If you’re sick of counting calories or having a hard time meeting your diet goals, mindfulness may be the answer. The millennia-old practice has become a trendy buzzword. Yet research suggests it can not only help you lose weight but feel better about the food you eat. So what is mindfulness and how can you make it a part of your lifestyle?
This is the golden age of distracted eating. We chomp a granola bar at our desk, scarf fries as we merge onto a freeway, then finish dinner while binge watching Teenage Bounty Hunters. Tablet-toting toddlers even munch cheddar fish while playing video games. Unfortunately, multitasking often means every task gets our divided attention. This is dangerous when you’re driving. It’s also not so great when you’re eating. Food is hardly glanced at and barely tasted. Worse, if you are a fast eater you are almost certainly an overeater. That’s because hormones secreted from your gut that indicate food has been consumed take around 20 minutes to signal fullness to your brain. That’s more than enough time to clean your plate and then some.
Mindfulness can change your eating in a way diets can’t. Diets are about rules and goals. Mindfulness is about the journey, not the destination. Contemplating your body, feelings, and mind while being aware of what is going on around you has roots in Buddhism and its path to Enlightenment. You don’t need to be a practicing Buddhist to see the value of living in the here and now. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapy for treating anxiety and depression. If you’re someone who “lives in your head,” then you can probably see why. Mindfulness means being aware of your surroundings and taking in each experience as it happens. Instead many of us live with a non-musical earworm. Our life’s stresses are on mental repeat –– calculating complicated finances or coordinating carpools. Even if you’re just idly imagining interludes with film stars, you’re still not living in the moment.
Residing full time in the here and now can seem boring. The challenge is to find beauty in the ordinary, observing the trees along your route to work or idling cars at the intersection. When it comes to food, it means taking the time to not only see your meal but smell, taste, and even touch it as well. Mindful eating is about honoring your food and the unseen people responsible for its existence on your plate.
Getting Your Mind on Mindfulness
Start slowly. Choose one mindful meal a day. If it’s breakfast, take time to savor the aroma of your coffee before enjoying the first sip. Pay attention to the texture of your cereal, the taste of your banana. Above all, keep the TV off and ignore your daily paper. Skipping your morning dose of current event-driven depression isn’t such a bad idea. If you prefer an evening repast, again eliminate distractions. Dispense with TV or tablets. Take your time. If you normally gulp down your food, try eating with a non-dominant hand. If you aren’t a regular chopstick user, give them a try. They’ll definitely slow you down –– especially if you’re eating Cheerios or soup.
Studies of mindfulness have shown that the practice has helped obese people by overcoming several barriers to long-term weight loss including reward-driven eating, preoccupation with food, and yes, a lack of satiety –– not feeling full despite consuming an entire meal.
Mindful eating may lead to other mindfulness practices. Perhaps instead of racing from bed, you can incorporate morning meditation into your daily routine. Combining yoga with mindful eating will mean increased flexibility, muscle tone and less anxiety in addition to weight loss (especially if you are a stress eater). Don’t worry, the daydreams don’t have to disappear. Still, being focused on your food could help you lose weight and really enjoy your meals.
- Satiation, satiety and their effects on eating behavior
- Mindful eating: the art of presence while you eat
- The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review
- Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss
- The effect of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression in women
- Mindful eating may help with weight loss
- The Perils of Multitasking
- The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
- How Do You Solve a Problem Like an Earworm?
- Eating Cheerios With Chopsticks!
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.