Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword lately. Although simple at face value – mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the moment in the moment – it is a complex idea to put into action. The problem many of us face is that we are so accustomed to multi-tasking, numbing, and doing things that take our mind out of the moment, that it seems like a huge battle to try to change that. And why is it important? For the long explanation, see this video. Actually paying attention to one thing at a time in the moment that you are doing it can really change the way you think.

In what ways is multitasking built into your life? Do you have a cell phone bothering you while you are working? Is your smart watch buzzing while you are trying to have an in-person conversation? It feels that the more technology becomes a part of our daily reality, the easier it is to multitask. But the problem with multitasking is that by splitting your attention amongst various tasks, you don’t get to give your full attention to anything, and so all the tasks suffer. Are there ways in which you can cut multitasking out of your life?

In our pop-a-pill culture where we are so intensely medicated by both medical professionals and through legal and illicit drug use that is has become the norm to just numb through difficult emotions or pain instead of figuring out how to cope with them. One drug we don’t talk about as much is food – people who compulsively overeat often turn to food when they are not hungry, but rather to numb them from their negative emotions. This provides a temporary fix until the guilt sets in about overeating, and can be especially difficult, as you can’t cut food out of your life like you can with drugs. Seeking therapy can be one way to unload all of the emotions that you might have been “stuffing down” or “numbing” over time so that you can release the pressure that builds.

Sometimes people are driven not to be mindful, because when they are quiet and alone, thoughts related to depression (that usually brings unhappy memories from the past), and anxiety (which usually makes us worry about the future) or other mental health concerns. If you find it is difficult to be alone with your thoughts, then it is time to find someone safe to share them with. You might start with a friend or family member, but may find someone outside your social life, such as a therapist, helpful with this. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or others, please seek help immediately by contacting emergency services/911 or a local crisis resource.

Part of mindfulness is being in your body in the moment. For some people, this may be somewhat of a foreign concept. We, especially as women, tend to take a position of desiring to change our bodies, never accepting them as they are, the only body we will ever have. By getting back “in” your body and getting in touch with its signals and feelings, often acceptance starts to build, and the body becomes reintegrated with the mind, which are really two halves of our whole selves. To start, you might try a body scan. This involves sitting quietly in a comfortable spot with your eyes closed, focusing on relaxing different parts of your body. This falls into the category of “guided meditation,” and can be a great way to get started with mindfulness. Try a search on YouTube or download an app – Calm and Simple Habit are some of my favorites.

If you’ve already explored some meditation, and thought “I’m no good at this,” or “I just can’t sit quietly for that long,” consider that your mindfulness skills are like a muscle to be built up over time. In the video above, Ron Siegel describes your mind as a puppy that you need to be patient with and train by being patient and bringing it back to the task at hand each time it strays. He also describes trying to think of your thoughts as clouds in the sky, just letting them float on by without getting stuck on them or judging your thoughts. During guided meditations, such as the one linked above, it can be easier to keep your mind on task, because there is a voice to focus on and to go back to. After a while you may prefer “open meditation” or just sitting quietly without any guidance, usually for a set period of time.

Once you start to be in touch with your body, you will start to realize what an amazing machine it is – it is smart enough to tell you when it is hungry, what it is hungry for, when it is full, and when it is tired or in pain. If we can listen to these signals and respond appropriately, our bodies have the opportunity to find balance and calm. For more information about how to find peace with eating through honoring your body’s signals, check out intuitive eating.  If you struggle to be able to identify when you are hungry and when you are full, or feel that you eat for reasons other than being hungry, you may consider seeking out an eating disorder assessment. Work with an eating-disorder-informed therapist and/or dietitian may be helpful in reestablishing those cues.

Challenge yourself to integrate mindfulness into your life one bit at a time – such as setting an alarm to do a 5-minute meditation during your break at work, or finding a meditation that helps you fall asleep. See what sort of calm and peace you can bring to your life by being mindful in this moment, using all your senses, and observing all that is going on inside and outside of you without judgment. Be your body’s own best friend and figure out how to receive all the communication it is sending you, and how to take care of yourself best.

