By Lisa Turner for Care2.com
As obsessed as we are with food and diets, you’d think we’d be thin and healthy by now. So why are we Americans still universally less-than-fit and soft around the middle?
The fact is, diet tips, rules and tricks wonâ€™t work if weâ€™re ignoring the mental and emotional side of eating. Why do we still overeatâ€”or eat the wrong things? Most of the time, when weâ€™re craving cookies, weâ€™re really hungry for love, sex, friendship, peace, a sense of purpose and meaning. And when youâ€™re gripped by that kind of hunger, all the tips and tricks in the world wonâ€™t save you.
Next time youâ€™re ready to embark on the next fix-me-fast diet, try something different: instead of focusing on the food, tune in to address the emotions that make you stray. Hereâ€™s how to start:
1. Feel your hunger. After a lifetime of denying our hunger, itâ€™s hard to tell when we really need food. But weâ€™re all born with the capability to eat when were hungry and stop when weâ€™re full. As children, we eat in response to our bodiesâ€™ hunger signals. As adults, we eat in response to the clock, the latest magazine article, or our uncomfortable feelings.
Get back in touch with your bodyâ€™s signals by carrying a small notepad and charting your hunger before you eat, rating it on a scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (uncomfortably full). If you do this day after day, feeling your bodyâ€™s cues will soon come naturally. Youâ€™ll know youâ€™re on the right track when you start eating in response to your bodyâ€”a rumbling in your belly, a slight lessening in your ability to concentrateâ€”instead of your thoughts or emotions.
2. Stop counting. That means calories, fat, carbs, grams, portionsâ€”whatever number you use that keeps you out of your body and in your head. When you count, measure, weigh or calculate your food, youâ€™re eating according to your intellect rather than your bodyâ€™s cues. For a life-long food counter, the prospect of free-for-all noshing can be scary. Start small: eat one meal a day without counting anything. After several days, eat two meals without counting. Continue at your own pace until youâ€™ve stopped counting your foodâ€”and start eating in response to your body, not the numbers in your head.
3. Examine your cravings. When youâ€™re feeling the urge to eat, what are you really hungry for? If youâ€™re craving chips, does your jaw want to chew and crunch, to relieve stress and tension? Does the noise the chips make drown out the racket in your head? When youâ€™re aching for ice cream, maybe the soft, creamy texture makes you feel nurtured, or fills up some empty spaces. Once you have a better idea of what youâ€™re really craving, youâ€™re better equipped to make a conscious choice. Maybe you massage your jaw, minimize sources of stress, visit a friend who makes you feel nurtured. Or maybe you have a scoop of ice creamâ€”but you do it as a conscious decision.
4. Practice mindful eating. There you are, in front of the fridge at 9 p.m. noshing on leftover Chinese right out of the container, with no recollection of how you got there. Itâ€™s called â€śeating amnesia,â€ť where the unconscious, hand-to-mouth action of feeding yourself becomes so automatic that, before you know it, you’ve wolfed down a whole box of cookies. Become fully aware of the act of eating. Always put your foodâ€”including snacks–on a plate. Then sit down at the table, remove distractions like television, and observe your plate. Notice the colors, textures, shapes and smell for 30 seconds to a full minute before you take the first bite. As you eat, notice the chewing action of your jaw, the taste of the food, how it feels moving down your throat and into your stomach. Itâ€™s such a pleasant practice, it will soon become second nature.
5. Be in your body. Many of us walk around all day in a state of half-awareness, not really present in the room, on the earth, in our bodies. And when weâ€™re not in our bodies, we canâ€™t tell if weâ€™re hungry or when weâ€™re full. How often are you aware of your body? Tune in right now, as you read this, and check in, starting your toes and moving up through your body. Pause at your stomach, and notice how it feels. Is it empty, or satisfied? Does it feel rigid and tense? Numb or dull? Or is it soft and relaxed? Once you become intimate of your stomachâ€™s sensations, you can begin to identify true hunger.
6. Pause. When you experience a craving for food, just stop and observe it. Donâ€™t try to make it go away, but donâ€™t indulge it. Sit with the discomfort of the craving. It may become intensely distressing, even painful; thatâ€™s okay. Stay with it, and notice what comes up. Youâ€™ll often find a vast ocean of emotions like fear, anxiety, even grief, under the craving for food. Itâ€™s a powerful exerciseâ€”but quite illuminating, and sometimes life-changing.
7. Be happy now. Maybe youâ€™ve been postponing your happiness until you lose ten pounds, give up sugar or eat more greens. But the happier you are now, the more likely youâ€™ll be to stick to your eating goals. The â€śdo-have-beâ€ť mindset tells us that success breeds joy when, in fact, it may be the other way around. Once youâ€™re able to accept yourself exactly as you are, youâ€™re more likely to achieve your dietary goals, and less likely to eat from stress, depression or anxiety. And anyway, thereâ€™s no point in postponing joy. Be happy now; the rest will come.
September 5th, 2011