Cultivating mindfulness means that no food is off-limits
What if you could eat ‘forbidden’ foods and still lose weight?
It would be great, right? Anyone who’s attempted to shed the pounds through sheer willpower knows just how difficult it can be. And if you’re one of the many who have tried to lose weight and failed, it’s likely it was because you missed your favourite foods. After all, when cupcakes and ice cream are strictly off-limits, you’re almost setting yourself
up for diet doom, right?
In her new book The Joy of Half a Cookie: Using Mindfulness to Lose Weight and End the Struggle With Food (£7.99,), American professor Dr Jean Kristeller, who specialises in clinical health psychology, reveals how to enjoy your favourite comfort foods without piling on the pounds. Her Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training programme (MB-EAT) was devised to help ditch frustration, deprivation and guilt, and instead help you enjoy every bite that you take. By becoming aware and tuning into your body’s satiety signals, Dr Kristeller believes you can reach your diet goals without having to compromise on the food you love. ‘All of us often eat “mindlessly” or on automatic, leading to overeating and making less satisfying choices. Taking a moment to eat mindfully, with awareness and attention, helps link us to knowing whether we’re actually physically hungry, to savouring and enjoying the foods we’ve chosen, and to stopping when we’ve had enough,’ she explains. Take on board her diet secrets and you can blast away any struggles around food, enjoy what’s on your plate and lose any excess pounds for good.
1 The power of the mind
The MB-EAT programme takes an entirely different approach to eating. It isn’t about willpower or rigid self-control, like most diets, it’s about creating a relationship of self-regulation (realising you’re not hungry anymore) and self-care through mindful meditation. ‘Diets separate us even more from our body signals; they don’t help us learn how to eat in a more flexible way when we’re faced with food temptations and they reinforce the “good food/bad food” mentality, rather than a flexible “more of this/less of that” attitude,’ says Dr Kristeller. While dieting provides us with much less food than our bodies are burning, it doesn’t teach us how to maintain a more moderate, lower amount while negotiating all the normal eating challenges of our daily life. Psychologists claim that, on average, we make between 200 and 300 food-related decisions a day, and when you connect with your body and mind, and ignite your natural powers of self-regulation you are able to make balanced choices. You can choose to eat a whole cookie, a few bites or sidestep it completely. By becoming more mindful, you’ll zone into an inner wisdom that helps you sense hunger and satiety and how to use food for comfort, relaxation and celebration without going overboard. Being mindful also allows you to tune in to your outer wisdom – i.e. to make informed choices about what’s on your plate.
2 Learn your triggers
Our body and brain send us complex signals about what to eat, when to start eating, how much we’re enjoying our food, and when to stop eating. ‘These are complex because some of them come from our physical needs for food and some from our “conditioning” – many years of being told to clear our plates, eat certain amounts at certain times, memories of that homemade dessert overriding the poor-quality one we’re actually eating, eating as much as possible rather than to a level of comfort, and so on,’ says Dr Kristeller. Learning to tune in to our bodies – our physical hunger signals, our tastebuds, our fullness – can help tremendously in balancing those mind messages that may have little to do with whether or not we actually need the food. Learning triggers (whether you’re eating for true hunger, for comfort and so on) will help you make wiser decisions about what you eat, so before you sit down to eat, check your emotions. Are you stressed? Nervous? Just plain hungry? Use Dr Kristeller’s MB-EAT 10-point awareness scale to rate your hunger sensations with 1 being “not hungry”, 5 being “moderately hungry” and 10 being “extremely hungry”. This will help reveal what your hunger experiences really signify.
3 The MB-EAT meditation method
When we take short, rapid breaths, we are often experiencing negative emotions like anger or fear, but when we shift from fast, shallow breathing to slow, deep breathing, we’re sending a message to our brain to shift into a more relaxed state. As with any skill, mindfulness doesn’t happen overnight and will improve the more you practise. Start by bringing your awareness to something rhythmic – the breath, a sound, a simple word – and focusing on it gently. ‘And then when your attention wanders (as it will), bring your focus back, over and over. Everyone can do it. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals, for just five or 10 minutes, you’ll find you can bring this skill to almost any situation – and then realise a few breaths can help you react with your ‘wise’ mind, rather than your automatic mind, reinforces Dr Kristeller.
Even if you’ve never meditated before, it’s super-simple to get started
1 Allocate yourself 10 or 20 minutes
and sit comfortably in a quietbegin to breathe from your abdomen. Your stomach should expand as you breathe in, and sink down as you breathe out.
2 Start with three
or four deeper breaths, following a set rhythm and pace.
3 As you inhale,
notice the air at the tip of your nose cool as it flows in. Keep observing it as it moves down the back of your throat, into your abdomen and then back out again, now warmer at your nostrils as it flows out.
4 When your attention wanders,
simply bring it back to your breath, noticing every new sensation to shift your attention back.
5 If there is a specific place
where you feel your breath is clearer (for instance, at the tip of your nose, the back of your throat or the rise and fall of your stomach), then choose thatas the primary focus for your awareness.