Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mindful Eating

Today marks a significant turning point in my get healthy journey. Actually, the switch happened a while back -- somewhat gradually -- but today I am going to go public with my intentions, and to officially mark the beginning of my mindful eating journey, and the end of -- at least for now -- my Weight Watchers journey.

I have written before how, if I'm not careful, I can get bogged down in the data and analysis portion of losing weight -- counting points, tallying activity, analyzing the nutritional content of food, etc. None of that in and of itself is bad, but when I obsess over that, it is simply replacing my obsession with food with an obsession with analysis. I don't want to be obsessed with any of this, really. I want it to hum along in the background of my life -- usually eating healthy stuff, but allowing myself the occasional treat and the occasional lazy day by the pool.

I have also written how I realize that this is my life, and there are times when I'm just not willing to stick to the uber-straight-and-narrow approach to weight loss. In particular, I have never ever been willing to go hungry simply because I am out of points -- even if the options are less than ideal.

I also wrote about how I started (but still have not finished) Geneen Roth's Breaking Free from Emotional Eating book, and how the main message of the book is to trust yourself: your hunger signal, and your ability to stop when you're satisfied. In the meantime, I started her workbook called Why Weight? which explores the reasons you're fat, the reasons you overeat, and helps you identify issues holding you back. I employed these techniques with success, and was able to lose weight even on vacation, and all without counting a single point.

This week, there has been much chatter in the WL corner of the blogosphere about a podcast hosted by Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone, all about this very issue. Turns out that that this "thing" -- this philosophy of listening to and trusting your body -- that I have been learning from books and by trial and error has a name. The name is mindful eating, and I'm giving it an official go.

Carla and Shauna, the hosts of the podcast, explain the concepts that underlie mindful eating (also sometimes referred to as intuitive eating). Much of what they had to say really resonated with me. Here are the two things that resonated the most with me.
  1. Everyone's path is highly individual. There are no one size fits all rules. The theme of listening to your body and your spirit applies not only to listening to and trusting your hunger signal, but also your ability to decide which rules should -- and shouldn't -- apply to you. For example, Carla said that "they" say you should not do anything while you eat -- no TV, no reading, no internet. You should instead focus on your food and enjoying it. She explained why that rule doesn't work for her. That really resonated with me -- not only her "defiance" of this rule, but also the fact that there can be logical reasons to override conventional wisdom sometimes, and the fact that "they" don't know more about you than you do. The rules and principles espoused by others are in many cases good to follow, but if you give them a try and find they don't work for you, discard them, don't stress about it, find something that works for you, and move on. No guilt necessary.
  2. The hosts said that for them (again, noting that everyone's path is different), it is not sustainable to count calories, points, fat grams, carbs, or anything else forever. They want to be able to enjoy their food guilt free and without thinking too deeply about things. For them, the key has been to listen to when your body is really hungry. Not when you want to eat because you're bored. Not when you want to eat because you're sad. But when you want to eat because there is actual, physical hunger.
There are a number of tools the hosts suggested when starting mindful eating. They suggested a food log when you start a program like mindful eating. Their idea of a food log and what I've grown accustomed to in WW are significantly different. In WW, I would simply track what I ate, and the associated points value with the food. These points values were not to exceed my daily and/or weekly points budget.

A food log for mindful eating records what you eat, but the amount or the number of calories or points in the food is not the important part and actually needn't be recorded at all. In addition to recoding what you consume, you also record your hunger before and after the meal, as well as how you feel during and after the meal. I have found the hunger scale available here (and seriously -- is there anything that MIT doesn't just rock at?!) to be helpful in charting how hungry I was at the beginning and conclusion of the meal.

I have learned/confirmed some things I don't want to accept, but must as a result of just two days of tracking my response to food. First, sugar makes me sluggish and tired. In just a few minutes after eating sugar, I get tired which is highly unusual for me after eating most other foods. Sadly, this happened to me today with a bag of Cheez Its too. Man the thought of giving those up makes me sad! But, on the other hand, it concerns me how I have been oblivious to this for nearly 30 years of my life! Am I really that oblivious to how the food I put in my body affects its performance? I think the answer is yes. And mindful eating will help me change all that.

Today has been a struggle food-wise. I am not proud to admit this, but for lunch I made some hamburgers. I bought 1 lb. of meat, enough for four good-sized burgers. I. COULDN'T. STOP. EATING. THEM. I ate all four. I felt so ashamed and dirty. Surprisingly, though, I didn't feel but a little tired after eating them (probably because the meat was lean, but still -- I should have been satisfied after the first burger, and the 2 ears of corn I ate with it).

Sometimes I feel like my relationship with food will never be mended, but then I am quick to correct myself. I believe that I can learn to trust myself and heal my broken relationship with food. It won't be quick or easy, but a) losing the 65+ lbs I've lost so far hasn't been easy either and b) things that come too quickly/easily are rarely appreciated and the results don't always stick. I will conquer this too and I will use mindful eating for this leg of the journey to help me do so.


  1. My mom had a really old book that talked about the same thing - but related it to God - how he's given us the tools(hunger signals ect..) to know how much and when to eat. I don't have it anymore, or I'd tell you who write it... it was kinda cool. Good luck with your new journey! I should probably look into this because I'm not tracking at all anymore with WW. But I'm still eating healthy and I've noticed(at least this week) when I'm full and stopping. I might finish the meal later, but it's better than having a totally different snack in addition to the meal, right?

  2. I think it's the Weigh Down Workshop by Gwen Shamblin or something like that.

  3. I've also read a couple of Geneen Roth's books over the years. I think it might do me some good to reread the one I have tucked away in a box somewhere. She writes a monthly column for Good Housekeeping, and sometimes I look for that in my mom's old copies.


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