In one of my many conversations recently about healthy lifestyle management, the question came up about the best way to resist eating foods that we believe might not be the best choice for us at the moment. To wit, the upcoming chocolate celebration known as Valentine's Day, which Cindy so aptly discussed yesterday.
Cindy talked about enjoying chocolate in moderation, knowing we can have some again later. But many of us struggle with just eating one or two. We have experienced having one, then another, then another….before we know it, it's all gone.
So how do we break this cycle? The best way is to really not want more. And just how do we do that?
Mindful Eating is the Key
Tuning into what we really want is what mindful eating is all about. When we're paying attention, we're better able to find the point at which we have had enough. Our bodies were designed to be able to tell us that but weight loss diets have taught us differently. Weight loss diets either leave us feeling hungry much of the time, or set us up for feelings of deprivation that leave us in a state that a whole box of chocolates may not even really ameliorate. Especially when we're left feeling guilty for eating the whole thing.
To take care of these two major problems, we teach at Green Mountain two basic principles of mindful eating: regular, balanced eating, and eating what you want.
Regular, Balanced Eating
This one is relatively simple. Just feed yourself balanced meals/snacks on a regular basis. People normally get hungry every 3-5 hours or so (it can vary depending on the person and on how much we eat at any one meal or snack), so if you're not sure when you're hungry, start eating on this 'schedule' for a while, and you'll help yourself get back in touch with what true physical hunger feels like.
Eating What We Want
This one can be more challenging. For some of us, it's just a matter of giving ourselves permission, to get rid of the negative thoughts that cloud our judgment. We can tell ourselves it's okay to eat chocolate (or whatever is our 'thing'), and we can go on to enjoy it in moderation.
For others of us, however, we've been dieting too long. Or if we haven't been dieting, we've been believing we need to be, so we might as well have been as far as our ability to feed ourselves in a way that satisfies is concerned. We might need to move slowly, giving ourselves opportunities to enjoy foods we fear in a relatively controlled way. For example, instead of the whole box of chocolates, we might better enjoy a small package that limits how much we have access to at any one moment. Instead of buying the half gallon of ice cream, we might better manage a trip to the ice cream store to enjoy a cone — single, double or triple dip, you decide — or the hot fudge sundae. A triple dip or a sundae is an improvement over the whole half gallon.
Putting It Together
The first step in mindful eating — eating regular, balanced meals/snacks — helps immensely with the second step. When we're hungry, it takes more to satisfy us. When we eat foods we fear after a period of feeding ourselves well, it doesn't take as much to satisfy. So we don't have to deal with the fear that arises if we think we're eating 'too much.' That assumes, however, that we're eating the food without feelings of guilt, which will interfere with our ability to feel satisfied.
Remember, too, that it took a while to develop the attitudes and behaviors that confound our eating. Many of us have been dieting — and binge eating as a result –for years. Being patient with ourselves, knowing we'll have ups and downs (actually, that's a part of normal eating, not just dieting recovery), will help us move forward instead of returning to old behaviors when we think we're not doing as well as we 'should.'
That brings up one of my favorite sayings: Let's stop shoulding on ourselves.
Have a happy Valentine's Day!