I really wanted to title this post: Mindful Eating part 2 Electric Boogaloo but that would not have made this post easy to find. I’m not sure about you, but I was hiding from the polar vortex this weekend. Being “trapped” in my home here in CT is one of the worst times for me find myself eating when I am not hungry (aka not being mindful). In general, I am a high energy kind of gal, however (is anyone else an unending contradiction?) I love being at home. While it is not an ideal plan for eating for me (I know I should eat high volume, filling meals) I love to graze! LOVE IT! Little pieces of this, little parts from that and before I know it, a whole package of cheese and a box of crackers are gone. It gets worse when I become bored, want a distraction or just because I see something in my pantry (Red Flag Rachel, you are not being mindful!). It’s tough. When I am home and enjoying some much-needed downtime, it’s actually the worst time for my mindful eating practice. ARGH!
At the end of this post be sure to check out Lisa’s excellent tips and tricks to use mindfulness to catch yourself not being hungry and still eating. My two favorites are: identifying hunger vs cravings and the hunger scale. CHECK IT OUT!
In the first installment, we focused on observing what is going on outside our body as well as inside before eating.
• Did you learn anything surprising?
• Are there specific people or environments that influence what or how much you eat?
• Are there any changes you made to your thoughts or environment that may positively impact your eating?
• Are there any patterns to your trouble spots during the day where you may be eating mindlessly or emotionally?
Taking even just a short moment to tune into your thoughts and emotions as well as what is happening around you can help you be more present (at the moment) and better able to hear your hunger and fullness cues. More on that in a moment.
But first, perhaps the MOST important philosophy of mindfulness is being aware of all these things without criticizing or judging yourself. For example, you are feeling stressed at your desk at work and want to eat your lunch but it’s only 10 am and you are not hungry. Rather than judging yourself and thinking: “what is wrong with me? I just had breakfast! How am I supposed to get through the day if all I want to do it eat!?”, try understanding the situation and how it is affecting you- “I am feeling stressed which usually pushes me to eat. Also, my stress is mounting with the constant chiming of emails. What I need to do is decrease my stress and food won’t do that…but a small walk to the bathroom might help me relax”.
Hearing and correctly interpreting hunger signals is integral to becoming your own expert on food. Judging yourself for feeling hungry or too full makes listening and interpreting harder to do. It can be helpful to aim to set the criticizing and judgment of food and weight aside for a few days to understand how freeing it is to live without them.
There are many things you can practice to better hear and interpret hunger and fullness signals. The first place to start is with a simple question before engaging in eating: Am I hungry?
Before reaching for a snack or sitting down to a meal, find a quiet place (ideally away from food) to check in with your body’s hunger level. It may help to write out a list of physical sensations you have when actually hungry (vs experiencing a craving) and use it at this moment of checking in. The more you practice checking in with head hunger (ex. cravings or appetite) vs stomach hunger (actual need for energy), the easier and more intuitive it becomes.
It can be hard to hear subtle hunger cues and if you are anything like me, you may like a step by step guidance through this new eating territory. Practice listening for the cues before eating by following these steps:
1. Move away from the food or do this exercise before coming into contact with food such as before walking into the restaurant, kitchen or party. You can do this in your car, in the bathroom or in another room of your house.
2. Calm down by taking a few deep breaths.
3. Connect with your body and physical sensation. Place a hand on your abdomen and picture your stomach. How
full is it? How empty is it?
4. Ask yourself “Am I hungry?” “What physical hunger/fullness sensations am I feeling?”
5. Observe if there are any other physical signals or sensation? (ex. Edgy, weak, tired, thirsty?).
6. Notice your thoughts in this moment. Are you rationalizing eating? Feeling guilty or ashamed?
7. Beware of any negative thoughts you may have and let them go before eating.
That’s it- just practice noticing the difference between being hungry or wanting to eat for another reason. Wondering what to do if you are not hungry but want to eat? Stay tuned! There is more to come
BONUS! Understanding if you are hungry or not is a big step. If this activity comes easy to you, then try this bonus step #8: if you are truly hungry, start to evaluate how hungry you are using a mindfulness hunger scale. On a scales of 1-10, where 1 means starving or ravenous and 10 means so stuffed you feel sick, try to determine what level your hunger is at before eating. This can be used as a guide for portion size.