You can't out-train a bad diet and unless you want to exercise for 20 - 40 minutes to burn the calories every time you eat a chocolate biscuit; you have to watch what you are eating. This is easier said than done with people being mystified about what constitutes healthy eating and so many of our diets governed by habit, emotion and boredom. Mindful Eating is a term that's popping up more and more in the hunt for ways to lose weight, but few people really understand what it is.
Mindful eating is based on the ancient Buddhist practise of mindfulness, which provides a simple way to tune into your brain, and take control of your behaviours. In the context of eating well, it means being present, free from distractions, and fully aware of what your body is telling you -whether you feel feeling hungry or full- and making decisions based on those feelings, instead of being controlled by the impulse to eat a whole tub of ice cream.
For most people, the reason they have gained weight is because of their mindless habits, the things they do without even realising.
Some examples of these habits are:
- Having to finish everything that is on your plate no matter how big the portion you have been served. This is a hard habit to break from childhood when your parents made you eat based on all the starving children that had no fish fingers.
- Eating to fulfil an emotional need, because it makes you feel better.
- Having dinner in front of the TV, which means you are three times more likely to overeat, because your brain has been distracted, so doesn't register you are full.
- Finding yourself opening the fridge during TV ad breaks.
- Being on a constant "blood sugar roller coaster" unaware that your cravings are down to how you are eating.
Mindful eating requires becoming aware of these habits, and instead of being on autopilot, focusing exclusively on what we are doing, and hence, taking control of our impulses and behaviour.
To give more of an insight into mindful eating, I spoke to Gillie Sutherland, Yoga teacher, Motivational Trainer and Weight Loss Coach at The Estuary Clinic.
How does mindful eating help people lose weight and get healthy?
There is a well-known Zen proverb that describes it perfectly, "When walking, walk. When eating eat."
One of the biggest barriers to weight loss is that people have become disconnected with the body's signals of physical hunger, so we eat when we aren't hungry. Through mindful eating, we learn to reconnect with our body and what it really needs, so we just eat when we need to, and stop when we have had enough.
We also become more mindful and conscious of the choices we make in terms of what is going to best nourish our body in the long term, rather than succumbing to another craving, or reacting to a visual cue (advert or signage, for instance) which may not be a good choice.
How does it solve eating issues?
Most eating issues have become a problem because of a lack of control over our impulses. But we can't control what we are not aware of. Mindful eating means being aware of these impulses or habits we have, and once we are aware of them, we can go about changing them.
How can I become a mindful eater?
One of the ways to become a mindful eater is to keep a food diary, writing down everything you eat, and recording how you felt before you ate, and how you felt afterwards. Read back and see if there are any patterns.
It sounds simple, but you need to slow down and breathe, take time to eat where and when you won't be distracted, and really give your food your full attention. This helps your digestion, and also helps you feel fuller from less food. The quicker we eat. The more we are likely to overeat. We need to stop scoffing, and start savouring!
Is it something I can do by myself or do I need help to become a mindful eater?
You can do it by yourself, but it may be more difficult and you may miss one of your "blind spots", a habit that you aren't even aware of that is hindering your progress. You see this happen in Channel 4's "Secret Eaters", it's the habits that they haven't even realised that are causing the weight gain. It's nearly always a habitual pattern of behaviour that is the issue. In this case, help from a professional is useful, or even a break away from your usual regime, on a retreat for instance.
Any mindfulness practices will also help; for instance, yoga and meditation both help us generally become more mindful in our lives, which naturally has an impact on our behaviours.
Where can I find out more about mindful eating?
I'd recommend learning a bit about mindfulness in general. There may be introductory courses in your area or read these books on mindfulness and eating issues:
- A great introductory book is: The Little Book of Mindfulness by Tiddy Rowan.
- For more specific eating issues, in particular over-eating or emotional eating, I would recommend: What are you hungry for? by Deepak Chopra.
- For geeks like me who want to really get a good understanding of the subject: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.
Is mindful eating what they do at Weight Watchers and Slimming World?
Not at all! The main problem with these diet companies is that they take an approach which encourages an "external locus of control". This means that the dieter remains dependent on something other than themselves for the solution. They don't tackle the behaviours that got them there in the first place. It's like a doctor prescribing a pill without asking what the symptoms are.
The moment someone gains weight and attributes it to an "internal locus of control" - meaning they realise that they take full responsibility for where they are, how they got there, and realise they are the solution - they have nailed it. Until this point, they are just swimming against the tide, never realising they have the answer, not someone else.
Also diet clubs like Weight Watchers and Slimming World are selling products like sugary snack bars that keep their members addicted to food, but that's a whole other story.
Gillie Sutherland works as a Yoga Teacher, Motivational Trainer and Weight Loss Coach at The Estuary Clinic in Devon. www.estuaryclinic.co.uk
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