“I Can’t Believe I Just Ate That!”
Have these words ever crossed your lips? They’ve certainly crossed mine, but I now know that the only purpose they serve is to invoke guilt and excuse me from my own power as if it were someone else’s hand that magically put that food in my mouth!!
This brings me to the concept of “mindfulness”. Clients often ask me “what exactly IS mindfulness and how do I practice it effectively?” I describe mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose”, and like any other practice, it takes time, awareness, and being present to become habit.
In our everyday lives there are many decisions we give thought to and plan for on a regular basis. Some decisions are big ones that have a long term impact and others require minimal thought with less impact on the big picture. Then there are small decisions that can have long term effects and consequences. The weight on thought when it comes to making decisions is often a matter of priority, i.e. how important is this thing we’re making a decision about? Let’s build a couple of scenarios for making decisions around food.
Scenario 1: You’re having supper at a friend’s where you had a couple of cocktails and a 5 course meal and you just can’t eat another thing. Your friend brings out a slice of chocolate layer cake and because she went to the trouble and you don’t want to appear rude, you say you’ll have a bite or two and take the rest home for tomorrow. Your friend sits down and you continue visiting. Within 10 minutes the piece of cake is gone and you barely remember eating the first 2 bites!! How did THAT happen and what are the consequences?
– guilt (why did I do that? I was “bad!”)
– powerlessness (I have no discipline.)
– possible gastro issues (over indulgence)
– possible heart palpitations (sugar, caffeine)
– interference with sleep (sugar, caffeine, full stomach)
Scenario 2: You come home from a stressful 7am to 3pm nursing shift and change into some comfy clothes. You’re a little bit hungry and there’s a nice juicy organic orange on the counter as well as a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies. You impulsively choose the cookies and curl up on the couch. Mmmm! Five minutes later….
– Why did I do that? (no discipline, powerless)
– I should have had the orange! (guilt, shame)
– My blood sugar is rising (physical consequence, crash and burn)
With the first scenario, there’s definitely an element of mindlessness that occurred. But in both scenarios, there is another element that might help explain the question “why did I do that?” Sometimes it’s not the cake, or the chocolate chip cookies, the bowl of ice cream, or the bag of Doritos that we want, but instead, what we want is how having them makes us feel! Comforted, decadent, cared for, safe, loved, etc. These are emotional attachments that may very well be subconscious and have nothing to do with discipline.
So circle back around to the concept of mindfulness and “paying attention on purpose”. Being present and having an awareness (think yoga!) around our thoughts and emotions where food is involved is key. When the opportunity arises to make a choice around a less healthy food, first take 10 slow, deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out with a sigh. Then check in with yourself with these few questions.
– Am I sad? (grandma always gave me food to make it all better)
– Am I lonely? (food is my friend and it loves me unconditionally)
– Am I stressed? (life is an emergency and I need to store fat)
– Am I angry? (food doesn’t fight back)
– Am I hungry? (food vs feeling)
– What am I hungry for? (a hug? conversation with a friend? a walk in nature? a more fulfilling life? a massage?)
– And, how will having this cake/ice cream/cookies/Doritos, etc. make me feel? (guilty? ashamed? sick? bloated? powerless?)
By the time you’ve checked in with yourself you have, at the very least avoided making an impulsive (or compulsive) decision around food. Then you can practice saying the 2 most influential words we can ever say to ourselves… I AM!
– I am loved/lovable
– I am worthy/worth it
– I am powerful
– I am in perfect health
– I am grateful for my body
– I AM
In closing, mindfulness is also about planning ahead so that you have more healthy choices available to you and always remember… it’s not what we do once in a while (lose the guilt!), it’s what we do most of the time that will have the greatest impact!!