Mindfulness the potential to transform our eating in a number of ways:
- Mindfulness reduces stress
- Mindfulness heals the “mind/body split”
- Mindful eating helps you appreciate food more, so you eat less
- Mindful eating reverses the emotional eating habit
- Mindfulness interrupts the relationship between thoughts and unconscious, automatic eating behaviors
- The mindfulness-related practice of lovingkindness enhances your self-respect and self-worth
- Mindfulness increases your motivation to exercise
- Mindful eating disrupts a mindless relationship to the media
- Mindfulness undercuts common states of mind that lead to eating
- Mindful eating reveals that “quick fix” dieting is irrelevant, even counterproductive
Mindfulness interrupts the cycle of stress that is tied to compulsive and/or negative thinking (the cause of 98% of stress). As a proven antidote to stress, mindfulness is currently taught to patients and healthcare professionals in hundreds of hospitals worldwide.
Stress, all by itself, can lead us to an unhealthy relationship with food.* But flooding the body and mind with mindfulness is relaxing and healing. It could even be said that mindfulness is the polar opposite of stress.
*In a study, mice under chronic stress who were fed a diet high in fat and sugar gained twice as much weight as non-stressed mice on the same diet.
Psychological research suggests that most people feel a split between mind and body. What this means is that we give most of our attention to our thoughts, and very little attention to our body. If your eating is out of control, this is probably a big reason why. You can’t be in full control of your golf game without being aware of the club in your hands. Similarly, you can’t be in full control of your eating without being aware of your body.
Mindfulness gradually heals this “mind/body split.” The more you touch your body with awareness, the more you become aware of its cellular hunger for healthy nutrition, and moderate amounts of food. You will gradually but spontaneously find yourself drawn towards healthier dietary choices.
By paying attention to the sensory experience of eating, you begin to appreciate food more. As a result, mindful eating may reduce the effects of food cravings, because you can satisfy a craving with less food.
Mindful eating may also help you recognize that certain foods are not actually that appealing when eaten mindfully.
Mindful eating lets you experience more satisfaction with less food and more satisfaction from healthier food.
You may have heard the classic joke, “Inside me there’s a thin person struggling to get out, but I can usually sedate her with four or five cupcakes.”
It has been said that up to 75% (or more) of overeating is “emotional eating.” While it’s possible to become habituated to managing emotions with food, mindfulness can help us reverse this pattern.
One way this may work is because mindfulness actually changes the structure of the brain. Researchers at Harvard and Yale found that mindfulness physically alters areas of the brain that are related to the processing of emotions.
Mindfulness may also promote positive emotions, generally. In another study, it was reported that even a short-term program of mindfulness increased brain activity associated with positive emotions.
Mindfulness Interrupts The Relationship Between Thoughts And Unconscious, Automatic Eating Behaviors
Mindfulness opens a space in which you can begin to recognize your intentions and desires (which are usually in the form of thoughts) before automatically acting on them. You may have a thought such as “I want some chocolate” and, instead of acting it out, you are mindful that it is just a thought. You discover that you have a choice: you can still follow the thought and eat some chocolate, but you can also choose not to.
Being mindful of thoughts also leads to a reduction in compulsive thinking. Because the mind and body are connected, this will reduce your bodily stress, and the effects of that stress on your diet.
Our self-respect and self-worth (or lack thereof), is often linked to our relationship to food. Millions of people who are deficient in self-worth try to fill that void with food (and/or other substances and behaviors). Of course, food can never fill that void, because that void has nothing to do with food.
The practice of lovingkindness (an integral part of the complete Mindfulness Diet program) can gradually open the emotional blocks that may have made it difficult for you to eat in a way that respects your body and health.
Because mindfulness puts you more “in the body” and less “in the mind,” you get back in touch with your body’s needs for exercise. When you’re mindfully in touch with your body, exercising begins to feel more pleasurable; a natural thing to do. It may shift from being a “should” to being a healthy desire.
Several studies have examined the relationship between stress, mindfulness, and exercise. One study showed that in those with higher levels of mindfulness, the intention to exercise more often led to actual exercise. Mindfulness was the key. A different study reported that mindfulness may even be associated with improved exercise results altogether.
Dozens of studies have demonstrated that excessive and/or mindless consumption of media has undesirable effects on eating behaviors, and contributes to problems ranging from anorexia to weight gain and obesity.
Mindfulness can help you discover a more balanced and conscious relationship to your use of media, benefitting your eating behaviors and long-term weight management.
States of mind like boredom, anxiety, or desire often lie at the heart of a dissatisfactory relationship to food. Repetitive behaviors driven by these states can only happen in a state of mindlessness.
The more mindful you are, the more you will develop conscious choice as to how you respond to boredom or similar states.
According to a 10-Year Longitudinal Study on the subject, “Dieting is a notoriously ineffective means of achieving weight loss. Some 95% of those who lose weight will regain [it] within a few years, and many will gain more weight than they originally lost. [T]he data indicates that most diets are doomed to fail.”
The long-term lifestyle approach of mindfulness lets you recognize that quick fixes by definition never work in the long term, but that awareness of mind, body, emotions, and behavior has the power to change everything.