Is improving your health one of your New Year’s resolutions this year? Studies show that year after year the #1 resolution is usually to ‘eat better’ but most people fall off the wagon sooner or later.
When we eat to lose weight, we become hyper focused on eating ‘good’ food and avoiding ‘bad’ food – we eat to diet, we stop enjoying foods we love like chocolate or cake and soon we find ourselves having cravings that we can’t resist. We think about food and our bodies all the time, until we just want to stop feeling obsessed and go back to feeling happy and healthy around food.
I was in this place too and using mindfulness in my eating went a long way in helping me feel “normal” around food again.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety – we are prone to stress eating because we are unable to deal with our emotions and use food as an escape. By practicing mindfulness, we can be better prepared to respond to difficult emotions more positively.
Mindfulness reduces distractions so instead of mindlessly eating while watching TV, we are better able to tune into our body’s satiety cues and eat according to our hunger and fullness.
Mindfulness increases body satisfaction – we often want to lose weight and end up with food cravings because we want our body to look a certain way. Studies have shown that self-compassion based mindfulness increases self-worth. When we are happier with our body, we feel more confident and are likely to make healthier eating choices that serve us well in the long-term.
While general mindfulness practices in the form of meditation can improve our overall sense of well-being, they are more suited to calming the mind. On the other hand, for mindfulness to work for our food habits, we need to use different techniques that connect us to our physical body (not just to our mental thoughts).
In fact, focusing on the physical body by getting out of our heads is the only way to feel free from the obsessive food thoughts that we experience mentally.
Mindful Eating is a process in which we consciously observe and feel the effects of food on our physical body.
We observe how different foods make us feel, how we crave some foods, how some foods make us feel satisfied and energetic and how our bellies feel when we eat just right.
By noticing how different foods affect our satiety and happiness, we are able to slowly move away from calorie counting and fad diets to using the millennia-old method of trusting our bodies (not minds) to make the food choices that are right for us.
The end goal of mindful eating is three-fold:
To help you experience the physical and emotional satisfaction of eating food that you love with no restrictions, i.e., enjoy cake and vegetables in equal measure
Go from obsessed to feeling happy and relaxed around food. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full with no cravings or guilt. Have food just be a part of your life instead of thinking about it all the time.
Enjoy eating and feeling strong, vibrant and energetic so you can move better and feel more confident and comfortable in your body at any size
Mindful eating is all about connecting with your body’s hunger, satiety and response to food.
Step 1 – Understand hunger and fullness
The first step is to understand the hunger and fullness scale.
Imagine a scale of 1 to 10 where “1” is starving (where you could eat anything right now) and “10” is stuffed (where you can’t move from the couch and need to unbutton your pants). Hunger doesn’t just manifest in a growling stomach but also as feelings – such as feeling irritable or feeling light-headed / getting a headache.
For example, if you are energetic and your stomach is not growling, you may be above a 5 on the spectrum. If on the other hand, you are feeling ‘hangry’ and feeling light headed, you maybe creeping down to a 2 or 3 on the spectrum even if your stomach isn’t growling yet. Similarly, if you just ate a meal, you maybe feeling a little stuffed which may put you at a 9 on the spectrum.
Step 2 – Practice noticing your hunger and fullness
The second step is to associate your physical hunger and fullness with a number on the scale between 1 to 10.
To try this, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. While doing so, focus your attention on your stomach. Does it feel full or empty? Is it growling?
Slowly, try to move your attention to your head – do you feel alert or focused? Or are you a little restless or light-headed?
Give yourself a number on the scale with ‘1’ being ravenous, restless or light-headed and ‘10’ being stuffed, in a food coma or numb. If coming up a number feels difficult, try answering the below questions to help:
If 5 is neither hungry nor full, are you at a 5, or lower or higher than a 5?
How far away from 5 do you feel? Slightly farther out or much farther out?
How are your energy levels? Feel vibrant and raring to go or do you feel low and tired? Is it a 5, lower or higher?
As a general rule of thumb, when you’re slightly below a 5, it’s a good time to eat. If you wait until you’re too far below a 5 (like a 1 or 2), you’re more likely to overeat because you can’t make rational decisions when you’re hungry (this is our brain’s evolutionary mechanism keeping us alive). If you’re above a 5 and closer to an 8-9, it’s time to stop eating when you’re just satisfied and before you feel stuffed.
In this way, by connecting with how our stomachs and minds are feeling, we can simplify when we eat. Taking away the power from external sources such as diets or calorie counting helps us feel more in control and less addicted to food.
As you practice mindful eating, you may soon find that it’s difficult for you to stop eating at ‘8’ on the scale and you always eat too much before you can stop.
If this is you, you may be eating to cover up your emotions, also known as emotional eating. When you stop using food to cope with your feelings, you can learn to stop overeating – I’m sharing how to do exactly this at my blog, My Spoonful Of Soul.
Sai Aparajitha Khanna helps ambitious women quit emotional eating so they can focus on their career and families instead of fighting food all the time. Get her exclusive free guide for WisdomFeed readers to stop emotional eating and feel healthier & happier around food. You can also sign up to receive weekly coaching emails at her blog, My Spoonful Of Soul.