Mindfulness and Healthy Eating
The title may sound catchy, but it’s true: whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight, or simply enjoy your food more, Mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention, on purpose, in a non-judgemental way. For more details on what Mindfulness is, why it’s beneficial, and how to do it, see my post: Mindfulness Explained.
Mindfulness of the Body – If you are able to start a regular, silent meditation practice, I highly recommend Mindfulness of the Body as a great way to practice. In my Mindfulness Explained post there is a link to a guided body scan meditation. We live in a culture where minds and thoughts predominate. I got to a point when I felt like I was “living from the neck up.” We can get lost in our thoughts and lose touch with our physical sensations. If you are not in touch with your physical body you may miss the sensations of being full, miss when your appetite diminishes, or when the food stops tasting as good. Over time of practicing Mindfulness of the Body, you will learn to be more connected to your physical body and sensations, which will affect how you are throughout the day.
Mindful Eating – use your Mindfulness to bring attention to your food, and how you eat your food. Give it your full attention, meaning turn off the TV, or put down the phone. Slow down, noticing every single bite you take. Rest your spoon or fork on the table as you chew. Look at the colors and presentation. Savor the flavors. Feel the textures. Notice the smells. Maybe you’ll even hear some sounds! Notice how the flavors and textures change while your chewing or in between bites. Does the first bite taste different than the 15th? Does it start off crunchy and turn mushy?
Paying this much attention to your food may not be realistic at every meal, but slowing down and really noticing the flavors will lead to more satisfaction and enjoyment. The more satisfied and attentive you are, the less likely you are to overeat.
Mindfulness of Feelings and Emotions – One day years ago, I started a big task of cleaning out my closet. As soon as I started I had an impulse of being hungry and wanting to go get a snack, but then I realized, Wait a minute, I can’t be hungry, I just ate lunch! So I faced the task again. Once again a thought popped into my head, “I’m hungry.” This happened three times before it suddenly dawned on me, Wow, I want to eat as a way to avoid this daunting task! Some of us eat when we are bored, some when we are sad, some when we are lonely. And the list goes on. The next time you find yourself reaching for a snack ask yourself if you are really hungry for food, or hungry for something else. Maybe calling a friend or going for a walk will work just as well.
Impermanence – One of the primary teachings in Buddhism is that all conditioned things are impermanent, and this includes thoughts. We often believe that if we have a thought, such as a craving for a rich dessert, that this thought will not go away until we eat that dessert! But this is actually not true. When we practice silent meditation we start to see that thoughts come, but then they go, replaced by other thoughts, even though we have not taken any action to act on them. This inaction during silent meditation actually changes our brain! It decreases our impulsiveness and increases our will power. A great book on the subject is Buddha’s Brain, you can find a copy in my Mind & Soul Bookstore.
Sometimes if I see a dessert and feel a strong pull towards eating it, I’ll tell myself, “You don’t need it now, you can always go buy some cake tomorrow if you really want it”, and sure enough I’ll forget all about it if I can just resist that initial moment.
If you are one of the rare few who actually has trouble keeping weight on (personally I can’t relate!) Mindfulness can help you too.
Stress Reduction – Some of the main causes of unwanted weight loss are stress and anxiety. I even had a friend that would get so anxious that she would throw up. Mindfulness is a scientifically proven technique for reducing stress and mitigating anxiety. It can help you “ride the waves” of life, and maintain your center in the middle of chaos. It can also help you to become more aware of what is causing stress so you can make better choices. The well-known program of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is outlined in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living (also available in my Bookstore!)
Mindfulness of the Body – Sometimes people get so wrapped up in the tasks at hand, that they may simply forget to eat. They are missing or ignoring their body’s signals of hunger and thirst. Maybe this isn’t a problem. But if it is causing unwanted weight loss, grumpiness, or headaches, then paying more attention to the body’s signals can help.
This article is about using Mindfulness “on the cushion” and “off the cushion”. What we call the formal practice of silent meditation, and the informal practice of using the mindfulness in your day-to-day life. Both are beneficial, and equally as important.
I welcome your feedback! Let me know how using Mindfulness of the Body, or Mindful Eating has worked for you!