I don’t know about you, but I have never been "at one" with meditation. It always seems like I am forcing it to fit into my busy life.
Zen. Transcendental. Kundalini Yoga.
I dabbled, with limited success for a few years, off and on, but never consistently enough to make it a habit.
In hindsight, I realize I just didn't believe it would work for me. I told myself I didn't have the time or patience for that, while my extreme lack of focus, lack of time, and lack of patience has only gotten worse as I get older.
Does this sound like a familiar story?
What “mindfulness” means
Mindfulness is a form of meditation. It is where your attention is right now.
I like the definition I found in the Depression Sourcebook:
"Mindfulness is a way of thinking and focusing that can help you become more aware of your present experiences. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as noticing the taste of a mint on your tongue. There are some things you might do every day without even thinking about them, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the feelings and sensations of these experiences."*
If you are multi-tasking, juggling babies, worrying about next weeks’ presentation, or scanning facebook, then your mind is not in the here and now.
Applying mindfulness to eating
We all know people (ahem) who stress-eat. Mindlessly grab a chocolate muffin on the way to work because we have to eat something and the morning was so busy with getting ready, getting kid / kids / pet / fed ... or maybe we woke up late because our sleep cycle hasn't been consistent.
I knew I was doing a lot of mindless eating last winter and part of me didn’t want to stop.
Because to a certain extent the (extra) food and alcohol filled a deep need. In some ways I hurt and a part of me wanted to go down that dark road.
Until I didn’t anymore.
Have you found yourself on this road?
I was self-aware enough to realize that something needed to change. If I could get control over my sugar cravings, then other successes could follow (like burning fat and gaining back the fitness I had lost by my own actions).
We all need to eat. And with that diurnal ritual I want you to practice making that time sacred for you. Make it your gift to you, and focus on the very nourishment you give your body. Let your nourishment, your food, be the sacred thing where you are fully in the here and the now. You have the power and control to decide what you eat, at every meal and every snack.
What will you find when you pay closer attention to your every bite?
The benefits of eating mindfully
You get to enjoy and savor every bite you take. You get to gift yourself with a colorful salad. You get to chew your food more, which helps your body absorb the macro and micronutrients. You get to experience a treat as an actual treat; have you ever mindlessly consumed a pint of ice cream and felt not so great, emotionally (and probably physically) afterwards?.
Eating mindfully forces you to slow down and pay attention to what you are putting in your body. You control it because you absolutely have the power. Even when it is a busy day, you can care for yourself by being present and aware of the bites you are taking.
Why it can actually help
A mental health therapist made me aware that checking in throughout the day to “be in the moment” would help with my emotional volatility.
As it turns out, there is a literature to back up her assertion. Being present for the preparation for your meals and eating them has real benefits to your life. One example I found in an encyclopedia of alternative medicine is the practice of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction:
"Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a form of complementary medicine based on the concept that individuals can be more comfortable with their own lives and better able to cope with the problems and issues in daily life by developing the skills of focusing one's attention to and awareness of mind and body. This skill, also known as sati, has its roots in Buddhism, but as used in MBSR, has no particular religious association."**
The mindfulness approach is taken by health professionals in psychotherapy and for treating binge eating. In an approach called Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT):
"Evidence to date supports the value of MB-EAT in decreasing binge episodes, improving one's sense of self-control with regard to eating, and diminishing depressive symptoms." ***
That sense of self-control and diminishing of depressive symptoms resonates with me. I don't claim to have a medically defined eating disorder, nor do I claim to understand all of the physical and psychological factors involved. However, I do think it is significant that a mindfulness approach is used by professionals to empower disordered eaters and make strides in depressive symptoms.
I also found a book in its second edition written on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, written for healthcare providers, with chapters like: "Cultivating Attention and Compassion", "Teaching Mindfulness in Therapy", and "The Neurobiology of Mindfulness".****
There is so much to read and learn more about this topic of mindfulness, eating, and alleviating depression.
What steps can you take today?
I suggest you start by keeping a food journal. Because the food journal might be a big leap for some (it was something I resisted for YEARS), I have three quick, easy tips for connecting mindfulness with your food.
You will want to sign up to get my guide as I have some great tricks and skills that help you form better habits and, also, it is FUN!
With journaling you can not only have greater awareness of the food choices you are making all day every day, you can also make connections between your moods and your digestion and the foods you eat. This will inform your future choices, because you are being intentional.
It takes time to write down every bite of food we eat each day. For years I said it was something I "should" do but never did. It is a habit, and it has enormous benefits for mindfulness and wellness.
You can choose to track fat, carb, or calorie intake (if this is part of your goals). There are apps to help you do this like Calorific or Lose It!.
I use a paper journal and a fountain pen.
Finally, where I am coming from in sharing this with you
I am on a learning journey about my own body, nutrition, and my emotions. I want to more fully understand emerging research and what works in my own life and how I can help others. We are all bio-individuals, so what will work for you may be slightly different than what helps me.
I strive to share the most up to date information and to sift through the contradictions so you can make real steps in your journey to managing your mood and your emotions.
I know you don't have the time to sift through all the research studies and sensational articles about what *might* work.
My hope is through sharing my own experience and what I learn will help you shift in your life and choose to grab your own personal power instead of a chocolate muffin. :)
*Newton, David E. "Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)." The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Ed. Laurie J. Fundukian. 4th ed. Vol. 3. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. 1620-1622. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 June 2016.
**Alternative and Complementary Therapies Used for Depression." Depression Sourcebook. Ed. Amy L. Sutton. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2012. 441-454. Health Reference Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 June 2016.
***“Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation” Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention Volume 19, Issue 1, 2010 Special Issue: Eating Disorders and Mindfulness http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10640266.2011.533605
****Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Second Edition Christopher K. Germer, Ronald D. Siegel, Paul R. FultonGuilford Press, Jul 19, 2013 - 382 pages https://books.google.com/books?id=5bntvqfJa2wC&lpg=PP1&ots=XWulytmJmd&lr&pg=PA5#v=onepage&q&f=false