The other day I ate half a can of sriracha peas in one sitting before I realised something very important: I wasn’t hungry.
I was bored. I was tired. I was lonely. But I wasn’t hungry.
This isn’t umcommon
In our abundant food culture, mindless eating, eating when we’re bored, and eating for comfort is quickly becoming an epidemic. We eat out of routine, out of habit, or simply because others around us are eating. The result? We pack on the pounds, become lethargic, and perpetuate a viscous cycle with food.
Mindful eating can be the answer.
Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Midtown East New York City. Her practice specializes in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image, sexual functioning, and psychological issues related to weight loss surgery. Mindful eating is something Alexis recommends to many of her patients because mindful eating can get us out of our destructive food habits, and back to viewing food as a source of nutrition.
In this interview, Alexis talked to me about mindful eating and how we can use this ancient practice to change our lives.
How would you describe mindful eating?
Mindful eating is the process of being fully aware and present with our eating experiences and our body’s reaction to food. This involves awareness of hunger, fullness, and satiation as well as using all of our senses (taste, smell, sounds, texture, sight) to observe the food and our experience eating.
It also involves being completely in the moment with our food and body–when we aren’t present in the moment we completely miss the eating experience. And what a shame it is to devour an entire slice of delicious molten chocolate cake without ever tasting or truly enjoying it!
How can mindful eating help one transform their health?
Mindful eating is the pathway out of destructive eating patterns and helps people nurture their bodies towards health. We become so obsessed with the latest health fads in our culture that we completely forget the most basic fundamental ways of caring for ourselves– listen to your body.
Mindful eating is all about eating in a way that is attuned to your body. Mindful eating is the antithesis of dieting. Dieting is all about working against your body under the premise that your body is flawed and leading you astray. Mindful eating is about working in tandem with your body in a collaborative goal of health and wellness. When we can trust and listen to our body, our body is able to guide us to when, what, and how much to eat.
Mindful eating doesn’t involve any restrictions or deprivations. The benefits include improved mental and physical wellbeing. Many people report a newfound sense of peace when engaging in mindful eating, not only around food and their body, but in their lives overall.
Getting into the habit can be a challenge. How do you recommend people get in the habit?
I recommend that people start to get into the mindful eating habit by meditating for 3 minutes each day with a general guided meditation focusing on your breath.
There are many meditation apps that you can download for your smartphone so you can do your meditation at a time and place convenient to you. It doesn’t need to be the perfect place to meditate–you don’t need any special equipment and you certainly don’t need to visit a meditation center or monastery.
The perfect place to meditate is the place where you will do the meditation. Starting with a general meditation will help you develop an increased sense of awareness in the current moment, which you can then apply to your eating.
Do you recommend parents teach their children mindful eating? Why or why not?
It depends. Many children naturally eat mindfully. They may not be doing a formal meditation practice, but they are in the moment and present with their eating. Food is not emotional and they often eat in response to their body’s natural physiological systems. Many of the adults that I work with spend a lot of time and money in psychotherapy trying to get back to the way that they ate as a small child.
As we grow up, we develop many more neuroses around food and lose touch with this natural way of eating. So, if your child is eating in a way that is attuned to his or her body and isn’t having any issues, the best thing that we can do is stay out of their way and not interfere. If your child isn’t instinctively eating mindfully, then teaching mindful eating can be beneficial.
Often it is best to just model this behavior for children and encourage your child to listen to his or her body (ie. providing food when a child says they are hungry, not forcing a chid to clean their plate). Sometimes more formal mindful eating instruction is beneficial and in those cases I recommend that the parent and/or child consult a professional.
About Alexis: Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in the Midtown East neighborhood of New York City. Her practice specializes in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image, sexual functioning, and psychological issues related to weight loss surgery. She is a Research Associate in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism at Mt. Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital. Alexis is the author of the “Eating Mindfully” blog hosted by Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/eating-mindfully. She has been featured in the popular press including The Wall Street Journal/Market Watch, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Ladies’ Home Journal, USA Today, The Huffington Post, Weight Watchers, Reuters, ABC News, Prevention, WebMD, EveryDay Health, US News & World Report Health Day, Fox News, and the CBS Evening News. For more information, please visit www.drconason.com