At some time or another, most of us eat for reasons other than hunger – when we’re under stress, or for emotional reasons. But if eating has become the main way you seek pleasure, relieve discomfort, or socialize, then your relationship with food could be out of balance. Mindfulness training is a powerful therapeutic tool that can help bring your relationship with food back into balance.
Mindfulness Diminishes Negative Thinking
The rapidly growing body of research demonstrates that practicing mindfulness techniques reduces anxiety and depression, improves mood and life satisfaction, is effective in treating a number of physical conditions including chronic pain and fibromyalgia, improves immune function, and can actually change your brain physiology in a positive way. In her book Eating with Fierce Kindness: A Mindful and Compassionate Guide to Losing Weight, mindfulness researcher and teacher Sasha Loring, M. Ed., LCSW states “the research regarding improved mood is particularly relevant to reducing overeating, because eating behaviors not related to hunger are often responses to emotional distress.” With mindfulness practice, we can dramatically strengthen our ability to alter habitual thinking patterns, and we can unburden ourselves from rumination, self-defeating thought patterns, negative autobiographical narratives, and destructive patterns of emotional reactivity.
Mindfulness Strengthens the Mind-Body Connection
Another fundamental aspect of mindfulness training having major implications for weight management is that mindfulness strengthens our awareness of the mind-body connection. Many of us have a weak sense of our body’s constant signals. We don’t accurately perceive our body’s subtle messages of hunger, fullness, anger, anxiety, sadness, or stress – all of which can factor into our unhealthy and impulsive eating patterns. Mindfulness of the body is an essential foundation of mindfulness practice. “By becoming more aware of your body, you can learn to care for your own physical and emotional needs, and you can do so in ways that don’t involve unhealthy eating,” says Loring.
Mindfulness Makes Us Kinder to Ourselves
Mindfulness practices help us create the psycho-emotional climate in which new eating behaviors can be sustained for the long-term. The mind needs to be nourished with healthy thoughts just as our bodies need to be fed with nourishing food. The practice of cultivating internal kindness is another key element of mindfulness training. In my experience as a teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, people under stress, especially people with weight issues, are constantly badgered by a harsh inner critic. As Loring explains, this inner critic is part of the habitual busy mind. “It tends to be judgmental, self-critical, full of rationalizations, impulsive, and prone to negative emotions.” Mindfulness training gives us practices and techniques to generate kindness toward ourselves, especially the harsh internal critic. When our conflict with the inner critic quiets down, something amazing and often unexpected begins to happen. The habitual repetitive narrative of the inner critic becomes less noisy. What emerges, describes Loring, is our wise mind – “the mind that knows what’s right for you, is linked to your deepest values, and is fundamentally caring.”
Mindfulness Means a Better Tomorrow
When we become more aware of our habitual patterns of negative thinking, gain a better sense the body’s messages, and become kinder to ourselves, we’ve created the optimal conditions for transforming our relationship with food. Mindfulness training makes these changes possible and sustainable. It’s a lifelong practice. The journey unfolds moment by moment. The benefits are amazing!