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Mindful Eating Changes Everything

The Lost Practice Of Humanity

Posted by NutritionMax - November 19th, 2016

As I write this I’m being attentive to my actions; staying present in the moment without distractions and focusing my attention solely on writing, and only that. That’s the meaning behind mindfulness. Simple, right?

Eh, not really…

What Does It Mean To Be Mindful?
This “simple” technique has relevance to all areas of life: socially, spiritually, through meditating, painting, listening, and of course, eating. It teaches you the principle of monotasking, which in our day and age is hard to come by since we are conditioned to multitask and do 12 things at once. But when the brain can give its full devotion to one task, it actually performs optimally.

Mindfulness is a mind controlling practice that we humans need to adopt and utilize more frequently in our daily lives, whatever activity it is we’re doing. Period. The benefits are unassailable – it reduces stress-induced mental and physical changes, dampens pain, anxiety, and repentance, improves self-worth and respect, and ultimately allows you to find more pleasure, gratitude and satisfaction in an activity. And this echoes with other facets of life.


But in the context of eating, mindfulness is unbelievably vital. There’s a dire need for it, especially given the status quo of the fitness industry – namely the ubiquity of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors.



The Problem With The ‘Fit’ Way Of Eating

The issue in the nutrition and fitness world has indoctrinated us to not pay heed to external cues, but instead abide by rules. You know…macros planned out, don’t eat past 8 PM, no sugar allowed and enduring unnecessary food deprivation. More times than not, it rebuffs your inherent physical hunger signals – you’re still ravenous after you’ve hit your calorie allotment for the day, or maybe on the rare occasion, you’re forcing down food you don’t want.

When you come off a diet, instead of reprogramming your mind to eat for physical hunger, you’re still caught in the cycle of eating for pleasure. Unfortunately, that post diet binge happens for a reason.

Mindful eating flips dieting on its back and challenges you to make and adopt a radical, yet ironically “novel” concept, of being attuned to your body’s actual physical signals, rather than emotional. You’ll still set out to eat a meal that’s well balanced in the style you prefer, except instead of being required make the plate look like it just came out of the dishwasher, you acknowledge and respect what your body needs and what it doesn’t.


This is analogous to intuitive eating – having a conscious awareness of your body’s desires and making a decision to eat or not eat given your own personal circumstances and indications. Intuitive eating is a lost custom that had long been the norm with our past ancestors. Alas, the convenience of nutrition labels, dieting rigidity and obsession with body image has skewed our perception on how to eat and more so, how to live.


A Mindful Person Is A Mindful Eater
But mindful eating is a component of this intuitive eating behavior because you’re being cognizant of every bite of foods that goes into your mouth and how it’s affecting your feelings.

You can’t be an intuitive eater without being mindful.


This is the cognitive part of the eating process that is missed in all of us. Just as with daily living and weight maintenance, this is a practice that needs a resurgence. But even within the context of dieting and weight loss, mindful eating has its value and pertinence and it dramatically enhances your relationship with food – which as we know, is far from great.

Noticing the biofeedback from eating mindfully allows you decrease mindless eating, emotional/stress-related eating, and binging episodes.1,2 It puts you in the driver’s seat because naturally, there’s triggers that prompt many to eat impulsively which thereby overrides any internal hunger cues.

It’s training you to provide your undivided attention to the present-moment stimuli, discerning your experience using your five senses and detecting the reactions. That’s it. Of course, this is no simple procedure and does require some “novice training practice” and discipline, which I will expound on.


Your Diet Plan Isn’t As Good As You Thought

Within the fitness demographic where weight loss and the whole diet mentality is so pervasively strong, is where mindful eating truly shines. Traditionally we resort to macro and calorie counting simply because it works. But is it possible to forgo the calculations in exchange for showing attentiveness to your food and purely eating on your own schedule?

I think it is.


Especially if you can grasp the idea that food restrictions are unjustified during a diet. If so, then you don’t have to stress about food and show willpower to stick to a rigid plan. Consequently, you no longer stress about not eating a certain food. Because if you’re stressed about food and not eating what you want due to self-imposed diet limitations, that’s more of a reason to adopt mindful eating behaviors and drop the diet plan.

One way mindful eating works is through stress reduction, since nerve-wracking situations related to school, jobs, personal relationships and even food, often induce cravings for highly palatable, calorie dense, sweet, fatty and salty foods. The perfect triad. But when you change your approach and outlook on eating in this way, stress levels and binging tendencies can start to decline as a result of retraining your psychology by staying present in the moment and calming the eating trigger.

In turn, doing so prevents emotional eating while also facilitating weight loss by honoring your inherent satiety cues. Eating with awareness and being skillful starts by detaching yourself from thoughts that trickle into your mind during your meal; like that argument you just had, the bad workout, the financial woes… and avoiding physical distractions.  


