The mind-body connection is real, and it’s important to acknowledge that it can have a profound effect on our overall health. With specific regard to the way we eat and manage our weight, there are specific ways in which the mind-body connection can have both a negative, and a positive, effect.
Stress or Emotional Eating
Sometimes when we experience strong feelings, our minds can become less responsive to internal cues of hunger and satiation. In other words, our strong emotions can outweigh our physical feelings of fullness, and therefore prompt us to overeat. This is known as stress eating, or emotional eating. In these cases, food is utilized as a coping mechanism, in a subconscious effort to temporarily dull our strong negative emotions.
And, it doesn’t stop there. When our emotions lead us to overeat, it then leads to feelings of guilt or shame. This results in a perpetual cycle of negative emotions, and an inability to process or handle them properly – which only causes even more stress.
Mindful eating, on the other hand, requires us to be present as we eat, engaging our senses to purposefully draw our attention to how the food tastes, smells, and most importantly, how it makes our bodies feel. Mindful eating asks us to slow down and listen to our natural internal cues of hunger, rather than our cues of satiation, and thereby helps us to reduce, or altogether cease, eating emotionally.
One very important note is that, while mindful eating can lead to weight loss, losing weight should not be the goal outcome or motivation. In fact, making food choices based on a desired physical outcome is an indicator that one has already stopped eating mindfully.
Practiced properly, mindful eating provides a wonderful framework to help repair one’s relationship with food. Here are seven mindful eating techniques you can try:
- Turn Off the Tech
Because mindful eating requires focused attention, you’ll need to ditch all distractions. Turn off the television, put your phone in another room, and steer clear of the computer screen.
- Slow It Down
Eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly. About halfway through your meal, assess how you’re feeling. Are you still hungry? Are you starting to feel full?
- Engage Your Senses
Often we eat on autopilot, not taking the time to focus any attention on the process of eating a meal. Mindful eating asks that you take the time to focus attention on your food. Notice the aroma, take in the taste and all of the flavors therein. Make note of varying textures. Savor the whole process as you observe what your senses are sharing with you about your meal.
- Assess How Your Body Feels
Make note of how the food you’re eating makes you feel. Energized? Tired? Are you experiencing any bloat or stomach upset? Are you scarfing down your food or enjoying it? Did your food make you feel full, or are you still hungry immediately afterwards?
- No Judgments
Eating mindfully is a practice, and like any practice, requires time to develop. Remember that mindfulness is about more than just being present; it’s also about being curious and interested, with a willingness to explore how and why we think and feel the way we do – all without judgment. So, don’t get down on yourself if you have a misstep. Show yourself gratitude for putting in the effort, and remind yourself that you can, and will, get back on track.
- Stay In Touch with Your Feelings
While you’re eating, ask yourself what’s motivating you. Are you eating because you’re actually hungry, or are there feelings, emotions, or stressors driving your impulse to eat? Consider whether or not you’re giving your body what it needs.
- Beyond the Plate
Extend your newfound awareness down the supermarket aisles, too. Grocery shopping is yet another activity where we sometimes make choices that are influenced by external thoughts, emotions or impulses. Practicing mindful shopping can help us to make decisions based on our own internal knowledge of what our bodies need.
Once we bring our attention to the entire experience of eating, we stop getting lost in the thinking mind and become less caught up in any complicated emotions we might have around food. Quite simply, we allow ourselves to be re-acquainted with the pleasure of eating, and take delight in the actual process.
In essence, we are reclaiming a positive mind-body connection so that we may eat to live, and not the other way around. The mind is very powerful. When left to its own devices, it can be vulnerable to our emotions and habits. Mindful eating inserts a pause to help us become aware of our own decision-making. We notice the cues, the emotions that come up, and the sensory impact of eating. This trains us to clear space within ourselves to trace back our emotions around eating, and equips us to make better overall choices when it comes to our relationship with food.