Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating: A Practice. This is Class 1: Mindfulness.

Thank you for being here. Before we begin, take some time and remove any unnecessary distractions: turning off your cell phone, turning off any additional screens, letting yourself become comfortable, and warm enough, and give yourself permission to be able to stay mindful and to take care of your physical comfort needs as we move through our session.

We'll begin today with a simple mindfulness exercise. This will help us become more aware of physical sensations in a non-judgmental way. So, let's begin. Either sitting at the edge of your chair with your feet on the floor or taking a seat on the floor and crossing your legs or any other position that you find serves your body, just allowing yourself to come into a comfortable position, a position that you'll be able to maintain for a few minutes.

To begin, feel the bottoms of your feet resting on the floor. Any point of contact of your feet. Feel the points of contact of your feet resting on the floor. Notice what your body feels like resting on the chair or sitting on the ground. Notice what your body feels like without any judgment or any need for your body to feel a particular way.

Now, guide your awareness to the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Without changing your breath in any way, simply observing the sensations of the rising and falling of your belly as you breathe. Open to whatever sensations are around your chest, your heart. Noticing whatever sensations you feel in your shoulders right now.

Becoming aware of your facial expression. Sensing your mouth, the muscles around your eyes. Not judging the sensations as good or bad, simply noticing what they feel like right now. And now bring awareness to one full breath in and a long breath out.

Notice how you feel can begin to move your fingers, your toes, take bigger movements and bigger breaths. When you're ready, open your eyes. Give yourself a moment to transition back into our class on mindfulness.

Congratulations! We just completed a mindful exercise together. Take a moment and reflect about the things you notice. What did you notice during our mindful exercise? Briefly answer: What do you enjoy about eating? And also, what challenges do you have? What challenges do you have around eating?

The brief story will focus around a dieting story. For example, it may sound like this: "I feel guilty when I eat the food I like. There's good foods, there's bad foods. I might as well eat the rest. I'm hopeless. There's just a little left, I'll finish it up. I'll be happy when I lose weight, or I'll be happy when I lose weight then I'll buy that new outfit. Oh no, I can't eat that. It's not on my diet. Or, I sneak food when no one's looking. I hide food just in case. I'm always hungry. I'm always hungry. Just one and then the whole bag is finished. I can't, I give up." Maybe some of your story sounds similar.

Take some time and write in your journal about your experience with food and dieting. And by staying aware of physical and breath sensations, we create the opportunity for this experience to become more mindful. Pause for a moment now and ask yourself, what have you learned from dieting?

Perhaps you've learned that dieting consumes a lot of energy or that dieting drives guilt and cravings. Dieting doesn't address the real reasons we overeat. Dieting contributes to the act of ignoring physical signs of hunger. Diets are usually all or nothing. The yoyo weight gain or even more weight gained then before the diet. Restricting ourselves while on a diet and then overeating when we fail. Someone else becomes the expert.

Take a moment and imagine what it would feel like to be at ease with yourself and the food you eat without guilt or fear. By doing this, we are developing intention. We're developing in intentionality. So, let's just pause for a moment and imagine what it would feel like to be at ease with yourself and at ease with the food you eat without the sensations of guilt or fear.

With non-judgmental awareness we can learn to eat instinctively and to feel at ease with our choices.

Let's learn more about how mindfulness can help us be mindful eaters.

We're about to watch a video from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in which he talks about the nine attitudes of mindfulness and how to use them in our mindfulness practices and daily life. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of The Center of Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He's also the founder of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic. He teaches mindfulness and mindfulness-based stress reduction in various venues around the world. Let's take a look. 

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness is the intention to observe non-judgmentally with curiosity and kindness what is happening moment to moment. Mindful eating is not about good or bad foods or even dieting. Instead, mindful eating is about developing awareness of our experiences with food and sensing our physical cues of hunger and satisfaction and being able to respond in a loving and compassionate way to our body's signals.

Mindful eating is shifting from being controlled by food to being at ease with our choices and with eating. Remember, mindful eating is not a diet. Mindful eating is a way of living intentionally. The why of eating. We need to understand our underlying motivation for eating in order to develop mindfulness. To develop a deeper sense of mindfulness it's very helpful to have an understanding of our underlying motivation for eating.

