A Surprisingly Simple Solution to Weight-Management: Mindful Eating
by Shelly-Anne Mckay
It’s a new year, and for many this means resolutions to lose weight, eat healthy, and exercise daily. I can already see the rice cakes and celery flying off store shelves in a frenzy. We are bombarded with quick-fix diets and the gym is packed with newly born athletes.
The sad part is that these good intentions are short lived. Who could possibly live a life so structured around restriction and deprivation? As soon as you say to me, “No cookies allowed. You cannot eat any cookies,” what do you think I want? Yes, cookies! We have all been on diets, lost weight quickly, and then gained it all back and more. Anyone can follow a diet for a short period of time, but at the first sign of a trigger, we are reaching for the foods considered forbidden.
Mindful eating is a clinically proven way to stop the cycle of overeat, beat yourself up, restrict, overeat, beat yourself up, restrict (otherwise known as yo-yo dieting). Mindfulness simply means a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, the feelings in our body, our environmental surroundings, and the impact that these have on us. The practice of mindfulness provides numerous benefits for our mind, body, and spirit. Now, it can also be used to help us manage our relationship with food.
Mindful eating is based on the way we were born to eat. Think back to when children were infants. They cried when they were hungry, they were given the breast or a bottle for food, they turned their head away and stopped eating when full, and they did not want to eat again until they experienced physical cues of hunger. Then, the cycle repeated itself. There was no calorie counting or point calculations made to determine how much to feed the growing infant, and they not only survived but developed beautifully.
Imagine for a moment, what would life be like if you trusted your body, mind, and spirit to inform your decisions to eat?
Living this way is simple but not easy, especially after years of trusting experts to inform our decisions around what and how we eat. Mindful eating is a very self-compassionate way of managing our relationship with food. I never thought it was possible to experience such serenity—until it happened to me and changed my life.
If you are just starting a mindful eating practice, don’t expect to wake up tomorrow a newly reformed mindful eater. It took us how many years to get to where we are now? So, be patient and gentle with yourself. A great first step is to become more mindful as to why you are eating. Most weight loss programs do not focus on why we eat. Instead, they are based on what we eat (the nine almonds or two ounces of cheese) and when we eat (such as protein every three hours or nothing after 7:00 pm). This is ineffective because the underlying “real” reasons for eating never get addressed.
For many, the why we eat is often due to triggers, one example is environmental. It is no accident that when you drive by the local fast food joint, you smell their food blocks away. It is by design that when you walk into a grocery store the first thing you smell (and must walk by) is the bakery. Have you ever walked into a restaurant with your mind made up as to what you are going to order, and then you walk through the doors, smell the food cooking, see the visuals on the menu or walls and what others are eating? All of a sudden, you are ordering something completely different. It happens all the time. We are impacted subconsciously by our environment. This does not make us weak and spineless; it makes us human. Becoming mindfully aware of these triggers puts us in the decision making driver’s seat, which can be life changing.
Sometimes these triggers can be so powerful that they make us want to eat when we aren’t even hungry. Something you can begin practicing right now is PAUSING. Before you reach for the snack cupboard, or put that donut in your mouth, or go through the drive-through, take a moment to pause. Mindfully check in with your body and ask yourself, “Am I Hungry?” If you are truly hungry, then enjoy whatever food it is you are choosing and taste every morsel as if you were the best food critic in town.
If you are not hungry but want to eat anyways, mindfully notice if you were influenced by a trigger. Then consciously decide whether you choose to eat or not. It is no longer an automatic response. This newly created mindfulness of yours puts you in charge, leading to freedom and an empowered relationship with food.
In my heart, mindful eating is the instinctive way to nourish our mind, body, and spirit. This approach is slowly becoming more mainstream since it is a natural and self-compassionate way of managing our weight. Unfortunately, one Google search on this topic can leave you feeling overwhelmed. My suggestion is you begin practicing mindfulness and choose what “feels right for you.” Trust your instincts. If you take small steps, weight loss is a side-effect, but more importantly you will live a joyful life instead of one tormented by constant thoughts of food. Namaste.
Shelly-Anne Mckay is a recovered emotional and compulsive overeater who is a licensed facilitator for the “Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program.” She completed professional training through the prestigious Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in California and now provides private individualized support to clients around the world. She also develops and facilitates workshops for organizations big and small who are focused on supporting the health of their employees. She is very passionate about this topic and invites you to reach out to have a conversation anytime (306) 501-5820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, see the Directory of Services ad on page 20 of the 22.5 January/February issue of the WHOLifE Journal.