Mindful eating seems to be all the rage right now and has been quite the buzz word. So, let’s first discuss what the word “mindfulness”, in general, means. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and physical being. It’s the state of being conscious or presently aware of something. Mindfulness is something that when practiced regularly leads to an ability to maintain a nonjudgmental state of awareness of your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about being observant and curious.
Sound easy? Is it too “rainbows and butterflies” for you? Me too, or at least I used to think so. I don’t really have a slow down and smell the roses button. I envy those that naturally do. I actually have to practice mindfulness regularly. It really is a skill that has to be developed. Well-being, in general, is a skill that has to be developed and practiced. We’re running around like crazy people most of the time, always two activities behind, yet signing up for more along the way. Sound familiar? Then you find yourself at the end of the day exhausted and frazzled, telling yourself you’re gonna get your act together and then voila! The Oreos appear, or in my case, the red wine. Here’s the cool thing though…..you can re-wire.
Your brain is marvelously made for this but it doesn’t just magically happen without your input. It’s called plasticity. No, that doesn’t mean your brain’s made up of plastic! Plasticity is the brain’s way of reorganizing itself by forming new connections between brain cells. What does this mean? Well, you’re able to create an environment in your brain where you can actually change your ineffective thought patterns which are routinely leading you to results you don’t want. Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with this concept. Positive psychology is all over the place these days. I myself have about 16 books dedicated to the subject of “change your words, change your world” sitting on my bookshelf. It’s mesmerizing! Learning mindfulness helps us tap into each of the pillars of well-being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, to observe and then make changes where necessary. Your thoughts lead to your feelings which lead to your actions which produce your results. If you’re unhappy with your results, go back and check out what your thoughts are/were. When we’re able to sit with our thoughts (pause in the middle of an urge or a trigger) we allow the possibility of change. We can re-wire thus becoming more effective making decisions and choices that are more in line with our values and our well-being. You honestly can apply these techniques to just about every aspect in life but we’re just gonna chat about how it relates to food for now.
What is Mindful Eating?
Well, first let’s talk about what it’s not… It’s not eating extremely slowly. It’s not chewing until your jaw is sore. It’s not actually about doing anything at all, it’s about being. Mindful Eating is the process of making conscious decisions to eat with both intention to your “why” and attention to your “when”, “how”, “how much” and “where”. Most people who struggle with food react subconsciously or automatically to their triggers. They “re-Act” out their responses to these triggers over and over. Once you’ve done something or responded to something multiple times, it becomes almost automatic (i.e. Stress = Ice Cream). Mindfulness helps identify what these triggers are and our Break Free! Mindful Eating Workshops and Individual Consulting services introduces strategies so you can learn to deal effectively with them. Triggers come in many forms:
Emotional Triggers Do you crave crunchy things when you are mad? Do you want ice cream when you are feeling sad or lonely? This is definitely not the time you are craving a chicken breast, right? (Check out our Overcoming Emotional EatingArticle too)
Environmental Triggers Do you suddenly crave something fried or salty because you saw the “yellow arches”? Is the cake in the lunchroom calling your name? I mean, don’t you hate it when food talks to you? It wouldn’t be so bad but seriously, when’s the last time you opened the fridge and heard the broccoli talking to you?
The Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Cycle was founded by Dr. Michelle May in the late 1990’s and is used as a training tool in with all of our clients. This simple model serves as a wonderful visual tool and reminds us of the hundreds of decisions we make every day during our own daily eating cycles. The Mindful Eating Cycle is designed to address and explore all of the decision points involved in eating and to bring awareness to each of these decisions while considering all of your available options so you can best meet your needs at any given time. Let us walk through these decision points so you can begin to do your own observing:
Why do I eat? What’s my motivation at any given time to eat? Am I aware of any triggers? This is a very important question because honestly I think most people eat just because. Because it’s time, because it’s there, because someone brought a treat, because I paid good money for this! They really aren’t in tune as to actually why they’re eating.
When do I feel like eating? Am I actually hungry? How hungry am I? What causes my urge to eat? What else could I do if I’m not hungry? Am I eating on a specific schedule or according to some “rule”? Are the kids finally in bed and it’s my alone time with my stash of goodies and the TV?