Typically, the underlying motivation for eating revolves around physical reasons, external environmental triggers, and internal emotional triggers. Physical reasons for eating are the signs your body gives you when it's hungry, feeling like you're out of energy, the rumbling in your tummy or a deep sense of thirst, or maybe even having an emptiness feeling, the need to eat food to fuel your body.

On the other, hand external environmental triggers are things like seeing food. Have you ever gone to the movie and just because you're at the movie and you see the popcorn, all of a sudden you want the popcorn? Or, have you ever looked at a child's unfinished food and felt like you should probably finish it, so it doesn't go to waste? Things like seeing food or advertisements, even time of day and holidays can all feed into external environmental triggers of why we eat.

On the other hand, internal emotional triggers come from things like stress, boredom, frustration, loneliness, sadness, even anger or procrastination. And on the flip side you have things like happiness, celebrations and gatherings, events, and love. Let's also include the restrictiveness of dieting which can lead to overeating.

Take a moment now and contemplate, why do you eat it? Is it because of physical reasons? External environmental triggers? Internal emotional triggers? Or a combination? How would you describe emotional eating? Emotional eating is the use of food to regulate emotions. In other words, attempting to manage our mood with food. When we eat for emotional reasons, we are attempting to do something healthy, to take care of ourselves. This means that despite our relationship with food our instinct is natural, and we are not broken. We are not a failure. However, the relationship we've had with food has failed us.

This comes down to a practice of self-compassion. From a self-compassion perspective, we can see that emotional connections to food are normal. We eat to socialize, to express love, to have fun, to soothe the hurt, and to reward ourselves for a job well done. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's our natural instinct to use food to manage our emotions and you'd be hard pressed to find a culture where food doesn't play some role in comfort and celebration.

Emotional eating only becomes a problem when it's the primary way we cope with or avoid our feelings. I'm willing to bet that we've all reached for food when we're feeling stressed or bored, lonely, mad, or sad. However, when our habit is to use food instead of paying attention to what these emotions are trying to tell us about our underlying needs, those needs go unmet. And of course, those unmet needs will continue to drive emotional eating.

Now that we have a deeper understanding that we're not broken, and that emotional eating only becomes a problem when it's the primary way we cope with or avoid our feelings. Let's take a look at a video from Dr. Kristin Neff on the power of self-compassion. In this video, Dr. Neff talks about how those people who are more self-compassionate have much more resiliency to handle difficult times. Let's take a look. 

​Nourishment to Live Life

When we are practicing self-compassion, we are much more likely to remember that we are not broken, we are not a failure. However, our relationship in our food environment has failed us. Remember, food meets one need best: nourishment to live life. Eating when you're not hungry will never meet your true needs.

I'd like to take you through a mindfulness exercise. A mindful exercise to help you scan your inner territory to become more in tune with your physical, mental, and emotional states and needs. Allow yourself to be comfortable wherever you are; sitting in a chair, for example, at the edge of the chair with your feet on the floor or if you need to come down and lay on your back. Just make yourself comfortable. This is your practice and it will be helpful to stay warm. As we do longer practices, our body can tend to cool down so make sure you'll be warm and comfortable as we move through our mindfulness practice.

Allow yourself to be comfortable in the chair making any adjustments you need. Don't worry if you're feeling fidgety, it's okay. If you need to make adjustments throughout the exercise, make adjustments. Make yourself comfortable.

Now begin to move your attention down into your body, noticing how your feet feel resting flat on the floor. Sensing where your body is in contact with the chair. Noticing the movement of your chest and belly as you breathe. Now, if it's comfortable for you, taking a long breath in and a slow breath out.

And now noticing whatever sensations are present in your neck and shoulders right now. Not judging the feelings as good or bad but simply noticing what is present in your neck and shoulders. Notice your facial expression, the muscles of your face. Allowing your lips to soften, your jaw to release. Allowing facial muscles to relax.

And if you'd like, closing your eyes or softly looking into your lap. And now, noticing your natural breath. Noticing where you experience your breath the easiest and resting your awareness there.

