How to use mindful eating to reduce cravings for unhealthy food
If you aren’t practising mindfulness when you buy or eat food then chances are that you won’t be able to sustain any diet or exercise regimen for long.
If you've recently begun your weight loss journey, you’ve probably analysed every diet out there, from ketogenic to intermittent fasting, and have taken up one. You might have even joined a gym or signed up for yoga classes, or taken up walking or jogging. But the one thing you should be doing, more than anything else, is focusing on mindful eating.
If you aren’t practising mindfulness when you buy or eat food then chances are that you won’t be able to sustain any diet or exercise regimen for long. You might do the diet right and manage your workouts very well, but keeping at it for the rest of your life to lose weight — and then maintain it — will be next to impossible without mindful eating.
The reason behind this is simple. Sustaining a diet or exercise routine after living a sedentary lifestyle is not possible unless you change your mental makeup, and that’s precisely what mindful eating does. Going Zen with food is the best way to change your psychological relationship to food.
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is a deeply meditative practice based on Zen Buddhism, and it’s highly beneficial for the reduction of depression, stress and anxiety disorders. Mindful eating, its close compatriot, is all about being in tune with your physical sensations and emotions while you eat.
This practice includes making small behavioural changes to counter cravings, enjoy the food and the experience of eating. While diets are focused on specific rules that dictate what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, etc. mindful eating doesn’t require you to count calories, carbs, fats or protein. You might get stressed if you’re not following a diet right, but mindful eating is all about reducing stress levels and letting the nutritional value of every ingredient do its magic on your health.
How does mindful eating work?
If you’re wondering how mindful eating will help you lose weight, let us be honest - it might not. The aim of mindful eating isn't to lose weight but to trust your food choices to improve your health. According to a study published in Scientific Reports in 2018, that's just the sort of behavioural flexibility mindful eating can bring about, especially in patients of diabetes and obesity. In another study, researchers based out of San Francisco conducted a trial training with 60 patients who had Type 2 Diabetes in 2019. They were taught how to practise mindful eating over a 12-week intervention period. The scientists found a huge decrease in cravings, stress-related impulsive eating, better glycemic control and weight loss in all the participants.
Instead of stressing about the outcome of a diet and depriving yourself of certain food groups, mindful eating is process-oriented. Enjoy the experience of eating and you will inevitably, and naturally, eat better food while savouring its flavours more and then be able to choose the right things to eat based on this experience. This process might or might not lead to weight loss but it'll definitely help you build a better relationship with your food.
To understand what meditative mindful eating means, just pick up an almond. No, not a handful. Pick up one almond, hold it in your hand, smell it, feel its texture, check out its shape and colour. Put the almond in your mouth, but don’t chew. Just enjoy the sensation of the almond skin, and then chew slowly. Notice what sensations and flavours every bite brings, and then swallow. Now repeat this process with everything you eat.
Try this exercise and you’ll notice that you weren’t distracted while eating that one almond, you savoured its smell, look and taste thoroughly. This experience might be so enjoyable that it makes you realise eating just a single almond is sufficient. So, no bingeing needed, ever.
Seven steps to help you practise mindful eating
The best part about mindful eating is that it doesn’t tell you how to feel about food, but does tell you to notice your feelings about food more. By focusing on the sensual experiences of sight, smell, touch and taste you will be more aware of what you eat and understand just how much your mind and body needs for actual satisfaction and nourishment. Here are a few steps you can take to practise mindful eating:
- Set aside your judgements about any ingredient before you start eating. Your previous experiences don’t matter, just the present does.
- Lead with patience, and take small bites. Eating in a hurry or stuffing your mouth is not mindful eating.
- Approach every bite of food like a beginner or a baby would. You’ll be excited about the experience of eating every time this way.
- Notice and appreciate how you feel about each bite, and trust your instincts. Trust your feelings about food, because this is your individual experience, and is not informed by what anybody else says.
- Don’t strive for or make an effort to eat to lose weight. Remember that this is not a diet, and weight loss or any other benefit is supposed to happen organically and not by brute force.
- Be fully present at the moment of eating and accept what your senses are telling you about food without any distractions.
- Let go of your preconceived notions about food, or your past associations with it (like how your mother forced you to eat sprouts as a kid). This will help you build your relationship with food anew.
Try these steps, and not just while eating. You can give them a go when you go grocery shopping, and trust us, you will end up reading labels and choosing fresh ingredients over packaged ones more and more often.
Mindful eating is a lifelong practice that can reinvent your relationship with food and help you counter all sorts of health issues stemming from the practice of eating, from obesity to diabetes. Imbibe it, and you won’t need any diet to tell you how to lose weight.
For more information, read our article on Obesity: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.
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