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Mindfulness - The Key to Avoiding Overeating

I made myself a sandwich today and thought I'd be efficient and do some work over lunch. I was brainstorming some ideas for my next article. Deep in though, the ideas came easy to me. By the middle of page two, I looked down and noticed that I was on my last bite. It was weird, like when you fall asleep and wake up feeling like you just blinked and the alarm went off. I didn't taste my sandwich at all. After cleaning up my plate, I thought, I could go for a little something sweet, maybe I'll have a piece of fruit. My body just ate lunch, but my mind missed out on the whole experience. So there's my article topic!

Most of you have had an experience like this. In our hurried world, we have become excellent multitaskers. We eat while working, watching TV, reading, driving, dressing?you name it. While this seems to help with our time management, it may be one of the factors contributing the ever increasing incidence of obesity in our country.

Mindfulness is a Zen term used to describe being fully aware and alive in the moment. It is the process of being aware of your sensations and thoughts without trying to judge or control them. To eat mindfully is to experience the meal with as many of your senses as you can, and be fully present in the experience.

Mindful eating is not a new concept. Behavioral diet programs have suggested tips associated with it for years. You've probably heard things like chew each bite 25 times, put your fork down in between bites and eat all your meals at the table. These tips are all ways to slow down while we eat. New evidence shows that while eating slowly is important, it is also important to pay attention while you eat in order to feel fully satisfied.

Normal eating is described as "eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are full". Sounds simple enough? But this can only happen when you are fully attuned to your body's signals for hunger and satiety. Chronic dieters often lose this ability- through training (constant dieting and "willpower") they have learned to tune out physical hunger and eat only according to their current list of "shoulds" and guidelines. Even people who do have the capacity to recognize the body's physical signals, have to pay attention to it.

In addition to recognizing hunger in general, it is critical to determine the difference between mind hunger and body hunger. By mind hunger, I'm referring to all of the other reasons that we eat- a stressful day, a celebration, boredom, sadness, fear of feeling an emotion? We have learned that when our body or mind is yearning for something, we give it food. It is a quick and easy fix. Maybe what we really needed was a nap, or a hug, or someone to listen or to learn how to express ourselves better. Learning to not feed mind hunger with food is a long process, this is a behavior that we learned long ago, and need to relearn other coping techniques. But just being aware is a great start. When you think you're hungry, ask yourself if food is truly what you need.

As you eat, just notice how hungry you are, how your food tastes, notice that more you eat, the less enjoyment you get. As your body reaches the point of satisfaction/satiety, your food doesn't taste as good as it did on the first bite. See if you can find this point. Geneen Roth explains it best, "Eat what you want. Eat until you've had enough. Satisfaction is both emotional and physical. There's a physical point of satisfaction. It happens often that somebody is eating, and then there's one point at which your body says, 'I've had enough now, anything you put inside me is for your mind, not for me, your body.' You've got to be paying attention there, so that means you've got to be present. If you're distracted, if you're doing something else, you're going to miss that signal."

To make your meals more mindful:

  • Keep a food log- ask what, how much, how you felt, who was with you, where were you, how hungry were you? How did you feel afterwards?
  • Before you eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10, after eating; use a satiety/fullness scale. This will help you to identify patterns, triggers for overeating, and recognize the point of satisfaction in a meal.(1- starving, about to pass out, 5- just right, not hungry and not full, satisfied, 10- stuffed, uncomfortable)
  • Make eating a solitary activity, sit at a table, light a candle, add dinner music, make it a complete experience
  • Focus on the flavors and textures of your food.
  • Eat slowly and notice how enjoyable each bite is.
  • Jonna Reynolds is the founder and CEO of Evolve Wellness Coaching. She helps clients achieve their weight loss goals by looking at all the factors that contribute to their success. Specializing in holistic weight management, behavior change and binge eating disorder, her approach combines exercise physiology, behavioral psychology, nutrition, life coaching to help clients make permanent life changes.

    Jonna holds national certifications in Wellness Coaching (Wellcoaches Corporation), Lifestyle and Weight Management Consulting (since 2003), Personal Trainer (since 1993), Group Exercise Instructor (since 1989) from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Jonna received her BS degree in Health and Exercise Science from Colorado State University in 1994, and has done extensive post graduate work in Exercise Physiology, Wellness Management, Nutrition and Psychology.

    For more information on services or to request a speaker on this topic: (480)248-2428

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