How to Be More Mindful When You Eat

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How to Be More Mindful When You Eat

June 12, 2014

Happy woman eating

Each and every day we of use our brains to think about the various tasks and responsibilities that must be accomplished. We think about what we are going to do, what we will wear and, of course, what we want to eat. At times we overthink, and think at the speed of light. This leads to what I call “speed disease.”

Not only do our thoughts race swiftly, but this also contributes to the notion of wanting everything to speed up so we can complete our tasks quickly. We desire “fast” things in our life, from the Internet to weight loss to fast food. If our goals are not met quickly, this leads to frustration and possibly failure. The inescapable truth is that many people need to slow down their thoughts and habits to achieve their health and wellness goals. 

Thinking and Eating Problems

In terms of eating for weight loss, what you eat and how you eat are two halves of the metabolic equation. In modern-day America, it is common to view eating as a chore to complete quickly rather than an enjoyable part of the day. Work, meetings, driving, television shows and errands take precedence over the once mindful experience of eating with family and friends and in enjoyable environments.

Environments such as the car, desk and computer screen set the stage for fast eating, which disrupts digestion. However, our thoughts are also key in terms of eating, healthy digestion and weight loss. Eating while rushing around town or the house leads to mindless consumption while the mind stresses or worries about deadlines, relationships or where you left the keys.  

However, the power of thought greatly influences the eating process, even if the body is in an aesthetically pleasing environment. For example, if someone sits alone in the park and eats while crying over a recent breakup, this will trigger the fight or flight response, which disrupts digestion. Therefore, integrating negative emotions and thoughts while eating does not promote the relaxation response, which is ideal for digestion, assimilation and weight loss.

The Miraculous Brain

Research scientists continuously study the brain and human anatomy. While there is much still to learn, researchers have discovered that the brain cannot differentiate between real and fake stress. Studies have shown that the brain triggers a stress response even when the physical body is not presently in a dangerous situation. When the body triggers a stress response, it is a biological process that automatically reacts when threats are present. Therefore, with some degree of severity, the body programs a similar stress response whether you are running to a meeting, escaping a car crash or worrying about being short on this month’s mortgage.

Another phenomena that science has shown to be true is the “placebo effect.”  This experiment has been used in various studies where one group receives a placebo and another group receives the drug or actual treatment. Various research studies have used brain scans to reveal that the drug-induced treatment and placebo treatment light up the same areas of the brain.

The Amazing Body

As mentioned, fast eating, eating on the go and negative thoughts stress the body. When stressed, the body responds with elevated blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. In addition, the body releases hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline) for immediate energy use and blood flows away from the midsection toward the head and working muscles to “fight or flight.” In essence, this shuts down digestion and decreases salivary enzymes and affects the breakdown of fats, carbs and proteins.  

The relaxation part of the central nervous system, the parasympathetic, needs to be stimulated while eating. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated before we begin eating through a term known as the cephalic phase (cephalic means “of the head”). This phase occurs due to the sight, smell, thought or taste of food, and the brain stimulates gastric secretion and the parasympathetic nervous system to turn digestion on. This phase is critical as up to 20 percent or more of digestion and caloric-burning power originates from the “head” phase. Therefore, how we eat and what we think enhances or affects the eating process.

Knowledge is Power

This knowledge is powerful as it helps us understand the biological process and confirms that notion that “perception is reality.” This is very important for individuals with large weight-loss goals who tend to focus on the negative, fixate on every calorie eaten and feel frustrated about being “fat.” Worry and negative thoughts cause stress, which in turn leads to chronic low-level stress causing elevation in insulin and cortisol (the weight-gaining hormones).

Think Before You Eat

Luckily, changing the way we eat and think is easier than you might think. Here are some tips to help you on your path to think your way to weight loss.

-Deep Breathing: The simplest habit one can establish is to use the power of oxygen. If rushed, take three to five deep breaths before eating a meal to stimulate the relaxation response and aide digestion.  The intestinal villi are small fingerlike projections that absorb nutrients. Their role is greatly influenced by the levels of oxygen, thus boosting digestion power.

-Be Present: Many mindful-eating techniques strongly advocate eating as a pleasurable experience. For eating to become pleasurable, one must find a relaxing environment and/or keep thoughts connected to the experience. Being in the moment helps you focus on the experience and disconnects the stress and emotional eating habits. It is challenging to disconnect from emails and technology at first. If you find it challenging to disconnect, write down anything that bothers you or a list of the tasks you have to complete before eating. 

-Slow Food to Fast Food: If you have to eat out while at work, or choose to eat out, select a café or restaurant where the environment doesn’t advocate for “fast.” Many cafes have pre-made sandwiches and salads; therefore, the food is “quickly” served, but offers an inviting atmosphere.

-Stay Positive: When eating out with friends or family, keep conversations positive and stimulating. Keep personal issues and world outrage conversations for after dinner.

-Feel Thin Not Fat: This aspect is very challenging for many individuals, but it is important to remember that weight loss takes time, patience and a positive outlook. This is where the placebo effect truly benefits weight loss.

Most people who have weight to lose sometimes look in the mirror and are disappointed with what they see. Throughout my years of experience as a trainer, I’ve heard every negative comment, including people hating themselves because of their weight. These negative comments do not serve the overall purpose of a weight-loss journey.  

Find Your Placebo: There are many ways to feel thin, healthy, whole and complete. A popular quote from the Buddha states, “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” This powerful message is, in fact, a placebo effect in getting the brain to believe certain aspects and traits. Overweight and obese individuals can speak or write positive affirmations on feeling good, thin and loved. Without the mind being on board, the body has a challenging time trying to follow the lifestyle habits that facilitate weight loss.  

In addition, keep your thoughts positive and praise the choices you’ve made. Even reading this article to further educate yourself is a step in the right direction toward achieving your overall goal.

-Breathe and Meditate: Meditation is a great way to instill relaxation, increase oxygen flow and to get in touch with one’s physiology. The combination of relaxation and oxygen flow stimulates the body and produces overall positive effects on the body, mind and hormones. Meditation is an ideal time for powerful thoughts and reflecting on feelings of being thin, healthy and happy.

If you have any questions in regards to thinking your way to weight loss, please do not hesitate to contact me at: erkovar@yahoo.com  

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