I continuously remind clients that healthy eating goes well beyond the food on their plates. While it’s imperative to improve the quality of our food and sometimes readjust the quantity (portion distortion anyone?), simply focusing on what or how much to eat is not enough for lasting change. This is one reason why dieting, with its rigid rules and strict plans, fails to produce long-term results.
The key to maintaining healthy habits is unearthing the why behind your food choices. Uncovering the root of the problem builds awareness, allowing you to treat the cause of your unhealthy habits, rather than cover-up the symptoms.
Mindful eating is described as a nonjudgmental awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating, or understanding the why. You may know mindfulness as the skill reinforced through yoga practice, encouraging you to listen and be aware of your body. Applied to the food environment, mindfulness will help you stay focused on healthy habits and also has the potential to restore any broken food relationships dieting may have caused. Dieters focus on an external voice to dictate their food choices, whereas mindful eaters cultivate awareness and listen to their body. Having trouble making the distinction? Here are five things dieters say that mindful eaters don’t.
1. "I shouldn't have eaten that."
Awareness is the first step towards changing the way you eat, and you must learn to do so non-judgmentally. Instead of loading-up on guilt and negativity for eating a forbidden food, the mindful eater will look to understand what triggered the eating response, building awareness for the next time. Besides, no single food can throw you off from your goal, so be accepting and focus on getting back on track at your next meal.
2. "I often eat without noticing."
Are you conditioned to eating in front of the television? Do you continuously eat from the candy bowl sitting at your co-worker’s desk? It’s crucial to be aware of the external and environmental cues causing you to overeat. Once you recognize these triggers, you can master them and learn how to not respond.
3. "When I’m bored or lonely, I can’t seem to control myself."
When anticipating an emotional response to food, you need to stop, dig deep and determine what state you’re in, so you can fix it without food. Remind yourself that food will only temporarily ease any feelings of sadness, boredom or anxiety, and that the solution is to rectify the emotion itself. If the mindful eater notices that boredom triggers mindless eating, he will respond by calling a friend, reading a book or practicing yoga to regain focus and control.
4. "But it's my cheat day."
Cheat days typically grant “permission” to indulge in normally off-limit foods for the day, no matter how nutritionally void these foods are. This is a big pet-peeve of mine and goes way beyond the scope of today’s topic, but I’ll stay on track. Mindful eating is also about appreciating food with all of your senses as well as the nourishing capacity of food. If you were to indulge, you want to do so mindfully by appreciating the way the food looks and tastes therefore maximizing satisfaction with fewer bites.
5. "I already ruined my day, I might as well eat the whole thing."
Disinhibition or throwing in the towel is not a mindful practice, especially if it means ignoring hunger and satiety cues. The ability to stop eating when you’ve reached physical fullness, even when it’s a food you love, requires mindfulness. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied might sound simple enough, but done right, represents mindful eating at its best.