Let’s face it, these days we are all multi-taskers. As a result, eating has become something that happens as we walk down the street, drive in our cars, and watch TV. Even as I’m writing this, I am munching on baby carrots. We lack the ability to be mindful about how we are nourishing our bodies, a practice called mindfulness.
Research shows that those who do other things while eating tend to eat more, not just at that meal but at meals later in the day as well! Being distracted while eating can actually impair your digestive process and block out your body’s attempts at signaling that you’re full. Additionally, the faster you eat, the less opportunity you have to really taste and savor your food, leaving you emotionally dissatisfied and searching for more. If you are serious about taking control of your weight and keeping it off long term, it is important to get in touch with your body and to really take note of what’s happening each time you eat.
Hunger vs. Appetite
Did you know that “hunger” and “appetite” are actually two different things? The word “hunger” refers to your biological need for food. Your stomach is rumbling, your blood sugar is low and your hormone levels have shifted in a physiological response to the need for sustenance. The word “appetite” refers to your desire for food at any given time. This can be triggered by biological hunger, but usually it is triggered by an external stimulus: a McDonald’s commercial, driving past your favorite restaurant, or smelling something delicious baking in the oven. Appetite is the desire for food, not the need for it. The key to long-term weight control and a healthy relationship with food is learning to recognize the difference and developing the ability to control your response.
There is a new trend in weight loss therapy, though the practice has been around since the 1970’s. Mindfulness is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that has been used to treat everything from chronic pain and stress to over-eating. Mindfulness as it relates to eating is the practice of paying attention to your body and mind’s signals, not just while you are eating, but all the time. The idea is that by learning to tune into your body’s cues you can easily determine how much you “should” be eating. Eating mindfully means, ““eating slowly and paying close attention to the taste of food in your mouth plus the feel of food in your stomach.”*
Mindful eating is nearly impossible while multitasking. It is a skill that requires practice and attention, at least at first. “What does your food look like?”, “How does it feel in your mouth?”, “What does it taste like?”, “Are you really hungry for more or are you satisfied?” These are just some of the questions you might ask yourself if you are practicing mindfulness before and during a meal. At first, you might even write down your answers alongside a food journal and keep track of how you are feeling throughout the day. This practice can help you to examine your food intake as well as the emotions associated with it. Then you can start dealing with some of the real issues behind your overeating. And finally, move on to analyzing the types of foods you are choosing and whether those choices are having an effect on your overall well-being.
Weight loss and maintenance is a multi-stage process that requires a lot of self reflection. Fad diets will never get to the root of the problem, they are only a temporary, and potentially harmful, fix. Mindfulness and the idea of having this inner monologue surrounding food is something that really resonated with me, and I think it can be a very powerful tool in overcoming eating issues of all kinds.
Highly Recommended Read
Because I was so interested in mindfulness, I sought out more materials on the subject. I came across a great book entitled, *The Appetite Awareness Workbook: How to Listen to Your Body and Overcome Bingeing, Overeating, and Obsession with Food. It is a wonderful resource for anyone who has ever had issues with food, whether over or under consuming. I highly recommend spending some time with it if you find yourself struggling to get a handle on what “normal” eating habits look like. It has plenty of exercises and worksheets and really wonderful insights on how to get rid of that “obsession”.