Thoughts will come. As best as you can let them go, return to your awareness of your breathing. How's the breath now? Perhaps inviting your body to relax with each exhale. Letting go of any judgment. Allowing tensions to dissolve. Inviting a sense of ease with your in breath.

How's your breath now? You may notice being distracted by thoughts and as a way of supporting your mind's attention we'll practice counting each in and out cycle of breathing. You can't do this exercise wrong. Simply start at one if you lose count.

Quietly to yourself you'll begin softly counting one on the in and out breath. And two on the in and out breath. Three in and out. Counting this way up to five. Keeping your counting very soft while resting most of your awareness on the feeling of your breath.

Now begin quietly counting. Letting go of the counting, allowing your breath to be natural. And now you're moving your attention to notice the thoughts that come to your mind. Watching thoughts as an observer. Simply making a silent mental note of thinking without getting caught in the story. Resting some of your awareness on your breath. Using your breath to help you stay present.

Now turn your attention to your mood. Simply notice as an observer while resting some of your awareness on the sensation of breathing. Noticing if you are tired, bored, stressed by something, hungry, experiencing physical pain. Simply noticing. You cannot do this wrong.

Noticing your mood in the present moment. Letting go of any storyline. And now taking a long breath in and a slow breath out. Notice how you feel and begin to reflect on your experience.

Gently begin to bring movement back into your fingers, your toes. If your eyes were closed, gently open your eyes and bring your attention back to your surroundings. Take a moment in this transition time to ask, what did you experience doing in this exercise? Reflect upon what connection, if any, between thoughts and feelings did you notice? How might coming into the present through your senses shift your experience?

We know that thoughts influence our feelings. And feelings fuel our actions. And actions drive our results. That's right. Thoughts influence our feelings. Feelings fuel our actions. Actions drive our results. How might you practice mindfully watching your thoughts throughout the day?

It can be as simple as reminding yourself to take a few breaths throughout the day and checking in. We are strengthening our conscious awareness through pausing and observing our thoughts. Learning to use the insights and understanding gained by checking in, helps us be more mindful. And using our growing awareness to learn more about why we eat, what we eat, how we eat, and even how we feel after we eat.

By checking in, we can notice insights about our attitudes towards food and we can address the psychological, cultural, and environmental situations which are influencing our eating habits. We're learning to pause in the moment and exercise new opportunities. Simple and not always easy.

As we come to the end of our mindfulness class, there are three attitudes that will help support your mindful eating practice: a sense of curiosity, genuine kindness, gratitude, and generosity. Remember, mindful eating and mindfulness are compassionate practices. If you make a mistake know that you can always begin again. By practicing mindfulness, we're more likely to decrease blame and shame and become more self-compassionate and thereby more resilient humans.

I leave you with some inspiring quotes to consider. "Awareness, peace and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within each of us. And if you dig deeply in the present moment the water will spring forth." - Thich Nhat Hanh

And also, this gem from Pema Chödrön, "It is said that we can't attain enlightenment let alone feel contentment and joy without seeing who we are and what we do without seeing our patterns and our habits. This is called developing loving kindness, an unconditional friendship with ourselves."

To deepen your mindful eating and mindfulness practices you have some work to do at the end of this class. You'll write down in your journal the answer to the following question: What does the life you crave look like? Remember, this is not some far off goal. This is your intention for how you want to live your life each day. What would you love to do? What would you love to do that your current relationship with food is preventing you from doing now?

You'll also be practicing five breaths and surveying your inner world. Practice being mindful throughout your day. Remember to pause and take a few conscious breaths so that you can better notice your thoughts, feelings, and mood. You'll also be practicing noticing physical hunger, external triggers, and internal triggers.

The fifth thing you'll do is to begin to notice her eating habits and write in a journal. Kind awareness is the first step to mindful eating. Take note of why you are eating without any judgment. Just simply notice and write it down. Notice when you feel like eating. Notice the physical cues and emotional. Notice the physical cues and environmental triggers.

Write down what you feel like eating when you're hungry and when you are triggered. Pay attention to how much you eat and notice how you feel after eating. And also, notice where do you use your fuel? What activities are you engaging in after you eat? Also, research resources on mindful eating that can support you. Also, remember to research resources on mindful eating that can specifically support your own personal practice. 

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