One of the hardest parts about losing weight isn’t choosing what to eat. You know you should focus on fresh, lower-calorie foods and steer clear of sugary, fat-laden treats. Often, the real challenge is more about changing how and why you eat. One strategy that just might help is the practice of mindfulness, according to a recent review in Current Obesity Reports.
One of the main benefits of mindfulness approaches for weight loss is to help people recognize emotional eating, says mindfulness expert Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Very few of us eat solely based on hunger cues. We also eat to soothe anxiety, sadness, or irritation,” he says. That’s a recipe for mindless eating: You’re operating on automatic pilot, without paying attention to how you really feel, emotionally or physically.
Mindfulness practices help you notice these common patterns, which are similar to what happens with many types of addiction, says Dr. Siegel. Most human behaviors are based on conditioned patterns of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Those behaviors we refer to as addictions have good short-term consequences (the pleasure of eating a piece of chocolate cake) but bad long-term consequences (becoming overweight).
Self-awareness for losing weight? Notice your cravings
Addictive behaviors are prone to what addiction expert G. Alan Marlatt called the abstinence violation effect. For example, you might have a plan to eat healthfully, but then you see a chocolate cake. “You break down and eat a piece, but then feel so horrible about your lack of self-control that you feel a desperate need to self-soothe — and end up eating the rest of the cake,” says Dr. Siegel.
Once you become aware of these patterns, the next step is finding a way to cope with cravings. Simply avoiding tempting foods is difficult, because tasty treats are widely available nearly everywhere you go. Mindfulness can help you notice the craving and recognize that you can deal with the discomfort, which may be accentuated by unhappy emotions. By turning your attention to those feelings and practicing self-awareness, you can notice that the feelings come and go. “Urges and cravings comes in waves, and we can ride them out,” says Dr. Siegel.
Self-acceptance and defusion
Another aspect of mindfulness training is self-acceptance. If you do give in to a craving, forgive yourself and move on. “None of us is perfect, you don’t have to torture yourself,” says Dr. Siegel. Four of the 12 studies in the recent review article focused on acceptance-based behavior training, which relies on mindfulness strategies to identify emotions rather than avoid them.
In one small study of people with heart disease, participants were encouraged to recognize that eating healthfully and exercising is really challenging, and that pretending that it isn’t just makes it all the more distressing. Instead, they were taught a practice called defusion, in which you distance yourself from unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This helped them tolerate the distress of trying to make heart-healthy behavior changes. Participants gave high marks to the program and made positive changes in their diet and exercise habits.
Another promising strategy noted in the review includes different types of mindfulness meditation, such as an eating-focused practice in which people were taught to acknowledge their hunger levels, emotions, thoughts, motivations, and eating environment with acceptance but without judgment. The practice was most effective when combined with self-compassion, which involved repeating phrases of good will and benevolence for oneself and others.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Psalm 27:13 ESV I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Matthew 9:20-22 ESV And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
Psalm 23:1-6 ESV A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. …
Proverbs 23:7 ESV For he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.
2 Peter 1:3 ESV His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
Hebrews 2:1 ESV Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.
John 3:1-36 ESV Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …
1 John 1:8 ESV If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Matthew 12:31-33 ESV Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
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