In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted on the efficacy of mindful and intuitive eating practice for eliminating unhealthy eating behaviors in the long term.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is a non-dieting, health-promoting approach to food and eating. It depends on a commonsense practice of paying attention to your body and its needs and learning to calm your mind to avoid emotional eating.
Why try it?
Right now two out of three people in our country are struggling with their weight. Most have been desperate enough to attempt a number of fad diets—which have contributed to a multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry in our nation. But the answer to permanent weight loss is not in the next fad diet—or in an old diet you’ve had success with in the past. Ninety-eight percent of people who lose weight on a diet are unable to sustain the lifestyle for life. They will regain the weight they lost as soon as they abandon the diet.
Perhaps you’ve gotten used to a cycle of denying yourself, and then overeating when you’re not able to keep it up. Or you’re afraid to stop limiting your food choices because you binge or overeat when you’re not vigilant. You're in for a nice surprise. Mindful eating has helped thousands of people regain the balance in their lives and live in the middle ground between these two extremes.
How does it work?
When you diet you spend a lot of time being hungry and feeling deprived. After a period of time, your brain subconsciously moves into survival mode. You lose control, particularly when it comes to the food you’ve been denying yourself. The worst is, while you’re restricting yourself you’re spending all of your time thinking about the food you aren't eating. Quite simply, diets set you up to fail.
This mindful eating program is a comprehensive approach that tackles eating issues by teaching you to make changes on three levels: mental, physical and emotional. In other words, to help you change your relationship with food, we treat your mind, body and spirit.
Tell me more about these mental, physical and emotional changes.
Generally our brains are thinking and keeping aware of what’s happening around us at the same time. When we’re lost in thought our awareness usually decreases: we may not hear something someone says to us, or we won’t pay attention to where we’re going, etcetera. By the same token, if our awareness increases, our thinking decreases. We can control the ratio—and distract the thinking—by increasing our awareness. The exercise of paying special attention to your surroundings is beneficial in that it gives our brains a rest from the stress of our thoughts.
In these workshops you’ll learn relaxation techniques you can use in any moment of your life. Anyone can do these simple, mindful exercises. We’ll practice them so that you will be able to call forth a calm, centered feeling when you’re around food. Once you’re able to tap into this practice you’ll be able to cause yourself to feel in control and at-peace in the work of a moment. And the coping techniques you’ll learn can be useful in all areas of your life.
Mental awareness is important because our thoughts give rise to our emotions. It is our thoughts about things that cause us to feel angry, nervous, sad, and so on. These emotions then affect us physically. Our muscles and hormones respond to emotions (think about a racing heart, “butterflies in your stomach,” or a rise in your blood pressure). And the physical effects of our emotions can take a great toll on our health over time.
Your emotional well-being is the most important component of this mindful eating program. People who have been trying to lose weight for years and failing are pretty down on themselves. They usually feel discouraged and think there's something wrong with them—wondering why they have so little control when it comes to food. They are self-critical about what they see as a lack of willpower.
But think about this logically. Is it possible that over two-thirds of our nation simply lacks self-discipline? Intelligent, motivated people, who are highly successful in other areas of their lives? It’s not very likely, and it’s time for you to let yourself off the hook. It’s not your fault. Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible to remain motivated to change while you’re beating yourself up and feeling guilty about food.
This class will teach you how to leave emotions out of eating choices and to foster compassion for yourself. Self-compassion goes a long way toward nursing injured self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with you, and it’s time to heal and learn a new way to approach eating.
Back when you were a baby, you crawled around and played and enjoyed life until you got hungry. Then you became physically uncomfortable, and you probably cried. When you were given food you looked at it, played in it, explored its texture and tasted it. If it didn’t taste good, there was no forcing it on you. When you were satisfied physically, it didn’t matter if there was delicious food left on your highchair tray. You were done and you wanted to get down and back to your play. This is how we all started out: as normal, intuitive eaters. We were tuned into how we felt physically. And we also were tuned into the taste of food.
Many people are still intuitive eaters as adults. If you know someone who doesn’t struggle with his or her weight, this person is most likely an intuitive eater. These people don’t hit the buffet table again and again because it’s unlimited and free. They eat because they’re hungry, and they select carefully from food choices for the foods they like. They stop when they’re satisfied.
You can re-learn to eat the way humans were made to eat—by tuning into your body’s cues. With the use of a hunger scale we’ll learn the signals for hunger and we will practice some techniques for recognizing when you're satisfied. Responding to your body’s need for food is absolutely essential for breaking the chronic cycle of dieting and then overeating.
Mindful eating exercises teach you how to attend to the textures and tastes of food—because feeling satisfied after you eat is not just about eliminating hunger. Enjoying our food is one of the most pleasurable activities we engage in as human beings. There is a direct correlation to how slowly you eat and how much you eat. Learning to slow down and enjoy a meal while keeping in touch with how your stomach feels physically is the key to stopping before you are overly full. Many people have lost this mind-body connection, but it isn’t hard to re-learn.
Separating your feelings of being full from your emotions is important. Dieting has caused people to feel bad or guilty if they overeat. Punishing yourself for feeling full is self-sabotaging. Having the mindset that you “blew your diet” quite often leads to bingeing or overeating. Intuitive eaters don’t feel guilty, though they may regret overeating because they 're physically uncomfortable. With practice you can learn to tune into how you feel physically without judgment.
Once you let go of self-criticism, it’s much easier to give yourself the encouragement and motivation you need to continue to learn a new way to eat. It’s not necessary to eat perfectly all the time, and in fact it’s not even possible.
What about the food?
Diet plans have taught us for years that there are good foods and bad foods. After a time, many took this mentality to heart and now think of eating choices as a moral issue. Again, they experience feelings of guilt when they don’t follow “the rules.” Remember that remorse over food choices is just another trigger to overeat.
When you eat mindfully you are in charge. A diet plan doesn't dictate what you should or should not eat. Feeling fulfilled after you eat is not just about satisfying hunger; your decisions about what to eat should be balanced, taking into account your tastes, your health, as well as your cravings.
You will learn about food choices and healthy, non-processed food, and we will have a lesson on how to shop and prepare food. It’s imperative that you don’t turn this program into a diet though. Any food recommendations we make are not rules, and you’re not bad or wrong if you don’t follow them exactly.
For most people, the idea of clearing out the cabinets and making dramatic changes to the food they’re accustomed to eating is not realistic. However, gradual changes that you can live with will stay with you for life. In this program you will learn to make decisions based on your health, without making food a moral issue.
Most of my students are in different places when it comes to what they eat, and the changes they’re able to live with vary greatly. In addition, many have limitations due to allergies, food intolerances, or health problems in general. All of this will be taken into account, and you will still enjoy food and eating. As you go, be your own cheerleader and keep encouraging yourself. Every small change you make matters.
Learning to eat mindfully is a process. It may be challenging at first, and most of you will make mistakes along the way. This is also true of learning to play the piano, ride a bike, or anything new. You have to practice in order to become accomplished. Don’t worry; it becomes easier the more you do it!