Can changing your relationship with food result in weight loss without dieting? Ongoing research demonstrates that mindfulness practices can result in significant weight loss without choosing to diet or restrict calories. You can bring mindfulness into your daily life during your work day, morning preparations, time with your loved ones … really at any time. While these practices can reduce your stress level and lead to more fulfilling relationships, when applied to meals, they can also have a positive impact on your waistline.
So just what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a simple practice of bringing attention to whatever is present before you. You simply choose to observe and to exist without judgement in the present moment, rather than allowing your mind to wander. You may begin this practice by giving yourself 5 to 10 minutes of mindfulness each day, gently redirecting your thoughts back to the present each time they move in another direction. When this happens, accept that it has happened without judgement and bring yourself back to the current moment. It can be helpful to use specific tools to focus your attention during your mindfulness practice and you can also choose to apply mindfulness to your eating habits.
Ready to give it a try? Here are few suggestions on how you can practice mindfulness in your daily eating.
Create a Mindfulness Food Journal
Food journaling has long been recognized as an effective tool in assisting weight loss and supporting dietary changes . While food journaling can be as simple as using a piece of scratch paper or notepad in your smartphone to record your food intake, you can also bring mindfulness into your journal. In addition to writing down what you have eaten, try including a specific entry related to your mindfulness at the time. This may include rating your hunger (on a scale of 1-10), writing down why you are eating (such as hunger, it looks good, I’m stressed, etc.), and possibly including an observation or rating of your presence and mindfulness while you eat. You can include one or all of these observations for as long and as often as it is helpful. You can choose to do this at specific meals or do so during times of the day that you feel the most challenged to remain present in your eating.
Incorporate the Five Senses
It has often been said that we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. Incorporating each of your senses during meals can provide you with a focal point for observation as you remain present in your meal. While your meal should already bring in the senses of smell and taste, you can also bring in sight, hearing, and touch. Set aside a time and place to eat and eat with intention. Take time to set the table or use cloth napkins, pour your beverage into a favorite cup or stemware, and put on music that you enjoy.
Eat in Silence
While this may not be the most effective use of a family meal time, for those of us caught up in busy schedules providing ourselves with time to nurture and feed ourselves (both literally and physically) during meal times can be profound. Rather than using your meal times to catch up on reading or grab lunch with a co-worker, try turning off your cell phone, putting your book down, and eat lunch alone. As you’re doing so, breathe, fully chew and taste your food, choose to eat a little more slowly and notice whether or not you are hungry after each bite. You can also practice this during a brief morning or afternoon break with a cup of coffee or tea and your favorite piece of fruit. Take the time to savor the flavors of each, to notice how they complement each other, to smell, and to appreciate the simple deliciousness of each one on their own and together, in this moment.
Eat with Gratitude and Connection
Gratitude and connection to your food is both a practice and an outcome associated with mindful eating. While being more mindful in your eating will probably lead to feeling more connected to your food, its journey to you, and its effect on you, you can also choose to specifically focus on this. Practicing gratitude connects you to your food as well as the other gifts in each moment. You can do this by simply reflecting on why you are grateful for a meal before you eat it. Examples might include how much you like a particular food, the company with whom you are eating, the job that you have that has provided you with the opportunity to purchase the food, or the person who has prepared it. You can also choose your food more mindfully through growing your own, purchasing food locally, connecting with local farms, using quality ingredients, or supporting the Slow Food movement.
While we’ve explored the potential positive impact of habit on our daily actions, it can also work against us when we mindlessly engage in actions that further us from our goals. This is particularly challenging, when these actions are a daily necessity (such as eating). Practicing mindfulness can bring new energy, fulfillment, and life to these areas, making them more satisfying and less habitual. This allows us to view our thoughts related to food or other challenging areas and to recognize our opportunity for choice in acting on these thoughts.
About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.
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