5 Keys to Embracing Mindful Eating
The latest research tells us that before we are able to change anything (especially our brain cells) we must first accept ourselves as we are right now and two, give up our stories of not being enough, being unworthy or inadequate. This is nothing short of a radical mind change! Accept myself NOW? Wrinkles and all (or whatever the current story is)? The answer is yes. And if you are someone who has been rejecting parts of yourself, feeling “less than” and believing that some change (losing weight, an accomplishment or achievement) will bring happiness and acceptance, read on.
What the Research Shows:
The ancient practice of Mindfulness and Mindfulness Meditation – pausing in the midst of life and welcoming stillness, awareness and purposeful attention – affects the entire body, mind and spirit. Learning to be aware of the present moment and how we’re experiencing each moment allows us to look at our lives with new lenses. We realize our thoughts are merely made up constructs of words and have very little truth, if any. We are able to see “what is” more clearly and rather than “react” to life, “respond” to it. The brain changes with each response, becoming more integrated and healthy.
For example, when an individual chooses compassion over an angry reaction, a shift happens in the brain – in the prefrontal cortex to be exact. This area “lights up” on a functional MRI and illuminates the activity of new neurons and new neuronal connections that are being created. Over time, this part of the brain becomes ‘stronger’ and more apt to respond with more calm and clarity. This is called “neural integration” and it is a state that improves functioning in many ways. One way is its contribution to a “state becoming a trait” – in other words, it is more accessible to a person to be compassionate the next time an event occurs. Gradually the personality shifts toward calm, ease and wise choice.
Another example is an integrated prefrontal cortex contributes to “executive function” – and in the case of wanting to lose excess body weight, emotions are more stable and the ability to choose wisely is strengthened. Healthy choice becomes easeful and the body will find its natural size.
Let’s take a look at five practical steps that you can begin today that will change your mind and thus your brain and ultimately, your body. Following these steps – really integrating them in your life – will lead to a healthier brain and a healthier body:
Key #1: ACCEPT “NOW” AND BE GRATEFUL
Start by accepting yourself right now. All change starts with acceptance as we remember we are whole and blameless human beings. Don’t confuse who you are with behavior you want to change!
Practice gratitude as often as possible. There is always a gift in everything. If thoughts are bombarding, thank them. They are doing their best to make a contribution to your life. They have a “positive intention” of some sort. Be curious…treat them as guests and be open to the message.
Key #2: MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR MIND
Simply accept thoughts and feelings if they show up. They will. Begin to see them as events that are impermanent. Have you noticed how quickly they change? When besieged, bring awareness back to the present moment.
Once again centered, focus attention on the present moment and on what action seems wise to take (which may be no action at all) is our focus . Over time, this cultivated wisdom will serve you in many ways.
Key #3: REALIZE YOUR THOUGHTS ARE JUST THOUGHTS
It is all too easy to become “fused with your thoughts” – to actually believe they are true. In actuality, they are passing mental events that are influenced by moods, bodily states, physical health, hormones…even the weather…and all we learned in childhood.
Think of a car honking: we hear the noise yet we are not the noise. And so it can be with thoughts. Becoming an “impartial observer” to the activity of the mind and emotions is an outcome of mindfulness practice and helps greatly in making behavior decisions.
Key #4: OBSERVE YOUR OWN MIND
Mindfulness meditation is purposeful time spent observing your mind – getting to know how it works (critical? Judgmental? Hanging out in the past or future?) and it is as important as time spent exercising!
Mindfulness involves noticing where your mind goes when it wanders and bringing it back by focusing on the breath (or eating, walking, loving, or working). This practice will retrain the “runaway amygdala” (the emotional control center of the brain) and promote Neuro-integration leading to calm, focused choice.
Key #5: RETRAIN YOUR MIND TO REWIRE YOUR BRAIN
There is a wise saying: “We are what we repeatedly do.” I say: “We become what we repeatedly think.” Again, a state in the body/mind becomes, over time and with repetition, a trait. The personality changes and states of calm equanimity, wise choice – even health – are accessible if not a part of the personality of the individual.
We all have unique, entrenched patterns of neural “firing” – an interconnected sequence of thoughts leading to more thoughts. Over time, it is possible to change the wiring of your brain allowing the prefrontal cortex- the “executive center” of the brain to make decisions clearly and calmly and to actually shut off the fear based part of the brain called the amygdala.
So what do these tips have to do with eating mindfully? Everything. By accepting ourselves, implementing self-compassion and accepting who we are in this moment we become able to make different choices. And certainly the area of weight health is one that affects many people. By being mindful, we are creating a new way of relating to ourselves and the invitation of ease and flow in our lives.
Rather than a diet or some eating “plan” that promises to make us like ourselves more in the end, why not start with ‘now’ – with who we are as individuals – and then, mindfully, take a look at some changes we might want to integrate into our daily lives. In this way, we are not depriving ourselves of anything but giving ourselves the practice of mindfulness, self-acceptance, self-appreciation and compassion. And, if it is appropriate, weight loss. The glass is truly half full!