Many people have struggled for years or lifetimes to rid themselves of excess weight. Being overweight or obese can result in loss of joy in life, intense shame, helplessness, being bullied or subjected to humiliation. There are so many negative health outcomes as well, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and greater risk of heart disease and cancer. Most overweight people have tried to diet, starved themselves,mentally beaten themselves up about their eating, tried to have more so-called "willpower," with only short-term or ineffective results. The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, yet many merchants sell unrealistic promises & wishful thinking, rather than teaching people new skills & ways of living that can transform their lives.
The Role of Culture & Media
Part of the problem is the split in our culture between "physical" and "mental." Our minds and bodies are interconnected and excess weight can be a sign of systemic imbalance This imbalance is also caused by our culture's overvaluing of thinness and the unrealistic, surgery or liposuction-enhanced role models we see on tv and in magazines every day. Studies show that the average model is thinner than 97% of Americans, yet this is what we are told we should be like. We all have different genes, family backgrounds, and life demands or stresses, and these limit what we can look like. In order to meet the cultural ideal, most of us would have to starve ourselves, take diet pills, smoke, spend money we don't have, and adopt a variety of other negative & unhealthy behaviors.
The idea of "mindful eating" is an alternative, more holistic and compassionate approach to weight & eating. Most diets impose harsh external restrictions and do not take your individual circumstances into account. In contrast, "mindful eating" involves deliberately & compassionately tuning in to your own inner experiences, including thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. With this focus, you begin to be more aware of the sensory aspects of eating, such as the taste & texture of food, when you feel hungry and full, and whether you are actually hungry or just bored, anxious, sad or angry.
Below are some mindful principles that can help you manage your weight and begin to live a healthier life:
1. Begin to notice in what ways your eating is automatic and "mindless."
When hungry, do you automatically reach for the tub of ice cream or fries, without taking time to note what you are really hungry for? Do you eat while multitasking, such as watching TV, texting, driving, or working? Do you gulp the food down quickly without really tasting it? Begin to notice your automatic patterns & habits around eating that stop you from being fully present.
2. Slow down and focus on your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
Notice the way your breath flows in and out of your body and how this changes when you get anxious. Become aware of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you are having when you eat. Do you feel helpless or ashamed; angry or rebellious? Sit down when you eat and stop doing other things. Try to eat slowly, noticing the taste and texture of the food. put your fork down between bites. Try to stretch out the experience of eating.
3. Develop positive rituals around food and eating
Many overweight people associate eating with shame, self-hatred, and helplessness. You may eat quickly or secretively. You may think negative or self-punishing thoughts when you eat. Mindful eating involves reaching for the positive instead.Take time to shop for groceries. Try to buy the freshest, most natural, colorful and tasty foods you can afford. Before you eat, take a moment to notice the sight and smell of the food and breathe in its flavor. Take a moment to express gratitude for the meal.
4. Choose a way of eating you can live with forever
A typical diet involves restricting food intake for quick weight loss to reach a particular goal in as short a time as possible. The problem is that when the goal is reached, you revert back to your old patterns and quickly put weight back on again. You begin to feel like a failure. With mindful eating, the focus is on developing healthier eating and exercise patterns that you can live with for the rest of your life. Healthy living is something positive that can add pleasure and energy to your life. Everybody has their own way of defining and living this.
5. Encourage and nurture yourself
The process of lifestyle change is long and difficult. Begin by trying to accept and love yourself right now, as you exist in this moment. ironically, positive change is easiest when you don't try to force changes and beat up on yourself. You are doing this for you, not to please anybody else. Make a list of your reasons for wanting to be healthier and carry it with you. Focus on the realistic benefits you can achieve, such as improved health, mood, and energy. Imagine yourself in the future living a more vital, free & energetic life, less hampered by the excess weight and automatic patterns.
The first step is always the most difficult, but, with these principles, you can begin to transform your relationship with food and experience of eating. Make conscious & mindful choice about the way you feed yourself. Let go of automatic patterns & begin to be fully present in your life.
Melanie Greenberg is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, Marin County, CA. She is also a researcher, author, and national speaker with expertise in mind-body health, & managing emotions & stress,.
Visit my website at http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/
Follow me on Twitter @drmelanieg
For more articles, visit my other blog: http://marinpsychologist.blogspot.com
Copyright by Melanie A. Greenberg, PhD, 2011. All rights reserved.
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