Of everything available to me what am I going to choose? Do I restrict certain foods because I’m afraid I’ll overeat them? Do I eliminate entire food groups in order to follow a specific plan? Are there foods I could eat that would make me feel better or become healthier? Do I choose certain types of foods when I’m eating for emotional reasons? Remember the crunchy foods you might want when you’re mad……not likely to be celery, is it?
How do I eat? How do I actually get the food from the dish, container, or bag into my body? Am I distracted because I’m working, talking or driving? Am I in a hurry? Do I eat fast before anyone catches me and I’m either embarrassed or worse, have to share? Am I secretive? Am I aware of how my food actually tastes? Am I surprised when I see I’m on the last bite or when my hand’s grasping at air in the bottom of the bag and I wonder how that happened?
How much food do I eat? Am I in tune with my cues of hunger and satiety to know when I’m satisfied? How do I want to feel at the end of my meal? Do I eat everything served to me because it’s there? Do I have to make sure the rows of cookies are even? The cake has a perfect edge? Really….you can’t leave food uneven or unattractive, right? Why leave just 4 spoonfuls of ice cream, might as well finish it! Familiar? What can I do if I’ve overeaten?
Where do I invest my energy? Am I physically active? Do I like to exercise? How do I like to move my body? Where do I spend my energy that I’ve consumed and how do I invest my time living my life? Is there something I long to do that I’m not doing? Am I living the big, vibrant, energetic life I want? Or am I spending hours and hours beating myself up mentally for not having enough “will power” or “control”?
So Now What?
Hopefully the wheels are already turning and you are already beginning to think and reflect, that’s good! Keep thinking! A fantastic strategy to help you move forward is to simply ask yourself, “Am I Hungry?” when you have the urge to eat.It’s either yes or no. There’s no wrong way to respond but you have options if you’re not. You can eat anyway, you can redirect your attention by another activity until you are hungry or you can identify what your true need is and try to meet it another way. Asking this question alone is extremely powerful and can help open the door to understanding why, when, what, how, how much you eat. It can help explore underlying needs that perhaps you have been ignoring (rest, balance, time management, etc).
More Benefits to Exploring Mindful Eating
Be in charge of every decision you make without resorting to rules and restrictions.
Have you tried diets before? How many? Were they successful? For how long? You know, the struggle to resist food actually contributes to overeating. Think about that!
Become aware of physical and emotional cues/triggers
If you’re not hungry when you start to eat, how will you know when to stop eating?
Recognize possible non-hunger triggers
Can you actually tell if you’re hungry? Maybe you’re tired? Bored? Happy? If you eat for non-hunger reasons, like when you’re bored, what will happen when you’re done eating? You’ll probably still be bored and now maybe full and frustrated.
Explore and learn how to meet your needs most effectively
If a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it. Is there something else that would better take care of you right now? If you’re feeling lonely, how about a phone call (not a text!) to a friend?
Eat for both pleasure and satiation
How many rice cakes does it really take to satisfy your craving for ice cream? 3? 4? Doesn’t really matter. The reality is by the time you’re done snacking on one “healthier option” after another in an attempt to distract you from what you truly want, you’re gonna eventually have that ice cream anyway. Have you had this happen? It’s just that now you’ve also eaten several other things in the meantime.
All foods really can fit when you use balance, variety and moderation and can choose foods that are both enjoyable and nourishing.
Use the energy from food to live more vibrantly
Be the greatest you there is. You’re the only you after all!
Mindful eating is a skill set and a process. It will take time to bring awareness and solutions to your eating. We are here to assist you in really digging deep into each of your decision points, and help you you learn to trust your own body wisdom and love the body you are in. It is a simple concept but not easy to implement. Remember, mindful eating is NOT a diet, so you cannot fall off the wagon! Enjoy what you learn about yourself in the process, be compassionate towards yourself, and always be open to think, observe, and reflect.
Eat Fearlessly and Mindfully!
Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Faciltator
TNT Nutrition Coach
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