When Diets Fail, Mindful Eating to the Rescue
Tired of traditional dieting? Mindful eating is a truly natural, conscious alternative that works.
How often do you eat in a really unconscious state, with your attention in conversation or TV? By “unconscious,” I’m referring to having attention somewhere other than on the food and the thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise around food. When we are not eating mindfully, it is difficult to gauge our bodies and determine when we are truly full. It is also difficult to actually notice the difference between eating that happens because of real hunger and eating that is based on a need to mitigate negative emotions.
There are several ways that mindfulness can be powerfully beneficial when it comes to eating and overeating. Diets often involve willpower, and science is telling us that willpower just doesn’t work that well with addictive cravings. Willpower happens in the frontal lobe of the brain; addictive cravings happen mainly in the midbrain. And the two parts of the brain just don’t communicate well. One of the main benefits of mindfulness is that it does not involve willpower.
By being more present and mindful of the colors and shapes of the food and more aware and accepting of the thoughts, emotions and sensations that are coming and going in the moment, you may find that you are not as prone to engaging in compulsive eating and overeating. You may also notice through mindfulness that food often has an aversion that comes along with the craving. For example, along with the craving thought/sensation, “I want that cake,” you may become aware of its opposite, “I shouldn’t have that cake.” This internal tug of war can keep you addicted. Science has revealed that the same part of the brain that is responsible for addictive cravings is also responsible for the anxiety/stress response (the aversion) we experience when there is a big “no” around certain foods. Similar to the forbidden fruit metaphor, the more we think we shouldn’t have something, the more enticing it is. This is when the front part of the brain, which is involved in willpower, just can’t rescue us.
Mindful eating is a practice. It can be challenging at first because we are so conditioned to eat unconsciously. But practicing mindfulness with someone highly skilled in the approach can help you put away all those diets that haven’t worked. It can help you be more in touch with your mind and body during the act of eating and help you naturally put down that fork or spoon once you are full, but not bloated. It can even help you say “no, thank you” to those late night binges that are mostly caused by emotional or “bored” eating.
Scott Kiloby is founder and director of the Kiloby Center for Recovery, one of the first addiction treatment and dual diagnosis centers to focus primarily on mindfulness. He is the author of six books including Natural Rest for Addiction and offers consulting to treatment centers desiring to bring an effective, mindfulness approach into their programs. For more information, visit www.kilobycenter.com.