How Eating Mindfully Can Help Weight Loss
By wlr Contributor Christina Macdonald Personal Trainer and Accredited Life Coach
If you’ve been trying to lose weight but you tend to overeat, then mindful eating could be just what you need to improve your relationship with food. It can help to prevent overeating and also reduce stress which, in turn, leads to better eating habits.
The weight loss benefits of mindful eating:
- Get mind and body in sync with what you really need
- Improve your relationship with food
- Feel satisfied with less food
- Recognise the difference between eating because you're hungry and eating to fulfil another need
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. It’s about switching off the endless chatter in your mind about the past or the future and concentrating on how things look, feel and smell in the now.
When you apply this to eating, it can be an extremely effective way to avoid overeating.
Jeff Archer, owner of The Tonic Corporate Wellbeing Consultancy explains:
“Mindful Eating is about getting out of the habit of bolting down food quickly, because we don’t have time to think about how much we are eating.
It means thinking about what’s on the plate in front of us and taking our time when we eat which many of us don’t tend to do because we’re all so busy.
The aim is to chew each mouthful slowly, think about how the food tastes and be aware of how your body feels in that moment, so that you can recognise when you’re starting to feel full.”
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Take your time
Jeff’s point is a good one. If you have a busy life and you tend to gobble food down quickly because you don’t have time for a break, you may not be giving much thought to your food consumption.
If you eat while you’re working, you won’t be listening to your body when it’s trying to tell you that it’s feeling full. You’re more likely to eat everything in front of you in a hurry, because rushing everything has become a habit.
When you eat, take your time and stop everything else. Sit down and focus on the food in front of you. Concentrate purely on how the food tastes and how your body is feeling. This means you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.
- Chew food slowly.
- Stop to think about the taste and texture of the food.
- Ask yourself how you are feeling physically. Is your stomach starting to feel full? Do you need more to eat or have you had enough?
Avoid distractions. Eating a large bag of crisps while being engrossed in a TV programme is more likely to result in you overeating, as you won’t be thinking about the food that’s going into your mouth. You’ll eat far more than you intended if you eat absent-mindedly.
Before you eat
The process of Mindful Eating can begin even before you even start eating.
Before putting food on your plate, consider how hungry you really are.
Rather than piling food up on the plate because that’s what you normally do or that’s what your parents did for you when you were growing up, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I really hungry or am I just eating at a certain time out of habit? Or eating to fulfil an emotional need?
- How hungry do I really feel? Would a snack be more suitable than a more substantial meal?
- Do I need to use a large plate? Would a side-dish portion be OK?
Eating from a smaller plate can help. Studies have shown that our satisfaction when eating is linked to relative portion sizes.
According to Dr Patrizia Collard & Helen Stephenson, authors of The Mindfulness Cookbook, if we have a small plate piled high, rather than a large plate with a small amount of food, we will feel more satisfied, even if the large serving on the small plate contains less food!
When stress strikes
Of course, our relationship with food can be complex and your eating habits may be about more than just a tendency to gobble food down in a hurry.
You may be eating for emotional reasons: comfort eating or eating in response to stress, and using food to make yourself feel better. In these situations, it’s easy to overeat and rely on food to help us unwind.
In the short-term, we may feel better, but in the long term, we feel guilty and of course this unhealthy pattern can lead to weight gain.
If you overeat because you’re stressed, then practicing Mindfulness Meditation could be a way to improve your mood.
Mindfulness Meditation is well respected by the medical profession as a means of tackling depression and reducing anxiety.
In one US study, participants who signed up for an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group had significantly less stress and anxiety than their counterparts.
Similarly, it has been used as a treatment for those with recurring depression and has been proven to reduce the recurrence rate by 40 to 50 per cent over 12 months.
In January 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a groundbreaking study, which found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression as antidepressants.
So it’s no surprise that 30 per cent of British GPs now refer patients at war with their thoughts for mindfulness-based treatment.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
Find a quiet room or a place where you won’t be disturbed and take a few minutes to focus on your current surroundings.
Or you can practice Mindfulness Meditation when going for a walk or a run, but find a park or a quiet area free from noisy traffic where you won’t be distracted.
Remember, the aim is to concentrate purely on the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
Start by trying to become more aware of how your body is feeling physically. Focus on the present moment. Notice how things look, smell and feel.
Mindfulness Meditation doesn’t have to take very long. In the book, Mindfulness – A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World, authors Mark Williams and Danny Penman recommend a one-minute meditation exercise.
Focus on Your Breathing
Start by sitting on a straight chair with your feet flat on the floor, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing as it flows in and out of your body, and try not to let your mind wander.
Don’t beat yourself up if your mind wanders, accept it and try to bring your focus back to your breathing. You may feel calm or still. After one minute, open your eyes. Remember it takes practice.
Focus on your body
Another alternative is to practice a technique where you work around the whole body, tensing and relaxing while taking six breaths and in and six breaths out.
Start with the shoulders, elevating them up to the ears and depressing them again, and then do the same with the rest of the muscles in the body, including the arms, stomach and lower body.
While you’re focusing on tensing and relaxing and breathing in and out, you’ll be able to switch off other thoughts, as you’ll be busy focusing on what you’re doing.
Mindfulness Meditation and Losing Weight
Mindfulness meditation can encourage a more positive attitude, which may increase your chances of losing weight.
It may help to stop or slow down habitual reactions and prevent emotional reactive thoughts.
For instance, if you’re thinking about getting some exercise to lose weight, you might have an automatic reaction of: ‘I won’t be able to do it – I’m too unfit’.
Mindfulness may help you step back from habitual reactions like this and accept them as thoughts, while not letting them hold you back.
Once you’ve accepted that you may have an automatic negative reaction (it’s not about changing or fixing things), you can turn the scenario to your advantage.
You may then be able to tell yourself: ‘It’s natural to have doubts about my ability to exercise. I’ve never done it before. That’s OK. I’ll give it a try anyway.’
Be at peace with yourself
Accepting certain thoughts, not trying to change them and simply continuing on with life is a good way to overcome mental barriers.
It will also make you feel more at peace with yourself, enabling you to think more clearly as you’re not reacting emotionally to situations or experiences. You will have greater clarity.
When trying to lose weight, we can be very hard on ourselves, especially if we cave in to cravings or eat something we’re trying to avoid.
Mindfulness means treating yourself with compassion.
It encourages you to stop beating yourself up and observe your thoughts without criticism.
When you feel stressed or unhappy, or negative thoughts creep into your mind, you will learn to treat them like black clouds.
Imagine them drifting past you in the sky. Let them go. Eventually, you will realise that our thoughts are just thoughts and don’t need to control us.
Over time, you will regain control of your thinking and ultimately your life.
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