“Oh no, I am eating something ‘bad’. I can’t believe I am doing this again. I have broken my food rules again, I have no self-control, I am so weak, I am so ‘bad’, I might as well keep going now that I have started and I might as well eat more foods that are not in my food plan. After this packet of biscuits/box of chocolates/take away meal/night of drinking (replace with your food weapon of choice) I am going to get motivated and be ‘good’ and never even buy a ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ food again”. Familiar?
This thought process of a ‘mindless’ eater gets stuck in a loop, with additional layers of self-loathing added in with each repetition, while stripping away self-esteem at an equally damaging rate. Most adults (especially women) recognise this thought pattern and realise the damage that it does, but don’t have the insight or skills to replace it with something more productive – which is my aim for this article.
How many of you can honestly say that all you think about when you have food in your mouth is eating? Focusing on the tastes and textures of food and our bodies responses to eating seems logical and simple but it just isn’t. In a world where so much emotion is attached to food at an individual level, and so much morality and judgement at a community level, it is very hard to ‘just eat’. Most people have so much self-talk going on when they are eating that the actual act of eating is completely overwhelmed. This internal dialogue is usually negative, and tells us that we are eating the wrong type of food or too much food, or that the food we are eating was unplanned and therefore ‘bad’. Such ‘mindless chatter’ inevitably results in overeating because the eater does not get the sensory cues of satiation (feeling of fullness) or food satisfaction (feeling of enjoyment) that comes from paying attention to eating – which is known as ‘mindful’ eating.
To switch from ‘mindless’ to ‘mindful’ eating is very simple, but not easy. It takes practice and development of new skills, and a questioning approach to be able to recognise when you are slipping into that ‘mindless’ chatter and go down the ‘mindful’ eating path instead.
Here’s a quick guide to starting with mindful eating:
- Recognise the negative “chatter” – pick up on words like “shouldn’t”, “bad”, “unhealthy”, “diet” and negative feelings of guilt, regret, self-loathing or self-harm.
- Try to remove yourself from the space where you are eating if possible, so you have time and space to think.
- Wherever you are when you recognise these negative words, thoughts or feelings, try to question the thought process. For example:
- Can a food really be ‘good’ or ‘bad ?
- ‘Too much food’ compared to what?
- Should we be planning every mouthful for every day?
- Try to switch to ‘mindful’ eating – Slow down, chew and think about the food, block out the negative self-talk
- Look for physical cues from eating or body – too much sweetness, saltiness, fullness?
- If you want more of the food, but just not now, give the unplanned food a place in your day – “I am going to finish this as part of lunch”.
- Reflect on unplanned eating;
- What words come into your head as part of that negative self-talk about unplanned eating or overeating? Write them down, and they will become your cues
- Document what you ate in unplanned eating sessions – what was eaten before you recognised the cues and what you continued to eat after
- What can you do differently next time to switch to ‘mindful’ path sooner?
- Aim for stopping unplanned eating sooner and giving unplanned foods a place, rather than expecting quantum changes.
- If in the first month you can reduce overeating by 10% it is a huge improvement.
- Perseverance plays a much greater role in overcoming overeating than motivation.
Consider the difference between the first paragraph of this article and the following one, which would you prefer to be yours?
“Oops, I didn’t plan on eating this today but it does look good. I am taking a small bite and as I chew I am thinking about the tastes and textures. Another bite, followed by more chewing. Now it is starting to taste sweet/salty/rich and the enjoyment that I felt after the first bite is not the same now. My stomach is starting to feel a little full or a bit uncomfortable. It’s time to stop, maybe I can save this extra piece for later when I feel like it and I am hungry again”.
There are plenty of resources and websites to support you in a mindful eating approach if you are interested. Just get in touch with me and I will point you in the direction of the most appropriate ones.