people restrict or overeat as a way to cope with negative feelings. Eating and not eating can distract you from your worries. When you have healthier ways of coping, such as mindful breathing and letting go of anxiety, you may no longer manage your emotions through your food choices. You can tolerate your emotions, as uncomfortable as they may be, without pushing them away or stuffing them down with food.
3) Mindfulness changes the way you think. Rather than reacting to food-related thoughts that urge you to overeat, overly restrict your diet or emotionally eat, etc., you respond to them. You can hear these thoughts without obeying them.
Studies have found that mindful eating can help you to 1) reduce overeating and binge eating, 2) lose weight and reduce your body mass index (BMI), and 3) reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body. References for these claims can be seen in an interesting article in the by Dr. Susan Albers who has authored many books on mindful eating.
Give this a try at your next meal. Instead of digging in, take a moment to sit back and observe the environment around you. Notice how the food looks, how your hunger feels, the smells, the emtions etc. Then take one bite and put the food down. Notice the tastes, the textures, etc. from the start of chewing until a little bit after swallowing. Don’t take your next bite until you’ve finished the one before. Do this for an entire meal and see how you feel at the end. Notice also how full you are and how much you have eaten. I think you’ll find it is less. This is a very difficult thing to do so don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t successful at first. I think it’s best to approach this as a skill that requires practice to attain mastery. It is not easy but with time and practice I believe it can have a significant positive impact on the way you relate to food and to your weight. Good luck!
- Mindfully Slowing Down, Pausing and Pacing Can Add to Your Eating Enjoyment and Better Choices (ucsdcfm.wordpress.com)
- Do you practice “mindful eating”? (diabloclinicalresearch.wordpress.com)