Eating Awareness (It's Delicious)

Today's rant: mindful eating, or "eating awareness" as my homeboy Deepak calls it in his new book, What Are You Hungry For? I'm actually surprised that I've never discussed this topic yet. I think it's due to my own naivity:

Me: "Oh, we all know what mindful eating is. Don't close your eyes and inhale three 6-packs of nuggets from Chik-fil-A before you even exit the drive-through."

Wrong, kinda. Mindful eating is SO much more than that. It's taking a moment to pause before we even move towards food to notice how our body feels and what it's actually asking for, and to discern whether the void we're about to fill is actually hunger, or if it's something deeper like a mental void (boredom, stress) or an emotional void (lack of love or nurturing, lack of self-worth). All of these sensations send signals to the brain telling it to take action - the problem is, our brain (although with good intentions), generally works on auto-pilot and makes snap decisions, unless we pause and take time to be mindful. The brain will then try to quickly fix the problem the only way it knows how: telling us to get food.

And the problem with overreating or eating when we're not hungry isn't just one that people struggling with their weight face. All of us, at some point, deal with emotional eating or social eating - who has never gone out for a "celebration dinner"?

The way we deal with these problems is usually by deprivation; that is to say, dieting. And I don't necessarily mean starving ourselves - dieting in this context means any type of assumed diet where we're depriving our bodies of something intentionally, such as the Paleo Diet, ABS diet, juice cleansing, etc.

Unfortunately, deprivation almost never works. According to Mr. Chopra: "Every long term study has shown that less than 2 percent of dieters manage to lose a significant amount of weight (20 pounds or more) and keep it off for two years." (What Are You Hungry For? pg. 19) So when you click open Instagram or Pinterest and see hundreds of photos of diet-achieved flat abs or shocking before/after photos and think, "Wow, he/she has really figured it out. She's made it. She'll be a walking flat-abbed "After" photo for the rest of her life," it's really unlikely that that's the case.*

When you deprive yourself, you're constantly aware of what you can't have. It's always there in the back of your mind - that feeling of lacking something. But it makes sense that we'd try to address a weight problem with dieting; it's the way our brain works: "It's a physical problem, so there must be a physical solution, right?" Not always.

It all comes down to fulfillment. Figuring out how to feel full in every way, not just when it comes to food, is more productive than deprivation. It allows us to focus on what satiates us mentally and emotionally (and eventually, physically) instead of constantly focusing on what we can't have.

You: "Okay Bridget. So you're saying I just have to find the perfectly fulfilling partner, job, hobbies, house, and kids and I won't struggle with food anymore. I'll get right on that."

I know it sounds like a heavy task, but the beauty of fulfillment is that it takes absolutely nothing other than you for it to happen. We all have needs: Mental, emotional, and physical. Some days your mental tank will be emptier than others. For example, you might not feel challenged at work, so you'll tend toward afternoon snacking to help the time pass. Or you're not getting enough facetime with your partner, so you'll spend your evenings with Breaking Bad and Haagen Dazs instead. It's not up to your boss or your partner to step up - it's up to you to ask for what you need, or give it to yourself. Find new ways to do your job that challenge you, join a book club where your opinion is valued and your presence is noticed.

Noticing these disconnects and the reasons we eat when we're not hungry is the pivotal step towards change. When we employ mindfulness, before we eat we first ask ourselves if we're actually hungry, or if we're trying to fill some other type of void with food. We do this by first taking a moment to tune into our body and really feel what it's telling us. We then observe our thoughts and emotions to discern what else might be pushing our food trigger, and lastly we make a more aware choice based on what we've found. And all of this can happen in seconds!

So later this afternoon when your energy is wavering and you're considering hitting the cookie table in the conference room for a sugar fix, ask yourself - am I even hungry? How else might I be able to give my body or mind what it's asking for? Remember - an energizing walk around the block is a zero-calorie snack!

To listen to a guided meditation practice that helps to draw concentration to mindful eating, pop over to the Audio Library and click the file called "Bird Rock Yoga Guided Meditation: Mindful Eating."

* Not to say that hard work, dedication, and a healthy balance of exercise and mindful eating won't achieve lifelong results. In the above case, I'm referring to the "get fit quick" philosophy, which is usually difficult to sustain over long periods.