Glory’s Corner- March 2013
Mindful Eating: Training Your Brain for Success
It’s a Tuesday evening and I am frantically watching the clock, waiting for the evening shift nurse to take a report from me so I can leave the cold operating room. All I can think about is the fact that in two hours, I have not had water or a bathroom break; even worse, there isn’t a crumb left in my lunch bag. I am pissed off at the attending surgeon- we had a fight earlier in the day, as well as my coworker, who is always late. I’m so uncomfortable, and as my patient lies there asleep on the operating table, all I can think about is FOOD! I need to get out of here. It’s cold and I hate this place. I race home in tears, annoyed with traffic, cursing at the other people stuck in the same line of cars, like I am the only one that matters. What’s in my fridge? If I do an extra cardio session tomorrow, I can eat what I want! I’m starving! Or am I? I just had a full meal 3 hours ago. But I’m so freaking hungry and so lean already. What does it matter? I have a jar of almond butter. The entire drive home, I am formulating some kind of sweet and savory something that involves everything in the kitchen except the dang countertop. I’m so uncomfortable and that spoonful of goodness will take me to heaven!!
Whoa Nelllyyy! This is where I was for months. Ups and downs with binging on food due to non-food related issues. And was I ever going to die from starvation? I think not. I was not starving. It was a matter of being uncomfortable and in a state of panic, turning to another habit to comfort me. Food, as it is for many people, was a habitual form of comfort during unhappiness and anxiety, and procrastination when I had a full schedule of work and chores to do. Learning to deal with this was mind over matter. It was practice and some days still takes practice. Through practicing mindfulness, I have found a balance in so many areas of my life and I have managed to build a healthy relationship with food.
Today, the most common word in my vocabulary is MINDFULNESS. I bet my clients would tell you they hear it too much! How do I stay on track with my training and diet regimen? How do I have just one bite? How do I avoid temptation? Questions I am asked frequently. I have learned to be mindful. It helped me get out of the vicious rollercoaster I was on and it is one tool that can impact every area of your life, although for purposes of this blog I am applying it to diet and eating. Through these applications you can retrain your brain to become self-aware and control your thoughts when you cannot control your environment. Mindfulness has been researched and proven to help problematic eaters and dieters, and leads to long term health benefits.
In a busy world it seems that most failed diet approaches stem from stress or other factors. In fact, without stress and busy life, I would be inclined to say dieting is pretty easy. It takes practice and commitment daily to learn to control your thoughts and eventually learn a new automatic response to stress that doesn’t involve running for the fridge or the pantry. Mindfulness can teach you to deal with emotions and teach you to listen to cues for what your body needs. Such as how to identify when you’re satiated versus when you’re satisfied. There are tons of exercises you can use to start training your own brain to help you achieve those diet goals. Here are three that worked for me and are still a part of my daily life.
1 Be present at each meal. This means eat slow and purposefully, enjoying every flavor in every bite of your food. For each item on your plate, give thought into what brought that food to your mouth and be thankful for it, from the seed the grew into your veggies, to the farmer that picked your fruit! You will not only appreciate more the experience of eating, but slowed down so not to overeat, becoming aware of what goes in your mouth from quality to portion sizes. When we are in a society that is always in a hurry, it is important to slow down!
2 Replace your bad habit. You can train your brain to respond to a situation or feeling with a little bit of willpower and consistent practice. Once you become aware of that uncomfortable feeling or anxiety leading you to overeat, under eat, purge, or whatever it may be, start practicing a new habit that will move you toward your goals rather than set you back. Make note of this EVERYWHERE! Post it on your fridge, phone, dashboard of your car, or anywhere you look frequently. This habit should be productive. Whenever I was drawn to binge, I chose to lay on the floor and do breathing and meditation practices instead. Some suggestions could be answer important emails, wash laundry, do burpees or pushups, or call a loved one! Whatever it is, make sure it is healthy and takes your mind away from the food. This task should take about 15 minutes or more. I guarantee once your mind focuses on something else, you will forget about your bad habit. With consistent practice, your brain will make this an automatic response!
3 When dining out, it is easy to go overboard! With oversized portions and calorie packed meals, binging is easy to do without even thinking about it! Be MINDFUL of choosing a restaurant. Take a look at the menu and the photos of the food on their website to make sure there are choices that you like. We eat with our eyes as well as our stomach — does the food appeal to all your senses? Are their choices on the menu that will keep you on task, or too many choices that will set you back? Write down your choice and stick to it! And become aware of how great and strong you felt knowing you minded the better options!
Through wellness coaching, daily commitment to my practice, and support from family and friends I was able to overcome my path of self-destruction and move onward toward my goals. In addition, these books, that I recommend were very helpful. In fact, I still skim back through them from time to time. The exercises and teachings in them can help you stay on course in your diet and fitness goals, as well as personal goals!
“How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness” by Jan Chozen Bays
“Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time” by Rick Hanson PhD
Glory Billman, RN, BSN
ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
WNBF Figure Pro and 2012 Short Class World Champ