The goal is to stray from automation and the habitual routines we employ daily when eating and using food as a way cope with an uncomfortable situation. We need to teach our body that it can trust us to eat when we truly physically need it and to pull away when it no longer is. Ultimately, we all want to embrace intuitive eating and disconnect ourselves from the fixation on macros and diets.

The Body Image Blockade
First, look at this illustration I threw together.



It’s become apparent to me that within the realm of fitness, monotasking and mindfulness alone isn’t enough to yield effective, sustainable intuitive eating. And even in those with weight loss goals, this is paramount. You can eat with full focus on your plate, but if you struggle with self-compassion and battle with perpetual thoughts about your body image, mindful eating can still be challenging apply.


A reframe is needed. Embracing what you have and being okay with your current body is the mind shift required to successfully eat intuitively and mindfully. The incessant thoughts about “having too much body fat” or “having cellulite” pulls you back towards macros and the classical diet approach.

Being happy with what you have now and harnessing humanity and self-love is the cornerstone for not only obtaining good psychological health, but for successful mindful eating practices. When you can relinquish the ardent desires for physical changes and the “now, now, now” attitude, you can then enjoy food because you can accept, appreciate and love the present state of your body (see, it’s back to the state of presence). You can eat with pleasure and forgo guilt because you have embraced self-compassion and liberated yourself from acts of punishment, self-discipline and resisting temptations.

Short-Cuts Won’t Work

Monotasking and being mindful is a skill that overlaps with many areas of life and is needed, especially with eating. I would say that most people outside of the fitness realm can adopt mindfulness and then be a strong candidate for an intuitive eater. After all, mindful eating is subdivision of intuitive eating because anyone who eats according to their own inherent hunger cues is reacting due to being in a mindful state, and thus is a mindful eater. But within the fitness demographic of those who have infatuated thoughts over calories, workouts, food and body image, this short-cut will not do.

Mindfulness + Self-Love = Intuitive Eating. This is the fusion that yields to successful intuitive eating. If you hide and live in this unremitting dark place of insecurity, self-loathing and find yourself beneath contempt, it drives a cyclical downfall that makes mindful eating very challenging to practice. I would maybe go so far to say that it’s impossible.

So if you suffer from body image issues, the perfectionist in you will try to convince you to fix it and resort back to dieting and excessive exercise, but it will fail and eventually you’ll gravitate towards binge eating because the thought of “fixing” it is too overwhelming and daunting.

Learning and adopting the ideology that self-compassion and being content with your current body is a pre-requisite for any change you desire. Just say: “Relax. Everything is okay. I don’t need to lose all this weight to be content with my body. Let me be happy in my own way, then everything else will follow.”


When you transform your views about self-worth and stay present accepting your body, then those views about macros and the scale become a distant memory. The heart of your concentration is on what’s right before your eyes; what’s on your plate. You’re mindful of how you look today and you’re mindful of the amazing food experience you’re about to embark on.

Being Mindful Means Being Happy
Ironically, mindfulness overlaps with self-love because in order to improve on appreciating oneself, you have to be aware of your emotional state. Say it’s a negative space – how you feel, why you feel that way, and what you want. If you can acknowledge it, answer these questions and make affirmations to yourself such as, “it’s okay, I’m working on it. No one is perfect,” then you’ll elevate your self-compassion because you care enough to take action on it – you’re caring for your wellbeing. And you’re not pounding yourself to the ground over it.

Self-love and body image comes back to the point that when you abandon the calorie mindset and diet mode, and turn towards mindfulness with eating, you can eventually eat on the basis of your intuition and only that. No one can tell you when and what to eat or how much. You’re demonstrating conformity to the physical entity you live in. That’s a privilege and a power no one can deprive from you.

Once you can become acclimatized to that shift in living while erasing the thoughts about body image, you’re liberated from the precarious and stifling external forces, and the critical eye of the fitness industry. Mental health, physical health, social health, spiritual health, relationships…it all enriches.

Monotasking
Before I dive into some actionable mindful eating tactics you can use to start your journey, we need to harness the skill of monotasking. There’s many ways to go about this, but I will offer one, if not the best way to start practicing today.


Mindful Meditation
 This is an age-old form of meditation rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism that’s designed to do one thing: teach you to be present with breathing. It’s not so much the breathing though – it’s just a focal point. The value comes from the simple act of monotasking.

Even outside the context of mindful eating, monotasking helps separate you from the cacophony and tumultuous lifestyle we live in. And during a stressful situation that may result in emotional eating, meditation is even more invaluable. By focusing on only the body and breath, you help alleviate your mind from the discordant emotions in your life. Depression, anxiety, pain, and destructive behavior can all subside considerably when these regular pauses are used daily.

Mindful meditation also helps you apply this concept of “staying present” to the other challenging circumstances in your life because it forces you to acknowledge and accept the current state of emotions – whether that’s anger or disappointment – and handle it in a more intellectual manner.

