Most of us know the post-Christmas feel of over indulgence all too well. Emma Mills, our BTHOUGHTFUL contributor, finds meditative practices help when it comes to enjoying yourself fully, yet without the New Year sluggishness. Here she is with how to embrace it...
“I try and keep everything as real as can be, always sharing the most up to date, tried and tested version of what works and what doesn’t in the realms of mindful living. This week I am really pleased to be talking with you about a topic I’m so passionate about and I know many of you are too – food!
Unlike traditional diets, mindful eating doesn’t require complex meal plans, calorie counting or follow a six week time scale.
Mindful Eating is a simple, yet radical new approach to food and diet that encourages you to change how you eat for good. It’s been shown to be effective in clinical trials, and is now growing in popularity among the health and fitness conscious.
The concept involves making mini mental adjustments which help you avoid succumbing to triggers that pull you into eating too much of the wrong thing, which can leave you tired, sluggish, grey and overweight.
People often tell me that they wished they could tone down their wine, cake or chocolate habits without having to will power themselves through it.
They want to say no to those things naturally. I’ll tell you something I've learned, and I share with my private clients on this subject. Will power will only get you so far. I actually think will power is a bit over rated.
People like freedom. I for one, love it, and I’m sure you do too. Restrictive diets that are predominantly held in place by guilt and fear can be a little like policing yourself, and who likes being policed?
There is something really powerful about taking responsibility for yourself and your choices; deciding to really see what’s going on with your food, eating and diet. When you see what you do, clearly and non-judgmentally, you are then fully in your power to do what you want.
Total openness, total listening and total freedom, this is the new way of eating.
The science behind it
Brian Shelley, an American doctor, co-hosted a Mindful Eating and Living study in 2014; it used the practice of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Participants experienced significant weight loss and improvement in mood and inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, after six weeks.
A 2012 study of prostate cancer survivors showed that a combination of nutrition information, cooking classes, mindfulness, and mindful eating training led to dietary changes linked to lower risk of prostate cancer recurrence. A significant correlation existed between meditation habits at six months and increased vegetable and lower animal product consumption. The authors hypothesised that mindfulness may help support necessary dietary changes in these patients.
Although mindful eating programs include a meditation component in addition to mindful activities and discussion, others successfully use only hands-on mindful eating exercises. A study that examined mindful eating in restaurants showed a significant reduction in weight, calories consumed, fat intake, and increases in self-confidence among subjects who participated in a six-week mindful eating program.
How you can get started
Mindful Eating is a meditation-based diet that encourages you to feel less guilty and more allowing. When you feel guilty about something you are likely to try and hide it.
You usually feel guilty when you do something you think you ought not to be doing, something you've judged as not good (i.e. eating quadruple helpings of Christmas pudding).
When your values don’t match your behaviour it brings about a sense of cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance can be so uncomfortable.
People do all sorts of things to cope with this. A common food related coping mechanism is to zone out while you eat. It’s kind of like a denial induced food trance, where one can think, “If I do it really quickly, without stopping or looking, or anyone seeing, then it hasn't really happened.”
Have you ever seen this at play? I know I have.
To handle guilt-induced mindless eating, practice acceptance instead.
When you sit down to eat, be entirely with your experience. Watch what you are doing, observe your responses. The whole lot from your hunger and your feelings of being full. If there is a second helping happening, so there is a second helping.
If you stay with your eating experience and really relish that second helping, it’s more than likely you won’t even want a third. When you pay full attention is easier to know when you are full.
If you do go for a third helping, or a fourth, go ahead and really own your choice. If you are going to do it, go the whole hog. No use hiding behind the spoon.
Starter Practices for Mindful Eating
1. Try the empty hands philosophy and put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. This gives you the chance to really savour your food and also to know when you are full.
2. Save a plate for later. Do you over-eat at festive gatherings because there is just so much lovely food on offer? You might be experiencing a fear of missing out. Fill up your plate, and then put half on another plate, or in a doggy bag for later or to take home.
3. Stay open and relax. At Christmas you get to spend time in the company of people with whom you share a rich and varied history. You might have a great time and you might have a challenge – or both. When things get intense and old emotions are drug up, it’s tempting to reach for the food as a means of numbing your emotions and ignoring what’s happening now.
4. If you find this happening, just give yourself a little bit of love and reassurance so you can stay with the contents of your current scene with courage and patience. You are human after all.
5. Eat your daily meals from your own bowl kept clean between sittings. Using the one bowl, philosophy helps you to become more aware of what you eat throughout the day, and how often. By eating from the same bowl, each visit can be a calming anchor and a mindful reminder of the joy of food and the gift of being alive.
If you’d like to try the next step up, I teach an 8-week meditation course and healthy eating module. It’s called RELISH and you can find out more here
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if you give mindful eating a try. It might be daunting with Christmas just a few days away, but keep in mind that as Emma mentioned, it’s about acceptance, not guilt. We’d love to know how you get on.