How Practicing Mindfulness Can Help You Lose Weight
Have you heard of mindful eating? The concept sounds pretty fantastic, allowing you to slim down while still welcoming the foods you love onto your dinner plate – yes, that’s including a home-baked cookie for dessert. “To eat mindfully means to listen to the natural feedback systems within your body – such as taste, hunger, and fullness – as well as information on calories to make a conscious decision about what and how much to eat,” explains Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., author of The Joy of Half a Cookie. “When you eat mindfully, you can choose to enjoy the cookie if you want it — whether you’re hungry or if it’s a rare treat — there’s no fear. You know that you’ll be able to savor a few bites, wrapping up the rest for later when you can enjoy it all over again.” Kristeller says that when you’re mindful you take out the struggle. “You’re using the wisdom of your body and your mind to make choices that are more balanced, easier, and with practice, require little effort.”
Unfortunately for most of us, wrapping up that black and white cookie after just a few nibbles seems all but impossible, which is why we asked Kristeller to give us the cheat sheet to laying a foundation for mindfulness.
Mindfulness of the breath
Mindfulness meditation helps you become more aware of the present moment. As you inhale, notice your breath at the tip of your nose, cool as it flows in. Continue observing moving down the back of your throat, expanding your abdomen and then back out again, now warmer as it flows out. Consider doing this every day for 10 minutes and see how your awareness grows.
Mindfulness of hunger
Mindfulness of hunger helps you become more aware of why you reach for certain foods. Before eating, pause and notice any sensations of physical hunger. Where do you feel them? In your stomach, your body? Rate their strength, from 1 = NO hunger and 10 = STARVING. Do you really need to eat? And how much? How are feelings of physical hunger differ from feelings like anxiety, boredom or loneliness – or craving a particular food?
Mindfulness of taste
How do we know when to stop eating? The quickest signal is our taste buds getting tired. Pick a food to experiment with. Tune into your pleasure from the first bite, savoring it in your mouth, resisting swallowing. Then take another small amount. Does your enjoyment go up? Or down? How about the third bite? At what point does the flavor drop off? You can keep on eating, of course, and see how the taste continues to change, but what’s the point to eating more than you’re really enjoying?
Mindfulness of fullness
Tuning into stomach fullness also helps us know when to stop eating, again using a 10-point scale. Do you ever mindlessly stuff yourself to a 9 or 10? What is “enough”? That might change depending on the type of meal or snack, but if you tune in, you’re less likely to overeat.
Combine awareness of fullness with awareness of hunger and taste, and you’ll realize how much enjoyment you can get from less and less food.
Mindfulness of calories
Finally — calories do count. The more diets we’ve been on, the more anxious we may be to even look at calorie labels. But what about thinking of calories like price tags? Just as you shop with a financial budget in mind, you can eat use a caloric budget. You don’t have to count pennies, or eat exactly the same amount every day, but overall, what you spend does add up. Think about taking 100 calories out of each meal and snack. If these are permanent changes, that can add up to losing a pound/week (we call it the 500 Calorie Challenge). The challenge is also to make choices that let you enjoy your food more – rather than less.