Guest Post: Can’t Stop Eating? Try Mindfulness!
Mindful eating is all the rage right now. The instructions are fairly simple, sit down, slow down, pay attention to your food, use pretty dishes, and put down your phone. This is mindful eating at its best and for the most part it works, for about a week. Then life intervenes and gets messy, work deadlines pressure you, the kids get sick, potlucks and holidays happen. Mindfulness goes out the window. It’s not something that people can always fit in their lives.
Yet we carry our minds with us 24/7. Mindfulness isn’t just about sitting on a cushion and meditating, and mindful eating isn’t just about sitting in a calm environment and eating without distraction — though it’s an extremely beneficial practice. In fact it’s in those particularly messy moments that a mindfulness practice can be at its most powerful. It is possible to eat mindfully even when you’ve just grabbed lunch at a fast food drive-through.
The problem is we don’t want to be conscious during the messy bits. Whether it’s a fast lunch eaten in the car, or a holiday feeding frenzy or a late night binge, when we’re in the midst of mindless eating we usually want to be unconscious because we’re using food to avoid some major unpleasantness in our life or because we’re feeling guilty for doing something we know we shouldn’t be doing, or both. The simple act of recognizing that we’ve been unconscious means that we are conscious, in other words, mindful again.
Now I hear you saying, “OK, I just realized that I shoveled half a sleeve of Oreos into my mouth while I was filling out some tedious paperwork. I’m aware I’m doing it, now what? Is that going to make me stop before I eat the second half?” Stopping isn’t the point, at least not at this moment. Instead get curious about what’s going on in both your body and in your mind. It only takes a moment of awareness to note what’s happening. What is it about the cookies that you enjoy: taste, mouthfeel, the act of swallowing, the feeling as they settle in your stomach? What are you thinking? Do you hate paperwork and the cookies get you through it? Or are they a reward for tackling it? Is it working? Are the cookies really making the paperwork any easier? Are you feeling guilt, remorse, or self-recrimination? Watch yourself as you reach for another even while a voice in your head is telling you to stop. What seems to be driving you to eat more? What do you want from the cookies? Are you getting it? Let the observer take over. You can pay attention to what’s going on even if there’s a whirlwind of activity going on around you, and it will take little to no energy away from the job at hand.
Mindful eating isn’t a quick fix, but with practice old habits begin to lessen their grip and it will become possible to make more conscious – and ultimately healthier – choices.
Karen Steiner, M.Ed. is a Weight Loss Coach, Food Activist and Meditation Teacher. After waging a war with food and her body for most of her life she figured out how to apply her meditation practice to find peace and maintain a significant weight-loss. She now teaches others to do the same. You can find more information on her website, KarenSteiner.com