Skinny Revisited

Using the language of anorexia to heal

Mindful Eating—A New Year, a New You

Learn to train your brain to keep track of your food intake

So youre facing the new year with a couple of extra pounds and spandex isn't working. The down side to enjoying holiday foods is realizing that quite quickly you might have gained some weight and suffer from the feeling of having lost control of your eating. It doesn't have to be that way. Not if you really pay attention to what you're eating through the engagement of mindful eating and training your brain to keep track of your food intake. With a simple tool, you can learn to do a running tally of what you've eaten which leads to developing control of your food intake. Sounds simple but it really helps when faced with the alternative—feeling more stuffed than a turkey.

Mindful eating is about really paying attention to every morsel that you eat. And that's not so easy to do. You might think that you know what you ate but it's usually an approximation that is way under-reported by people who overeat and way over-reported by restrictive eaters. One of the most effective tools in developing a positive relationship with food and your body is the use of a tiny notebook to record daily food intake. Of course using your smartphone to record what you've eaten is an option, but I've found with my patients that the mere exercise of physically writing down what they've eaten is more effective in developing the skill of mindful eating. Over time, writing helps develop the behavior of noting everything that you've eaten and eventually you will be able to do that running count in your head with the goal of identifying problematic eating behaviors. 

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Like every skill that you learn, it takes time to master it. You want to train your brain to develop the habit of paying careful attention to what you eat. I refer to it as "sober eating"—learning to be honest with yourself about what you've eaten. To say nothing of the fact that it slows you down and forces you to take a breath. It sounds really simple and perhaps might sound annoying, but writing in that tiny notebook seems to work. And over time, you can identify patterns and begin making sense of when, why and how much you eat. The goal is to develop a new behavior even though we are wired to fight change and hold onto old behaviors—what is familiar regardless of whether it works for us or not.

In my work with eating disorders, I help people learn how to eat and evolve from disordered eating to eating that sustains health. There is a huge psychological component to eating—the very reason diets don't work and why you gain everything back and more when you diet. Dieting, a form of restrictive eating, is probably the worst manifestation of restrictive eating because it is someone else's version of what you should eat. And that totally disregards the need for satiety-- feeling positively and satisfied with what you just ate. The bottom line is that you need to eat food that you enjoy but the key is learning to become hyperaware of the quantity and whether the food is good for your particular body.

Writing in that tiny notebook is about developing a new habit which is how we change behavior—making new pathways in the brain all of which take time and repetition. I remember last Christmas my ninetythree- year old father turning to me and commenting “you watch what you eat, Maria, after I complained that my clothes felt so tight after a huge Italian holiday dinner. I laughed and answered, as a matter of fact, I do!

Maria Baratta, Ph.D.L.C.S.W., is a clinician based in New York. Her book, Skinny Revisited, focuses on the healing of eating disorders.

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