Stop Dieting – Eat Mindfully Instead
If you started a diet at the first of the year, I suggest that you stop dieting and eat mindfully instead. Last week I emphasized NOTICING how we treat and move our bodies. Today let’s talk about noticing food and how we eat. Focusing on food has to be a good thing, right? It is one of our most dependable pleasures and ongoing necessities for our health and well being. A few months ago I discussed a book I had read titled, “The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work” by Yoni Freedhoff, MD. I was grateful for Dr. Freedhoff’s message that most diets are ineffective at best and dangerous at worse. As humans, we can only endure suffering for a limited amount of time. Therefore, if the way we are eating is causing us to suffer, we will not be able to sustain it long term, and eventually we will return to previous eating habits and most likely regain whatever weight loss we had experienced.
This week I read a wonderful companion book titled, “Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food” by Susan Albers, psyd. This book was a great, bullet point guide to how we all can and should be eating in order to obtain the most enjoyment and benefit from the food we consume. We all need to eat—so why not make it the best experience it can be? There was such a wealth of information in this book that I will try to break it down into bite size chunks J over the next few weeks in hopes that our resolutions to eat better can become part of our way of life.
The foundation for better eating is eating mindfully. There are four different ways to accomplish this mindful eating, like the four corners of a foundation. They are
1) Mindfulness of the Mind
2) Mindfulness of the Body
3) Mindfulness of Feelings
4) Mindfulness of Thought.
That may seem like a whole lot of mindfulness—and it is—so pick some part of this mindfulness and start there. Beginnings are usually more effective when they are small and consistent.
- Mindfulness of the Mind. Pay attention to what our minds are doing as we eat. We all know what it is like to “zone out,” and not pay attention to what we are doing. We may wind up in a certain room of the house and think, “What am I doing here?”, or be driving and end up somewhere we had not intended to go. Many of us have eating patterns that are “zoned out.” We reach for food and consume it without any real thought about what we ate or how much we ate. Perhaps we are eating while concentrating on the television or computer or eating on the run while talking on the phone or driving. If we are doing anything other than focusing on the food and on the act of eating, we can improve being more mindful with our minds as we eat.
- Mindfulness of the Body. The purpose of food is to feed our bodies and give them fuel, but how often do we really consult our bodies in the process of eating? Are we aware of what hunger really feels like? Are we aware of what satiety and fullness feel like? How do our bodies feel before we eat? What do they feel like after we eat? We can do a great deal to improve our eating just by getting in touch with how our eating is making our bodies feel. Also, our bodies have these wonderful sensations of smell, taste, touch sight, and sound. How many of these sensations are we really engaging as we eat? How relaxed are our bodies while we are eating? Stressful eating is certain to get in the way of listening to our bodies as we eat. Do we know what relaxation feels like? Can we relax our bodies as we eat?
- Mindfulness of Feelings. Most of us know about “emotional eating” and have turned to food for comfort from time to time. Instead of feeling guilty about these times, consider these experiences as opportunities to learn about what is going on with our feelings. Perhaps there are better ways to tend to our emotional needs than through food. The author suggests that we 1) notice feelings that prompt us to eat like boredom, stress, pain, or loneliness, 2) notice feelings that follow eating such as pleasure or comfort or fullness, 3) notice feelings linked with overeating such as guilt, regret, shame, or sadness. Again, noticing is the first step. If we can notice the feelings behind the emotional eating, then we have some power to tend to those feelings with something other than a doughnut or a bowl of ice cream.
- Mindfulness of Thoughts. We can become mindful of our thoughts about food and about eating by listening to our internal dialogue. What do we say to ourselves about food and about eating? In particular, the author points out that our “inner critic” can do a lot of damage. Phrases such as, “I shouldn’t eat that” or “Don’t eat that” can keep us from noticing and receiving what we want and need to eat. Saying this food is “good” and that food is “bad” puts incorrect labels on inanimate objects that are designed for our nourishment and pleasure. It is like putting a road block up at the beginning of the intersection so there is no room to explore and figure out what place that food or behavior might have in our lives to give us joy and satisfaction. Eating with guilt is not good for body or soul. How can we use more compassionate and less judgmental language with ourselves as we eat?
As we start the new year with desires to eat better and be healthier, let’s begin by just noticing the workings of our minds, bodies, feelings, and thoughts where food is concerned. Next week I will share some specific things we can do to increase our abilities to be more mindful in each of these areas. The goal is to make eating the best experience it can be for mind, body and spirit.