Mindfulness and overeating are inversely proportional–i.e., the more mindful you are while eating, the less you overeat (and, unfortunately, vice versa).
Have you ever noticed that much (or all) of your unhealthy eating is done somewhat unawares? I mean, how often do you actually savor—relaxed and without distraction, bite for bite—that sumptuous box of Americana known as Nutter Butters? When’s the last time you sat down at the table with a coveted pint of Edy’s Caramel Praline Crunch without an electronic device—just you, an extruded stainless implement, and the frozen dream cream?
If you’re like many of my clients in the throes of, “I shouldn’t be eating this,” you’re making empty promises of future abstinence in order to nullify the growing compunction that threatens to ruin a good binge—all to the tune of last season’s Downton Abbey.
Damn that super ego and its guilt-inducing tactics!
Warning to new clients
Beware the latest addition to the eatgreenveggies.com compulsive eating program: daily mindfulness practice. That’s right, henceforth, new matriculants will be required, as a part of their eating rehabilitation program, to set aside 15 minutes in their over-booked days to pay attention.
And rest assured, they won’t do it without kicking and screaming.
“I don’t have time for that and the reading and the online assignments! Besides, what does mindfulness practice have to do with eating? I just want to learn to stick to the food plan.”
It sucks when all they really want is to not do something (overeat bad food). And now I’m asking them to do something—lots of things, actually. Because, after all, how do you do a don’t? It’s very hard to do a don’t, and it’s damn near impossible to not do something.
Back to paying attention
How will practicing awareness help you stick to a nutrient-rich diet style? Well, let’s revisit our opening scenario, in which you, Netflix, and ice-cold, velvety goodness had become one. In order to break the habit of compulsive eating, you have to do something different. And since not eating the object of your longing is not a realistic option, what if you were to turn off your preferred electronic purveyor of entertainment, make your way to the dinner table, and just eat.
Mind you, there is no limit on how much of that pint you polish off—only, in this case, you’d be doing it mindfully, which is quite different from how you were doing it before.
Back to mindfulness and overeating
Unfortunately, your mind isn’t gonna like it—it doesn’t want to consider the consequences of eating bad food. It will push you to numb out in the face of your piacular behavior with TV marathons (and promises of future good behavior), and it can’t go unconscious if you’re paying full attention to what’s going on.
This sabotaging aspect of your mind (some call it the id), will win out every time with its spurious rationales—unless you’ve been practicing.
Remind me again—why am I doing this?
How does this apply to mindfulness and overeating? There are a plethora of substantiated benefits to mindfulness and meditation practices. For instance,
- Strengthened immune system and physiological responses to stress and negative emotions.
- Improved social relationships with family and strangers.
- Reduced stress, depression, and anxiety and increased well-being and happiness.
- Increased openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness and reduced negative associations with neuroticism.
- Greater psychological mindfulness, which included an awareness that is clear, non-conceptual, and flexible; a practical stance toward reality; and present attention to the individual’s consciousness and awareness.
It’s this last one that we’re most interested in—present attention to one’s consciousness and awareness. For, as you will soon discover, overeating bad food isn’t nearly as compelling when you’re awake.
First, get out your timer and set it for 15 minutes. Then choose a simple, somewhat repetitive activity—washing dishes, brushing the dog, scrubbing the floors, taking a hot bath—something that doesn’t require much thought. Next, hit the start button and commence your mindfulness activity with the goal of paying complete attention to whatever you’re doing. When you notice that your mind has strayed, which it will, bring your awareness back to the activity. Pay attention with all your senses—feel the hot water, listen to your creature’s soft breath, notice the ersatz wood patterns in your laminate floor, inhale the fruity notes in your bubble bath.
And the next time you find yourself reaching for a family bag of Cheese Puffs while checking your email during a commercial break, turn off the tube and your device and wend your way to the dining room table to savor each bite slowly and mindfully until you reach satisfaction. When it comes to mindfulness and overeating, the more mindful you are, the less you’ll overeat. If you apply this strategy regularly, you’ll find it increasingly easier to say no to the bad stuff and yes to healthy, nutrient-rich fare.
Check out Caroline’s 4-part compulsive eating program here.