Mind What You’re Doing to Lose Weight
A little minfulness goes a long way
Most people’s eating habits are on autopilot these days and little thought goes into the actual practice of eating. We scarf down breakfast on our morning commute. A mother takes a few bites of cold food after her children have been fed. A couple inhales a large tub of buttery popcorn at the theatre. People today have a tendency to forget what they have eaten and how much they have consumed.
The key to permanent weight loss is not found only in what you eat, but why and how you do. Developing a conscious awareness of what goes into your body is only part of the process. Equally as important, understand why you are eating. This type of awareness is referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness of eating habits has been linked with successfully correcting harmful eating habits, particularly with binge eaters and compulsive overeaters. Taking the time to foster awareness of what is being eaten will prompt you to slow down, savour your food and listen to your body’s impulses.
Hunger vs appetite
To initiate a state of mindfulness, prompt an internal dialogue when you feel a compulsion to eat. Determine why you feel as though you should eat. Ask yourself “Am I genuinely hungry?”. Realise there is a difference between being hungry and having an appetite. Hunger is a biological signal sent from your body alerting you it needs nourishment. If you have not eaten in the last few hours, chances are you are genuinely hungry. An appetite, on the other hand, is not fuelled by hunger, yet it still prompts the body for food intake. Appetite is often spurred by emotional states and high stress levels.
Practice mindfulness and gain control of your eating habits by putting the following into practice:
- Differentiate between appetite and hunger. Only act on hunger impulses. If you have eaten in the last few hours, it is unlikely hunger is compelling you to eat.
- Give your food your undivided attention to develop a state of mindfulness. Live in the present while eating. Eat slowly and with purpose. This means no multi-tasking— no Internet, no chores, no TV, no driving. Eating is just between you and the food.
- Do not eat when experiencing high levels of stress. Find other ways to occupy yourself until you are clear headed (e.g. take a walk, call a friend, reflect on the solution).
- Practice the art of substitution. Identify weak foods in your diet, and replace them with healthier alternatives. For example, consider using avocado slices in lieu of mayonnaise on burgers or sandwiches.
- Maintain an eating habits diary. Document what, when and why you are eating. There is a plethora of smart phone and computer apps that can help you chart your food intake. You might be eating three healthy meals a day when you are hungry, but daily trips with co-workers to the coffee shop for a piece of banana bread might be contributing to your inability to shed some weight. Make a note of how you feel before you eat and you’ll soon notice moods and emotions that trigger an appetite.
- Occupy yourself with a non-food related activity after eating. Removing yourself from the presence of food will give your body the time to let you know it is full and keep you from eating out of boredom. (It is ok to leave the dishes in the sink for an extra half an hour.)