Maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult, and eating right is sometimes an uphill battle. So, it’s often tempting to take the easy way out, succumbing to microwaveable meals and fast food fare. But ending your war against food is possible, and in taking a more mindful approach what goes into your body, and how, you may discover a healthier way to shed pounds.
The Cheat Sheet reached out to Dr. Susan Albers to learn more about mindful eating. Albers, known as the Mindful Eating Doctor, is a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, a New York Times best-selling author, and a leading food and nutrition expert. Basically, she knows a few things about eating well. Here’s what she had to say.
The Cheat Sheet: What are healthier alternatives to overeating?
Dr. Susan Albers: Mindful eating is key to ending overeating. It squashes emotional eating and helps you to eat just what you need — not more. Basically, being mindful means having more control over your actions, particularly around food.
CS: How can a person combat overeating if they’ve struggled with it their whole life?
SA: First, you have to rewire your mindset to stop dieting. This is often easier said than done because it’s so ingrained in our culture. A dieting mindset gets you into either or situations — either I’m on a diet or I’m off. Mindful eating isn’t so black and white, which helps people sidestep the sense of failure or giving up. It’s also losing the guilt and starving.
CS: If someone is a stress eater, how can they overcome the temptation to eat, and instead use other ways to deal with stress?
SA: Think about the 2 Rs — reboot and relax. Basically, when we are stressed, we are looking for a way to unwind. Studies show that food only comforts us for about three minute, and then the positive feelings fade. Relaxation techniques help you to relax and unwind. This includes things that I’ve included in my book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, like self-massage, yoga techniques, aromatherapy, etc.
Rebooting your mindset can be a little more challenging. The book includes ways of turning around negative thinking, which keeps you stuck. Being able to remain positive, see the silver lining, and rebound makes food less tempting. We eat to escape feelings. Mindfulness helps you cope with them as they are until they pass — and they will pass.
CS: How can people be more mindful about the food they’re putting into their bodies?
SA: If you don’t know where to start, start with what I call the 5 Ss of Mindful Eating. Sit down, slowly chew, savor each bite, simplify your environment by putting treats out of sight, and smile between bites so you have a moment to check in to ask yourself if you are truly satisfied. These all change how vs. what you eat. So many plans focus on the what to eat. We need to learn the how.
CS: How realistic is it to begin a healthier diet?
SA: You don’t have to change anything. Just slip more mindfulness into what you are already doing. This is often a simple mind shift that takes no more than a second. Make every choice a conscious choice instead of mindlessly eating out of habit or what I call the JBITS syndrome — just because it is there. Connect to all the actions around eating from picking up your fork to feeling your back against the chair to savoring the texture of each bite.
CS: How can a person’s daily routine be affected, positively or negatively, by their eating habits?
SA: Some habits and routines are positive. You just do it without any emotion or thought. For example, when you brush your teeth there is no emotional struggle or question. You just do it. Routine eating habits can take out some of the emotion, difficulty, and taxing nature of making a decision. In other words, you just eat the banana like you do every afternoon without any emotional struggle. Habit is negative when you do it without thought or connection to the experience. Sitting on the couch and mindlessly eating chips each night takes out the enjoyment of the experience and can get you in a deep rut.
There you go, just one more reason to drop the diet mindset and start thinking about mindful eating. So, yes, you can totally still have those potato chips. Just make sure you enjoy every bite, knowing you can have them again instead of feeling like you need to plow through the entire bag. You’ll be healthier, and happier, for it.