Mindfulness and weight loss

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature friends eating a healthy meal

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that relieves anxiety and stress by teaching you how to stay in the moment. As somebody who has practised many forms of meditation over several decades, the term ‘mindfulness’ seemed to me, at first, to be just another label for something that is thousands of years old. However, having given it some thought, I see the benefits of calling it ‘mindfulness’, because it strips the activity of both religious and cultural connotations. Meditation, in the view of some, is something performed by hippy types, and so they shun it as something that isn’t for them. However, mindfulness sounds a great deal more mainstream somehow, and as a result is attracting people who might otherwise never discover its benefits.

As I started to write this, a friend of mine, Izabela  L-Sletner, who teaches mindfulness, had just published her latest blog post on the topic, and it nicely offered a take on what I was about to write with regard to mindfulness, healthy eating and weight loss. Izabela’s blog post dealt with how we are taught to control our desires rather than indulge them. She wrote: “There was something wrong with the very notion of having a desire. There was something frivolous and egoistic in it. The real virtue was in giving up and giving away or in working very, very hard hoping for a reward.”  Weight loss, as many of us are aware, is all about denial in return for a feeling of being virtuous. Then we reward ourselves, and go back to the cycle of denial, virtue, reward. But, mindful eating can help us get past that and you can even take courses in it, I am informed.

Mindful eating

The first rule of mindful eating is this: eat with intention and attention, says mindful eating expert Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi. Too many of us rush meals, or do other things while we’re eating, which means we don’t focus on the food. Consequently, our brains don’t have the time to register the fact that we have eaten and we end up still feeling hungry even though we have eaten a sufficient amount. Eating in front of the television has the same effect and as for eating while texting or Facebooking, these also work against healthy eating. Dr Pezzolesi says that when we eat, we should, “use all our senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.”

Mandy Pearson, the co-author of Mindful Eating, a book that provides a strategy for stopping “mindless eating,” believes that “Mindfulness brings awareness to your eating habits and that’s the first step to long-lasting change.” There are no quick fixes to weight loss and maintaining your desired weight, but ditching some of the ways we eat, as well as the foods themselves is an important part of the mindfulness programme.

Mindful eating can also help each one of us to figure out what’s behind our eating habits: what’s the cause of one person’s overeating, or another person’s choice of unhealthy foods. Practising mindfulness about food will help you pinpoint your problem areas and, as Mandy told High50 magazine, “Once you become aware, you can start making small changes that will add up to a big difference over time. Also, when you slow down, bring your full attention to your food and listen to your body whilst eating, it becomes very difficult to overeat.”

Here are three quick tips to get you started with mindful eating:

  1. Slow down, look and chew: Look at your food before you eat it. Use all your senses to appreciate the different colours. Try to identify the various aromas of spices. When you take a mouthful, savour the taste and texture, and chew before swallowing.
  2. Eat breakfast: Our modern tendency to skip breakfast, or eat it in a hurry, is a major problem that leads to overeating during the rest of the day. Making more time for breakfast and focusing on what you are eating is the more mindful way. Remove stress from breakfast and you’ll remove it from the rest of the day. That’s the theory.
  3. Only eat when you’re hungry: I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before. Mindfulness coaches advise you to keep a note of when you eat because you are actually hungry, or when other events seem to trigger ‘hunger’, such as boredom or a social event. Does a few moments of boredom send you to the biscuit tin? Distract yourself with a non-eating activity. If you are halfway through a meal and you feel full, don’t keep eating for the sake of it. Keep the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and start serving smaller portions to avoid any waste.

As Izabela says towards the end of her blog, mindfulness teaches us how to allow our desires to have an existence. That’s doesn’t mean “satisfying crazy whims immediately. It is about recognizing my preferences, likings and wishes.” This is as applicable to our approach to food and maintaining a healthy weight, as it is to other desires. In 2017, let’s try to be mindful about what we eat.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.