I can’t stand the television show “The Biggest Loser.” Now before you throw a Twinkie at me from your couch, let me explain. I like the concept. I really liked the way Jillian Michaels pushed, prodded, and provoked the contestants. I like that battling obesity is a hit TV show.
What I don’t like is the fact that it is healthy living in Fantasyland. What I really don’t like is, they choose contestants who’ve become incredibly, morbidly obese before they embark on change. “The Biggest Loser” is so removed from real life that I’m afraid viewers begin to think the only way they can lose weight or start a healthy lifestyle is to go on a reality TV show or wait until they’ve topped 400 pounds. And that’s not reality.
The simple truth is, we don’t live on an island or a million-dollar fat farm. We live in a busy, often chaotic world populated by screeching cats, growling dogs, and barking pet owners. We have to feed, bathe and dress kids in 30 minutes or less. And we certainly don’t get our money back when we fall short. We send a kid to school with a shirt stuffed into underwear. Don’t laugh … I know you’ve done it, too—I just happened to get caught. We also get fat and unhealthy by eating highly processed comfort foods (tacos, burgers, and subs, oh my!). Our lives are a far cry from 24/7 personal trainers, personal dieticians, and personal chefs. We’re lucky if we get personal pan pizza.
We need to figure out ways to fit exercise and nutrition into a full, rich, and complicated life. The “coach and whistle” and “no pain, no gain” ethic don’t normally work outside a TV studio.
When I’m coaching someone, I explain that I’m there to help them determine the least amount of exercise and dietary change they need to change their life. You read that right: I’m looking for the slightest, easiest, least intrusive change I can find in their lives. Doesn’t sound like reality TV, does it?
So I start with a question: What do you think is the most fundamental and essential nutritional habit? Most people begin to spout off answers such as eating more veggies (good, but wrong), eating more lean protein (nope), or cutting out sugar (great idea, but not the answer I’m looking for). The most fundamental nutritional habit isn’t what you eat—it’s how you eat.
Next we strategize how to plug this essential habit into the rest of your life. By examining how a person eats, we learn a lot about the person and why they make their food choices. The concept of evaluating the how of eating is related to mindful eating. The way to jack this into everyday life and change both how and what you’re eating is simple: Before you take a bite, reflect on what’s happening.To help, I have questions to ask yourself and new practices to try out.
8 answers to mindful eating
Ask yourself these basic questions. It will transform how you view the essential act of eating—and often propel you in a healthier direction:
> Where are you eating? At a desk? In front of the TV? In bed? In your car?
> Who are you eating with? Are you alone? Are you eating with people who are healthier than you? Are you eating with people who negatively influence your eating habits
> How fast do you eat?
> How does your food taste? Do you take time to appreciate the sight, textures, smell, and tastes? Do you even like what you’re eating?
> How do you feel when you eat? Does the food you eat make you feel energized? Do you feel bloated, cramped, or sluggish after a meal? What emotions do you experience before, during, and after a meal?
> How full are you? Do you eat until you’re full—or beyond?
> Are you eating while distracted by the Internet, TV, or reading a magazine?
> Why are you eating? Are you hungry? Bored? Sad? Angry? Anxious? Stressed?
Your answers to these questions are directly impacting your food choices. Now on to the positive practices of mindful eating on the next page.
8 practices of mindful eating
Ready to make a change? Here are some of my typical mindful eating instructions:
> Eat more slowly. Take 15 to 20 minutes to eat. Even if you’re only able to do this once or twice a day, it will significantly change your habits.
> Choose your food thoughtfully, focusing on the quality of the food. Avoid eating out of a box or bag whenever possible.
> Sit down when you eat. Eat relaxed with no distractions. Focus on each mouthful. If you’re unable to savor the food, you’re not thoughtfully choosing what you’re eating.
> Eat with others as often as possible. Try to eat with people who are healthier than you or have dietary or lifestyle habits you admire. The influence of our peers on our health cannot be underestimated.
> Avoid eating with people who enable bad behaviors such as sneaking a doughnut, eating at buffets, drinking sugary drinks, or candy bars. You know who I’m talking about.
> Respect your food. Appreciate it; care for it. I’m not trying to sound all hippie-dippy, but if you’re eating fish, fowl, pork, or beef, something died for you. Honor that.
> Pay close attention to your body and feelings after you eat. Nurturing foods should leave you feeling better after you’ve eaten them. If your tummy is upset, you feel stuffy or congested, nervous or jittery, sluggish and sleepy, this is your body telling you it doesn’t like that particular food. Listen to your body. You know you better than any expert.
At first mindful eating will feel a little ridiculous. “Paying attention to how I’m eating is just plain stupid,” you’ll say. “Talking about my feelings about eating and food is a waste of time.”
But give it a chance.
You’ll find something quite incredible will happen: You’ll lose weight. If you simply slow down and pay attention to your food choices, you’ll consume fewer calories. You won’t have to count calories. There’s no need for nutritional mathematics. You’ll eat more nutritious foods. You’ll become healthier.