Struggling to lose weight or stop over eating?
Are you trying to gain more control over what, or how much you eat – but want to keep enjoying your food?
Would you like to have a healthier relationship with your food and your body? You may find that mindful eating helps.
What is Mindfulness?
The term “mindfulness” refers to the practice of engaging with the present moment by focusing on our present experience of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations without judging them or ourselves. Mindfulness approaches are becoming increasingly popular in health care and are integral elements of some evidence-based psychological therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.
Mindfulness practices are based on eastern meditation principles, and Buddhism in particular, where it is just one part of a greater philosophy of living. There are a number of different ways to achieve a state of mindfulness, and of these, those taught by psychologists tend to be skills based on meditative practice (rather than say, yoga). Some people are put-off by the notion of meditation, but it is really just a practice of deliberately focusing your attention.
How Mindfulness Helps
There is good scientific evidence that mindfulness practice can form a helpful addition to treatments for a range of issues including stress, anxiety, mood disorders (particularly depression and bipolar), coping with illnesses and chronic pain.
People may not realise, however, that it can also be a useful tool for people to become more aware of their eating behaviours and in turn, assert greater control over those behaviours. People who are naturally mindful tend to eat less impulsively, make healthier snack choices and consume fewer calories. Luckily, mindful eating, like mindfulness generally, is a skill that can also be taught!
Mindfulness can increase our awareness of why we are eating as well as the emotional reactions and physical sensations we experience while we eat. Through generating this insight, mindfulness can help us identify the physical and emotional precursors of our overeating, and teach us to recognise when we begin to feel satisfied. By helping us to gain greater control over our choices to stop or continue eating, and enabling us to enjoy what we eat more fully, mindfulness can help reduce emotional eating and binge eating.
At times themes in the thoughts and emotions that pop up during mindfulness practice can help us to identify bigger issues underlying our eating, which we can then target in other ways through counselling.
Like any skill, mindfulness develops with practice, though it can be challenging at first. However, people often find mindful eating to be a bit easier than a straight mindful meditation as the action of eating food helps them to stay connected to the present moment.
So how do you do it?!
There are two main ways you can begin mindful eating. You can either conduct mindful eating as a set exercise, or you can mindfully eat your normal meals.
Should you decide to give a set activity a go, there are lots of good quality mindfulness resources that are freely available on the internet, just find the one that you like most. Some people may prefer trialling the technique after reading some instructions, others may prefer to listen to someone talk them through a mindfulness eating activity.
Smiling Mind is a great free mindfulness app with content for kids through to adults. They have provided the following example, which is aimed at teens, but is fine for adults, available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAWSYefLEcg.
Eat a meal mindfully!
Before you begin this mindful eating practice, here are a few points to keep in mind.
It is exploring the nature of the food that you eat and the physical sensations present in your body that will be your focus. As you do this activity you will likely find that your concentration on this experience is interrupted by thoughts and emotions – that’s okay, its what thoughts and emotions do. When this happens, acknowledge these thoughts and emotions as a normal part of the process and direct your attention back to your food.
At first it may be hard not to engage with these thoughts, and to switch your attention back, and that’s okay too – it is this skill of choosing to focus on your experience, rather than your thoughts and emotions, that you are learning! Regular practice (daily or at least a few times a week) will help to build your skills in maintaining your attention.
Mindful Eating Guide:
- Get comfortable at a place where you can focus fully on the experience of eating your food and avoid distraction (don’t do it at your desk, with the TV on, listening to music etc).
- Make eating the only thing that you are doing.
- Eat slowly.
- Explore the physical attributes of each bite, this may include exploring how it feels in your hand, the weight, smell, texture in your mouth, and taste.
- Notice your own physical sensations as you eat – are you hungry, full, nervous, agitated? Does your mouth fill with saliva, does your stomach gurgle, can you hear the sound of yourself chewing?
- Try and notice when you are becoming physically satisfied, that is when you are no longer feeling particularly hungry, or when you are feeling full. When you do, stop eating.
- Notice how you feel.
What Else can Help?
If you are trying to lose weight or stop yourself from over-eating it’s also vital to pay attention to your serving size and ensure that you don’t set yourself up for failure.
Psychologists skilled in working with problematic eating and trained in mindfulness can provide you with further assistance in gaining control over your eating and a healthier relationship with food. Psychologists can also help you incorporate mindful eating into a more comprehensive treatment to take control of your eating and treat disordered eating or eating disorders.
If you feel that you would benefit from seeing a psychologist and getting assistance in gaining control of your eating, or if you want to know more about mindfulness contact us at M1 Psychology.
Author: Kelly Gall, BSc (Hons), M Psych (Health), M Clin Psych, MAPS, MCHP.
Kelly Gall is a Health Psychologist who is passionate about helping clients improve their physical and emotional wellbeing. Kelly develops tailored, holistic and evidence-based treatment plans that incorporate psychological, physical and social strategies aimed at empowering her clients to achieve relief from psychological symptoms and improve their health. Find out more on her website, Healthy Inside and Out.
To make an appointment with Health Psychologist Kelly Gall, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
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