Relationships with food

When we are babies, we associate our parents with love, and with their love, the nourishment they provide for us. As children, we may be rewarded with food, or maybe punished by taking it away. We may be taught to clean our plates, and taught that over stuffing ourselves is preferable to wasting food. As adults we may use food to comfort ourselves when we are down, or reward ourselves for a job well done. For those enmeshed in the diet culture, food may incite a myriad of emotions.

Although, biologically speaking, we only need food and drink as basic nourishment to fuel our bodies, we, as a culture, have expanded the use of food far beyond that. We learn to use it in many ways other than its actual purpose. As a result, our bodies are fed inappropriately, and we overfeed or underfeed ourselves, convinced that trying to morph our bodies is somehow a more logical answer than getting in touch with our bodies and finding the balance in which they function the best. We are taught that each passing diet fad is a “better” way to eat, and that by eliminating entire categories of macronutrients we will finally be able to turn our body into the body we have wanted for so long. We have hammered it into our heads that strict rules for health, like the BMI chart, must mean that being “obese” means being in very poor health, and that it is likely more of a character flaw than anything to blame, and that one must just buckle down and try harder.

Try to break away from all of the Netflix food documentaries and the Pinterest “nutrition” articles, and think about this. Your body is actually a highly-intelligent, self-driven machine that knows what it wants to eat, when it is hungry, and when it is full. If we can actually get in tune with these signals and are able to follow them, our bodies will find the balance they crave and will become the size and shape that they were intended to be. No two bodies are identical, and trying to have someone else’s body is futile – it is already taken, you only get the one you were given.

So many of us have gotten so far away from the signals of our own bodies, trying so hard to silence the hunger cues, or feeling that a sense of hunger is somehow a triumph over will. Consider that feeding your body appropriately will actually help you to think about food less. If you are constantly hungry throughout the day, your brain isn’t being fed properly, and will focus on food in an effort to get its needs met. If you allow yourself to eat what you crave in an appropriate way (an appropriate portion at an appropriate pace), or decide to eat it at the next appropriate time instead of making foods off limits, you take your focus off of those foods you are craving. If you respond to the signals from your body, it will stop sending them, and you can decide what to do with all that brainpower that is left over.

How do you get back in touch with the hunger and fullness sensations in your body if you have moved too far away from them? I would suggest seeing a RD (registered dietitian) who is eating disorder informed (it will help them be more sensitive to eating concerns) and getting on a sort of meal plan. Typically, the clients I see are on meal plans that consist of three snacks and three meals daily. After you get used to being on this pattern, your body starts to anticipate when it can expect food, and gets in sort of a rhythm. Then, when it is meal time, you should start feeling hunger. Concerning fullness, you want to shoot for being about 80-85% full, with the idea that it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your body has the food that is in your mouth right now, so about 15 minutes after you are done eating, you should be closer to 100% full.

The most common complaint I hear about being on a meal plan is that it feels like you are eating all day. It’s because you are, and you are supposed to be.  It is incredibly common for my clients to tell me that they “eat healthy” in the morning – which means that they restrict their food intake and only eat very low-calorie foods that often are not rich in fats or carbs. Then, when in comes to the afternoon or evening, they have been trying so hard not to eat the “unhealthy” foods that it becomes too much and they end up eating something they didn’t really want to be eating, and sometimes in an amount much greater than they had intended. If you are eating throughout the day, you are appropriately full on the things you crave, so there is no need to overindulge later.

Speaking of foods you crave – what about dessert? Dessert is just food. If your authentic self likes the taste of sweets, you should allow yourself about desserts. Again, it is important to consider “loving limits” and having about a maximum of an average of one serving per day. If you struggle with this idea, consider having dessert with dinner each night. If you find yourself waiting until the end of the meal to eat your dessert because “it is the best part,” you may want to try “eating in the round” – having a bite of each of the dishes on your plate, as well as a bite of dessert before going back and having a bite of each again.  This reinforces the idea that each of the bites is just food.

I can already see the eye-rolls from the iron-clad diet fans out there, but consider how much of your life, and your free time you devote to your food and your body. What would it be like to take some of that back? What would it be like to accept and respect your body for the incredible machine that it is, instead of rejecting it and constantly fighting it to change? What would it like to be at peace with your food?

If you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, please seek help. They can be deadly serious, and are not your fault. Please see warning signs and symptoms here or call 1-800-931-2237 for help.