January has become synonymous with dieting, gym membership and starting a new healthy routine in western culture. The excesses of the holiday season often result in us gaining a few pounds and perhaps spending a bit too long sitting in front of the TV and when the new year arrives we pledge that this year will be different. This year, we tell ourselves, we will eat healthily, we will go to the gym every day, we will walk everywhere and we will be our ideal weight by Easter, just in time to blow it all with chocolate eggs!
We also see many food related “movements” such as Veganuary and Dry January. People come together in tribes to support each other in the changes they hope to make.
How many people actually manage to make meaningful, lasting changes through these resolutions?
Well, statistically 80% of us have failed by February!
So not many.
Do I have the answer?
Well, perhaps. I certainly have an interesting suggestion.
If you have been following my work for a while you will know that I am a big advocate for mindful eating, and mindfulness in general.
What is mindful eating?
Well, you have probably heard me talk about mindful eating in the context of giving someone a raisin or chocolate button. In this exercise you allow them to eat one of the raisins, or whatever you are using. You then give them another and ask them to really look at the item of food closely. Smell it. Move it around in their fingers. Explore it thoroughly without putting it in their mouth.
You then ask them to put it in their mouth but not eat it. Just to allow it sit in their mouth, explore it with their tongue.
Finally you allow them to eat it.
Even very young children will notice a considerable difference in the taste of the first and second item.
By really thinking about what we are eating, by thinking about how it looks, how it really tastes we appreciate our food on a whole new level.
This is also true for drinks. Exercises such as hot chocolate breathing can help you appreciate your morning coffee or cuppa in a whole new way.
What are the hidden benefits of this type of eating and drinking?
There are many benefits of mindful eating.
When you really focus on what you are eating rather than mindlessly shovelling food in, you tend not to over eat. You stop when you are full and many people find that they make healthier choices.
It doesn’t mean that you have to eat nothing but salad, but one of the biggest issues in tackling weight issues is portion control. Many of us are guilty of eating while doing something else; watching TV, talking etc. If we aren’t careful we over eat and stretch our stomach, so we then feel that we need to eat more the next time we eat, and on it goes.
Eating mindfully often results in us being more in tune with what our body needs
Something interesting also happens when we become more mindful about what we eat and drink. We start to notice that actually the things we reach for out of convenience aren’t necessarily what our body wants to be eating. We might see a big bar of chocolate and all of our receptors start to flash but if we really stop and think, is our body telling us that it would be good to eat it?
Believe it or not it often isn’t.
Let me give you an example from my life.
I am wheat and dairy intolerant. I don’t have an extreme reaction but it makes me feel tired, bloated and my joints ache a lot more so it is sensible for me to avoid them.
Every 6 weeks I have to have an injection to keep my acromegaly under control. The injection regulates my hormones, one of which is a hormone produced in the stomach. As a result I have 24hrs of fatigue and a very upset stomach after my injection.
I am fortunate that I can plan when this will happen and I always clear my diary for that 24hrs and am kind to myself and rest as much as I can.
I also know that I am able to eat pretty much anything I want within the first few hours of having my injection because it won’t be in my system long enough to have any ill effect. As a result I have started treating myself to a cake or butty from the hospital bakery on the way home, often a Belgian bun, yummy!
Last week I had my injection and as is now routine, I stopped at the bakery on the way out of the hospital. Instinctively I ordered my Belgian bun and walked out of the hospital.
When I got home though I realised that that really wasn’t what my body wanted. It was too sugary, much too sweet. If I had stopped and really thought about what I wanted instead of going on autopilot I may have had a sausage sandwich or something else that I would have enjoyed much more.
Next time I go for my injection I will be much more mindful and not allow the hustle and bustle of the early morning hospital to distract me.
So the next time you walk past the display of chocolate bars and mindlessly grab one to keep you going, stop and think; “Do I really want to eat this? Is this what my body needs today?”. Don’t worry, sometimes the answer will be, “er yes! I do, I need a treat and I have been really good all week!” but be prepared to listen truthfully to what your body is telling you.
How can you change your routine to allow yourself to eat more mindfully?