Mindful Eating

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If you are overweight due to overeating there is a better route than going on a diet. Actually dieting doesn’t work as a long-term solution for weight loss. The majority of people who lose weight by going on a diet end up gaining it back before starting the cycle all over again. One reason why from a mindful point of view is that dieting represents as much of a lack of mindfulness as overeating, just in a different way. Both remove themselves from the present moment, dieting by not attending to that gnawing hunger and overeating by not attending to when the body has had enough.

The psychologically and physically healthy way to moderate your food intake is by practicing mindful eating. By mindful eating we mean treating every meal as a meditation. The first step is to cut out distractions, coming fully into the moment and focusing 100% of your attention on the food in front of you every time you eat.

You want to make your movements slow and purposeful, movements like cutting your food, bringing each fork load to your mouth, chewing, and swallowing. Really savor and enjoy each bite rather than shoveling it all down. Dramatically decrease the rate of the whole process, taking the time to treat each bite as its own experience. Tell yourself “I am going to make this next bite the best one I have ever had.”

One reason this strategy works for moderating food intake is physiological. Your brain doesn’t send those signals telling you that you’re full until fifteen minutes or so after you actually are full. This is probably evolutionary. In a time of scarcity, where it was often feast or famine, it would have made sense for natural selection to favor a free period, within reasonable limits, before your brain finally stepped in and said “Alright you’ve had enough!” Mindful eating cuts through this problem because obviously if you extend your meal from a power session of only a few minutes to a longer period of time, you will start to feel full, probably while you are still eating, and if you are fully present in the moment you’ll recognize this fact and you’ll be able to stop.

It’s psychological too. If you can get as much or more pleasure out of just one bite as you used to get out of an entire meal, you won’t feel the need to consume as much since your pleasure quotient will get met much faster. A lot of overeating happens in a sort of haze, what we might call comfort eating, where you are trying to make up for the emotional pain you are feeling from another sphere of your life. Mindful eating will give you a lot more pleasure per meal, and paradoxically it might help you decide that no amount of pleasure from eating will make up for that emotional pain and that it’s time to attend to whatever underlying issue is causing it.

In any case, mindful eating respects your body and your experience more than dieting ever could. It lets you enjoy food to the fullest yet gives you the opportunity, both through physiological and psychological channels, to decide for yourself when you’ve had enough and be spot on.