So, when something catastrophic transpires, you can step away momentarily, focus on breathing and meditation, and then come back to the situation refreshed because again, we aren’t running away from the emotion. We are recognizing how we feel, and controlling the situation in a healthier way. That’s why mindfulness is so damn advantageous and a practice we urgently need in our lives.
 

Your job now is to start incorporating mindful meditation. Either first thing in the morning and/or before you eat – especially if you are dabbling with emotional eating. Spend ten minutes just simply breathing and focusing only on that.  It doesn’t matter what you do to practice – yoga, meditation, art, breathing, listening to music – It’s about implementing monotasking and using mindfulness repeatedly every day. It’s about giving yourself the attention you deserve – the strongest form of generosity.  

Of course, mindfulness takes practice, but just like when you lift weights and strengthen the muscle you’re training, you do so similarly by “flexing” your mindfulness muscle. These techniques will make it easier to transition over to eating and enjoying, and nothing else. Once you’ve spent a good amount of time familiarizing yourself with mindful meditation, then you can start to incorporate the “mindfulness” aspect into your meals.


Let’s dive into some mindful eating tactics that you can use to have a more mindful eating experience, reduce opportunities for stress-related eating/binging, and weight loss.


1) Ask yourself: Am I really hungry?
Do this right before you’re about to dive head first into that pile of nachos. By doing so, you’ll be better attuned to your physical hunger, rather than making impulsive decisions with no sound reason.

2) Spend at least 15 minutes eating. Preferably 20.
 There’s a reason why it takes time for the satiety hormones like CCK and PYY to kick in and signal your brain that you’ve had enough. Food choice has to do with that as well. For more information on that, check out this article.


Plus, slowly eating allows you ample time to connect with your food. Use and pay heed to your five senses. Notice the physical texture, the smell, the taste, the visual appeal, and the sound of the food as you eat it.


3) Turn off distractions.
Don’t scroll through Instagram. Don’t watch T.V. Don’t even read. In fact, put your phone on airplane mode or just put it in a different room.

Just sit quietly and pay attention to your food, that’s it. Externals interfere with your ability to keep your attention on eating, and if you tend to eat more than you need, eliminating the habit is best done by removing yourself from all distractions. Keeping your mind on things that are unrelated to the eating experience, will make you repeat the same habits that ignore your hunger cues and promote unwarranted food.

An interesting statistic I recall is that people who do other things while eating weigh 18% more than people who just focus on eating. There’s a reason why multitasking and eating don’t blend well.  

4) Rate your satiety along the way.
 On a scale from 1-10, with 1 being famished and 10 being stuffed, see where you stand mid-way through your meal. If you get to a 7 or 8, it’s probably time to put the fork down. Don’t feel forced to finish the meal because you “have” to. The only thing you “have” to do is listen to your body.


5)  Eat those delicious foods you like.
Cheesecake. Pizza. Doughnuts. Cinnamon Buns.

Yup. Yup. Yup and yup.

Eating mindfully also entails being aware of the foods you desire, and making an effort to enjoy them in a sensible manner. Hindering yourself from these highly palatable and enticing foods doesn’t do you any favors, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. It will cloud your mind and may prompt a binging episode come a stressful time.

Have a loving dialogue with yourself and reassure your mind that you can be trusted, and wont sabotage your health or weight loss efforts. You’re simply eating for nourishment and life.  

Conclusion

In essence, using these mindful techniques involves shifting your mind to the present when you’re eating. Without doing this, you can’t change. You can’t remove old programmed habits of eating and form new ones. Awareness and presence authorizes choice.

When you’re aware of your physical state, you can tap into your psyche much more effectively and respond accordingly. You listen and obey when your body says it’s time to eat and not, and during the eating process you’re staying present. And if you’re present, then you can make the right choices for yourself. You are a mindful, intuitive eater.

Ultimately, with this lifestyle transition you can find reductions in emotional eating, binging, and weight loss. Mindful eating confers you the opportunity to enliven your food experiences, reinvigorate your emotional health, and find yourself in a more secure and healthier physical state.
 
Given the dire need for a shift in the way we view food and honoring our physical hunger cues, I decided start an intimate group coaching program that I’m so excited about. If you want to learn more about how to be more mindful in your life, and how to lose weight on an unrestrictive diet, I’m opening up my new coaching group on November 14. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s the perfect time to embrace intuitive and mindful eating.

If you’re interested, click HERE to apply and learn more.



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posted by NutritionMax
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NASM CPT, Master's in Human Nutrition
Precision Nutrition Sports & Exercise Nutritionist


Justin Janoska is a professional fitness coach and a clinical nutritionist who specializes in helping people with challenging diseases. He runs an online coaching platform where he helps people like you reach build muscle or lose weight.


For an intimate coaching experience, visit www.nutritionmax.fit


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Scott_Herman

Another interesting read @nutritionmax!! I'm sure some people will be able to relate to this!

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