How To Eat Better And Lose Weight With Mindful Eating: Cultivating A Better Relationship With Food
Eating is such a routine behaviour that it can be done with little or no thought. The brain is very good at operating on ‘autopilot’, enabling us to do tasks with little thought or awareness, and this can be very useful. However, habits can be formed easily, with some habits being useful and constructive and others being less helpful, even harmful. The great thing about habits is that when we don’t have to think too much about things it enables the brain to save energy for more challenging tasks. An example of a useful habit we can do on autopilot is driving a car. An example of an unhelpful habit we can do on autopilot is eating in front of the TV but being unaware of how much we’re eating and maybe not even noticing the taste.
Mindful Eating Versus Mindless Eating
Mindless eating is where we consume food without awareness and with little thought. It can result in overeating, and it may not even be that enjoyable if we’re not savouring the taste of what we’re eating. If we eat mindlessly on a regular basis this can lead to weight gain and health problems. In contrast, mindful eating is about being present with the food in front of you, enjoying and appreciating food, whilst eating in accordance with your body’s needs. Eating mindfully involves thinking before you eat, checking in with yourself to decide whether to eat, what to eat and how much to eat, and when to stop eating. Mindful eating is also about flexibility and balance, and giving yourself permission to eat foods you enjoy as part of a balanced diet rather than trying to avoid ‘bad’ foods and then craving them because you won’t allow yourself to eat them. Read my blog post: ‘What Is Mindful Eating?’.
Engaging The Brain And Becoming More Self-Aware
Perhaps you’re overweight; perhaps you feel out of control of your eating- maybe you experience powerful food cravings or urges to eat. You can learn to eat better and lose weight with mindful eating by paying more attention to your eating behaviour and understand and address why you overeat. Mindful eating is about paying more attention to the eating process itself and engaging the brain before and during eating to help you make better food decisions and have good quality eating experiences. In order to become a more mindful eater, it can be really helpful to go on a journey of self-discovery where you become more self-aware through observation and self-reflection to enable you to identify any problematic eating habits and come up with strategies to help you deconstruct old behaviours and replace them with new, more helpful ones. Mindfulness itself is about self-care, and making choices that are in your own best interest. It’s not about perfect eating, but ‘middle-way’, intuitive eating. This is a different approach to going on a restrictive, rule-bound diet, and instead takes into account the whole person- their needs, preferences, skills, personality and lifestyle in order to create a personalised, realistic, long-term way of eating and living.
Our behaviours are closely entwined with our thoughts and feelings, and how we behave (including eating) is often a reflection of our attitudes and how we feel. I help people to identify links between their mindset and eating habits and to address any emotional eating or ‘non-hunger’ eating (read my blog post: ‘The Difference Between Hunger And Cravings’). Unfortunately, many people attempt to lose weight by going on diets, but they haven’t necessarily addressed the fact that they might be using food to manage their emotions or to help them ‘cope’. I help individuals to address emotional eating and to explore unhelpful thoughts, feelings and beliefs around food, such as thinking you deserve to eat a certain food (reward-eating), thinking that you’ve ‘blown’ it after eating a piece of cake (catastrophic thinking), thinking that you must clear your plate (excuses to eat and ‘crooked’ thinking) or telling yourself that you’ll start to eat better once you’re back from your holiday or weekend away (the ‘black and white’ mindset, and procrastination).
10 Mindless Eating Behaviours
1. ‘Hoovering up’ any food in front of you (if it’s there you eat it, whatever it is and whether or not you’re feeling full)
2. Not planning your meals and snacks- just grabbing the same old foods with little thought
3. Clearing your plate despite feeling stuffed before you’ve finished
4. Eating foods from large packets without thinking about how much of the packet you’re eating
5. Overdoing it on the food just because you’re at a social event and you’re faced with lots of choice
6. Eating foods that don’t satisfy your appetite- they taste good, but cause you to feel hungry soon afterwards, leading to more eating
7. Eating with lots of distractions and very quickly, so you barely notice what and how much you’ve eaten
8. Automatically going for a second helping at dinner time or two courses in a restaurant, not just one or two
9. Making a beeline for food as soon as you feel stressed, upset, bored or lonely
10. Not comparing food labels to make a more helpful choice, just going for what looks nice or is the cheapest.
Any of these sound familiar? What might you need to focus on?
Learning To Genuinely Enjoy Food
It’s easy to eat on autopilot particularly when you’re distracted by something else. Examples are eating in front of the TV, eating whilst chatting at a party, eating whilst ‘on the go’ or eating your lunch at your desk whilst working. If your mind is focused on other things it’s very easy not to notice what or how much you’re eating. Some people ‘graze’ throughout the day and pop things into their mouth without barely noticing. The manner in which you eat can really influence your enjoyment of food, and working with people I help them to acknowledge that there might be very little enjoyment when it comes to their own eating, either because they’re eating mindlessly or because there might be a lot of guilt or shame around their eating (for example, because they’re eating what they believe are ‘bad’ foods). If you slow down and savour your food, you’re more likely to enjoy it and feel satisfied with it, and in turn, feel more satisfied with less food.
Mindful eating is about slowing down the whole eating process and paying attention to what’s going on. Perhaps you’re eating a main meal but you’re too focused on the dessert to follow, so not really noticing the main meal. Perhaps you eat when you’re not hungry and have a tendency to eat ‘with your eyes’ so that you end up eating any food that happens to look good, or you have a compulsion to eat food simply because it’s in front of you and in reach. We have to take charge of the food environment and not be overly influenced by it by being aware of the power of external cues such as the sight, smell and proximity of food.
Addressing Excuses To Eat & Eating Triggers
Learning to eat mindfully includes becoming aware of underlying motivations to eat and any excuses a person might frequently use to justify eating, such as ‘I can’t let it go to waste’, ‘You have to completely indulge when you go out for a meal’, ‘Now the packet’s open I might as well eat the lot’, ‘Food is my crutch when I’m stressed’, ‘I blew it at lunch so I might as well write off the rest of the day’ or ‘I’m not going to miss out if everyone else is having dessert’. I help individuals to identify their triggers to eat- many people describe themselves as emotional eaters, perhaps ‘soothing’ themselves with food when they’re bored, stressed, angry, frustrated, anxious, feeling unfulfilled, tired after a hard day at work or lonely. I help them to become more aware of their own thoughts, beliefs, feelings, attitudes and behaviours in relation to food, enabling them to identify and address their underlying motivations for eating. For more information on emotional eating click HERE. I also give the following talk: ‘How To Tackle Emotional Eating’.
Planning your food in advance is an important aspect of mindful eating, as it can help you to be prepared in advance and provide you with some clarity and structure for making healthier food choices rather than more spontaneous, less healthy food choices you may regret or not particularly enjoy, such as when you’re very hungry in a restaurant and making a quick choice from the menu. Thinking about what you’re going to eat beforehand can help you to prepare for temptations as they arise- if you know in advance roughly what you plan to eat and plan to avoid, you’ll be in a stronger position to make better food choices.
Awareness Is Power
Get curious about your eating. If you’re aware of how you eat, you’re more likely to be able to make positive changes. I help people to build self-awareness in relation to their eating behaviour and overall relationship with food. If a person is struggling to control their eating, it’s not a diet they need to go on, but a journey of self-discovery. Learn to eat better and lose weight with mindful eating strategies by paying more attention to your eating behaviour and learning to understand and address why you might be regularly overeating or making poor food choices. Mindfulness is about being non-judgemental, not beating yourself up; therefore, embrace your new journey with compassionate curiosity.
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