This article is from the Fall/Winter 2011 issue of The Wellness Advisor® magazine.
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Dieting is a multi-billion dollar market. Even if you don’t think you need to lose weight, you may be swayed by the plethora of magazine stories devoted to weight loss or the TV shows highlighting biggest weight losers. But, the problem with dieting is that it can promote an obsession with food and weight, feelings of failure, guilt and deprivation. And, this can become an endless cycle of dieting, throwing in the towel and eating anything, dieting again and so on. If you want to lose weight but would rather ditch diets forever, it may be time to try mindful eating.
Mindful eating teaches you that food is nourishment and eating should be enjoyed but we shouldn’t use food to cope with life’s stressors. Some have called food a cheap emotional cure-all. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, chomping your way through a bag of chips may temporarily decrease your anxiety, or if you are bored and lonely, you might turn to food for comfort.
How do you start eating mindfully? First, throw out the idea that some foods are “good” and other foods are “bad.” Make all foods permissible (unless of course there is a medical reason you need to avoid some foods). Quit counting calories, measuring food and “dieting.” Instead, sit down at a table without distractions (no multitasking) and enjoy the experience of eating and your company. Eat slowly, bite by bite, and savor the smell, sight, taste and texture of your food. Assess your hunger before, during and after eating. You should feel satisfied but not stuffed when you have finished your meal. Changing how you view food (as fuel for your body vs. as “fattening calories”) will take some time.
It is also important to pay attention to your food triggers and trigger foods. Do you tend to mindlessly munch on candy at the office after a tough meeting with your boss? Or do you turn to food after a long hard day when everyone else in the house is asleep? How do you feel? Are you bored, stressed, finally relaxing? Once you become an expert on the emotional buttons that trigger you to eat or foods that you can’t seem to stop eating, you can find ways to cope with your feelings without turning to food. Keeping a journal may help you process exactly how you are feeling and why you are eating. (Are you hungry or eating to fulfill an emotional need?)
Mindful eating doesn’t happen overnight—it is a process and takes some practice. However, once you make the commitment to eating without distractions and feed your body food when it is hungry, you can focus your attention to other needs that must be fulfilled. Once no foods are “off limits,” you will find that you don’t feel the need to gorge on your favorite forbidden foods because you are going back to your strict diet tomorrow.
Keep in mind that mindful eating also means that all of us eat for non-food reasons at times (celebrating a birthday, for instance, with cake), and that we all under eat or overeat at some point—and that is okay! However, the majority of time you should be eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full with no foods deemed “off limits.” Once you get the hang of mindful eating, you will be free from diets forever and your weight should fall in a healthy range for your body.