Are you an emotional eater? Do you have a pretty good idea of what you should be eating, but you just have trouble doing it? Do you feel guilty when you eat certain “forbidden” foods? Do you eat when you’re in the car, while you’re working, watching TV, or reading? Do you eat because you’re stressed or bored or lonely? Do you sometimes feel you just don’t have the willpower to say no to certain foods?
If you’re like most people, you can answer a big fat “yes” to at least one of these questions. We happen to live in a society where the majority of us are overweight and/or not eating the foods that keep us healthy. And even though many of us know what we should be eating, we have trouble “sticking with the program.” Why?
Most of us are busy and have a million things going on in our minds at once. And rather than eating to nourish ourselves or celebrate being together with others, for most of us, eating has become an automatic response to our underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs. In other words, we react — repeating actions again and again — feeling powerless to change. Getting caught in this kind of thought/feeling/behavior loop is called a habit. Some habits lead to desirable results (as in the habit of exercise); some don’t.
How Mindfulness Helps
Mindfulness is an awareness of what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is helpful because it can create 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 (a.k.a. habits).
The first step in figuring out this puzzle is to stop and pay attention when you’re eating. Right at the moment you go for food, ask yourself, “Why am I eating? Am I really, physically hungry?” When we stop to make the connection between what we’re thinking and feeling and what we’re doing we create a space, an opportunity for choice.
When you pay attention in the moment, rather than react, you have a choice as to how you want to think and respond. Each time you choose a different response, you create a new connection. With repetition, your new thoughts and responses become your new habits. With new habits come different results.
Here are a few tips on becoming a more mindful eater:
∎ Pay attention before you eat. When you reach for food ask yourself, “Am I really, physically hungry?” If not, ask, “What other thoughts or feelings are causing me to reach for food? What else is going on?”
∎ Pay attention while you eat. Eat without distractions like working, reading, TV, or driving. Sit down. Eat foods you enjoy and really pay attention to the flavors, textures and aromas of the food. Eat to the point of feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.
∎ Pay attention after you’ve eaten. Ask yourself, “How do I feel? Am I satisfied? Did I enjoy that experience?”
Are you seeing a pattern here? A common thread? Before, during and after you eat, pay attention – notice – without judgement (the often tricky, yet crucial element). What do you sense? What do you feel? What are you thinking? If you really want to change your habits, stop. Pay attention. Notice. This is ground zero.
Mandy Degelsmith, PhD, is a Success and Wellness Coach. She works with people who are tired of the same old story with their weight –those who want to break free of their old habits around food and take control of their lives. For more information, visit mandydegelsmith.com and taoweightloss.com.
The Capital Area Wellness Coalition meets in the Smile Building on the second Wednesday of each month at 8 a.m. For more information, call 867-8194 or visit capwellness.org.