Everywhere you turn at the moment you hear the term ‘Mindfulness’ but what exactly is it? The definition of Mindfullness given by Jon Kabat-Zinn a specialist in the modern day practice is “Mindfullness means paying attention in a particular way. On purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
So, Mindfulness is the practice of being aware in every possible moment, while keeping a non-judgemental outlook and, at the same time, observing your own bodily and emotional responses. This state has been hailed as a great stress reducer and a calmer, more content way of living but what about Mindful Eating? Some people describe Mindful Eating as eating with your full and absolute attention to the look, taste and texture of the food. I believe Mindful Eating is so much more than that. The very fact that you are completely focused on the food will most probably reduce the number of calories you eat which is great. A full mindful eating experience should also include feeling the sensations in your body as you eat which should also include the emotion you feel before, during and after your meal.
And what about the triggers that make you decide what and when to eat.
- Was your body or mind telling you that you were hungry?
- Is the food nutritious , if not why did you choose it?
- Are you eating to feed an emotion or a physical hunger?
- If you close your eyes when you eat does it taste different?
- What is the difference in how you feel before you started eating and afterwards?
- What are your non-hunger triggers?
Answering these questions will give you a full Mindful Eating experience.
So how do we do it?
Well, there are a few techniques you could use but probably the easiest is to follow these few steps:
- If you are ready to eat, stop and check in with your body. Are you physically hungry?
- If you are, decide what to eat. Why did you choose that particular food?
- Always sit at a table to eat without TV, Tablet or phone
- Sit and look at the food for a minute, see its colour and texture.
- Eat slowly focusing on the flavour and texture of the food.
- Notice how you feel all the way through the meal and see if there is any difference between the start and finish.
Now I’m not suggesting you do this at every meal but if you just did this for one meal a day it would be of great benefit to you.
Most of us start a health and weight loss regime full of enthusiasm, convinced that this time it’s going to work.
If we are lucky this feeling can last a few months but inevitably motivation slips, enthusiasm wanes, goals get forgotten. For the lucky few who reach their target the effort of maintaining a new lifestyle proves to be too much and gradually the weight creeps back on.
Until the next time. What’s going on?
Have you ever asked yourself “where has my motivation gone” as though it was something tangible? I have heard this question many times when working with clients. Some even think I can find it for them!
So, what is motivation? The Cambridge definitions are:
- Enthusiasm for doing something
- A need or reason for doing something
Humans are emotional creatures and we need to tap into our emotions to be able to imagine and feel excited about the future we want. The reasons why we do something are an important aspect in our chance of success.
Some of us are motivated by imagining something we want in the future, we can see it and feel excited by it. Motivation is very high at this point.
Some of us are more motivated by something we don’t want in the present, such as tight clothes, aching joints, heartburn etc. Again motivation is very high at this point.
There is a subtle difference between the two however. One of them is more likely to sustain the motivation levels for longer.
Imagine you are someone who didn’t want a tight waistband. You wouldn’t have to lose too much weight for the waistband to feel more comfortable. When that happens what will sustain you to carry on? The immediate discomfort has gone hasn’t it?
The person who is excited about the future has a much better chance of long term success – they are constantly moving forward in the direction they want to go and more importantly, they know what they want and why.
The emotional brain and how it impacts our eating habits
We all need to eat and drink to sustain our bodies but food also has a bigger role. Eating provides more than just sustenance, it can evoke powerful feelings, thoughts and memories.
Most of us have certain foods that give us comfort when we are ill or in need of it. For me, it has always been warm custard. When I think back I realise that this, along with attention, love and cuddles was what my mother gave me when I was ill as a child. Even now as an adult, I will turn to my comfort food when I’ve had a rough day. Take a moment and think about what foods you turn to when you feel the need for comfort.
When we try to understand why our diet sometimes goes wrong or we hear ourselves saying ‘Why did I eat that!’ it could be linked to our emotions. ‘Emotional eating’ is a term that we have all seen and heard about in the media over the last decade but what does it involve?
When I looked further into the emotional side of our brains I came across the term ‘ Amygdala hijack’ which was coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. He uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of context with the actual situation because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.
Basically what this comes down to is that a response from the emotional part of our brains makes us pay attention right now, we recognise that this is urgent and we deal with it immediately without stopping to think whether we should do this or not.
So if you have ever found yourself part way through your diet and having eaten foods that you know you shouldn’t have, quickly and without any real thought, it might well be your emotional brain that has decided this for you.
Different personality types will experience this differently and will also handle their response in very different ways.
So what can we do to make sure that this unhelpful pattern of behaviour does not continue? Well, the first step is to recognise when ,where and with whom these events happen. If it has happened once it is likely to happen again. It seems to me the way to start to control this is to recognise it, look at it in detail and prepare your response so you are ready for it when it happens again.