PHOTOS: Sergio Marín Gómez
Text: Alejandra Misiolek Marín
13 steps to Mindful Eating
More and more studies show that acceptance of our body and learning to use hunger and satiety signals produce sustainable improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical activity, self-esteem, depression and ED (Eating Disorders) compared to restrictive diets.
Mindful Eating is not a new diet that promises quick weight loss results. Nor is it an “anti-diet” philosophy that advocates eating whatever we want and accepting the body as it is. It is an attitude that defends a middle ground, considering physical health, mental health and healthy nutrition, as well as satisfaction and pleasure.
Eating consciously implies eating according to our goals, respecting our needs and weaknesses and with the intention of self-care. If our goal is to lose weight, mindful eating can help us with that, but the main goal is not weight loss, but to improve our relationship with food. Studies show that restrictive diets are more effective in shedding pounds, however, the effects remain short term and the devastating effect of dieting remains in the long term.
On the other hand, the obsession with achieving a “perfect” body is not a healthy attitude either and any behavior focused only on that, by itself is already harmful. Losing pounds at the cost of our physical and mental health, sacrificing living life to the fullest and suffering with restrictive diets is a detrimental attitude for our psyche (and obviously also for the body). It is a way of living the body related to failures in mentalization and very typical of Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Eating Behavior Disorders (ED). Unfortunately, increasingly common in our western society.
So, what exactly is Mindful Eating?
- Mindful Eating is not a diet that we are going to follow for some time, but it is the way of eating for the rest of your life.
- It is about learning to eat according to your body’s signals and eating as healthily as possible without feeling deprived. This balance can be achieved when we use reliable nutritional information to make the right choices and, at the same time, have the freedom to eat what we like best without judging ourselves or feeling guilty.
- When we don’t eat the food we really want (because we classify it as “bad”), we tend to overeat other foods or, eventually, we end up eating what we wanted anyway. But when we eat the food we really crave and do so with hunger, we will experience greater satisfaction and enjoyment, but with less quantity.
- Many people will wonder if they will not get fat by allowing themselves to eat as much as they feel like. It has been observed that most people in the long run tend to find a balance. On the other hand, enjoying food is only a problem if it is your main source of pleasure. When you focus on food (or not eating), you can’t focus on living your life. When you focus on living your life, food becomes much less important. In addition, the purpose of giving up restrictive eating is to eliminate the false sense of value we place on certain foods when they are forbidden. In essence, by letting go of the guilt, we eliminate the power that certain foods have over us. Surprisingly, the desire to overeat them usually decreases.
- So, how do I eliminate guilt? The key to eliminating guilt is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food. We are initially afraid of it because we don’t trust our bodies. This lack of self-confidence often stems from a history of cycles that fluctuate between overeating and restrictive eating.
- And if I want to lose weight, I have to ask myself what I’m craving, if there is a healthy option that meets my needs without feeling deprived, or if perhaps I can choose to be satisfied with less when I eat more slowly and more consciously. Studies show that eating mindfully and without distractions helps you eat less.
- Therefore, it is very important that once we have decided what we are going to eat, we ask ourselves how we are going to eat. Celebrating meals, enjoying the preparation process, appreciating the appearance and aroma, noticing colors, textures and smells are all part of eating consciously and without distractions.
- In addition, the intention is to feel better when we have finished eating than before we started. This means being in connection with our body and knowing how to read the signals of satisfaction and satiety. This connection can be maintained based on these questions: How does my stomach feel? Discomfort? Pain? Full? Bloated? How does my body feel? Comfortable? Content? Clothes fit tight? Shortness of breath? Energy level? Energetic or drowsy/slow? What do I feel like doing right now?
- Deciding what our intention is before we start helps to not disconnect from the body, just like remembering to come back to eat when we are hungry again.
- Stopping right at the moment when we feel satisfied and not full can be challenging due to habits, learned behaviors, past dieting and not paying attention. When we eat more than we need, we feel unnecessarily uncomfortable and the body will store the excess. Eating too much can cause us to lose energy and become less active. It can cause guilt that causes even more overeating (the vicious cycle). This loop is very typical when we eat for emotional reasons. It is important to remember that food does not solve emotional discomfort, even though in the short term it may seem so. Conscious emotional processing is what can help us with emotions, eating helps us to feel anesthetized, but does not provide any solution.
- To change old patterns, you need to rediscover how good you feel when you don’t overeat and learn what to do on the occasions that you do. I would liek to emphasize that it is a process of learning and trial and error. It is important to tune into your thoughts, feelings and behaviors without judgment. Changing patterns that are automatic and unconscious requires a lot of conscious effort. Over time the new patterns will become automatic and cost less.
- If you have not succeeded this time, it is worth learning a lesson for the future: detect when you have eaten too much and ask yourself why it happened. Draw constructive conclusions about what you could do differently next time. By developing a strategy you turn your mistakes into a learning experience.
- A few hints to help with all of this:
- Make small changes instead of trying to overhaul your entire life. Studies show that to stay motivated we need to feel that what we want to achieve is possible – what is the smallest change I’m sure I could make that will be truly painless?
- Use curiosity and rediscover foods, play with foods, ask yourself what you really like and research how to incorporate those foods, without fear.
- Blur the line between healthy eating and restrictive eating, health is not synonymous with restriction.
If you want to learn more about mindful eating in practice, at ART Clinic we will organize Mindful Eating Workshops. In addition, during individual psychotherapy sessions, we can help you learn to process emotions, reduce guilt and accept your body. If you feel that you have a problem with food that goes beyond and you are unable to solve it on your own, do not hesitate to seek professional help. The purpose of describing Mindful Eating guidelines is not self-help.
Despite the fact that it may seem easy, many times it is not and it is better to change habits accompanied!
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