8:Mindfulness and Conscious Eating

Eating is a central and important part of everyone’s life – a basic need that that we depend upon to essentially keep us alive. It is such a common and regular activity that we can quite often complete the ‘task’ of eating without thinking, on auto pilot. Eating or drinking as we go throughout the day, almost unconsciously, can become part of our daily routine. A bite of this, a piece of that, a slurp of the other, all without thought and usually whilst we’re busy or preoccupied with other tasks, thoughts and activities – sound familiar?

Well this way of eating became the norm for me, as of my daily life up until quite recently and which definitely had a massive effect on my ability to successfully lose weight and improve my health.

Fitting eating in to my busy lifestyle often meant that I did it whilst doing other activities, it made sense for me to try to combine ‘tasks’ or ‘multi task’ so I could use my time in the most effective way, or so I thought. For example, watching my favourite TV show or the news and having my tea on my lap; eating lunch at my desk and reading emails or a document etc – this again will probably sound familiar.

However the practice of eating and doing other things became more wide spread and I found that I’d progressed to eating a sandwich whilst making tea; picking the leftovers from the kids plates whilst washing the dishes; munching through a sharing sized packet of crisps whist watching a film; eating a huge bag of sweets whilst driving on long journeys… I could go on and on with the amount of ‘mindless’ eating that took place and at the end of the day I would genuinely have no idea of what I had actually eaten that day, as most of it was done without conscious thought.

This would continually thwart my eternal efforts to lose the lbs and would see me getting angry and frustrated at my lack of progress. I remember thinking on numerous occasions, ‘I don’t understand why I’m so big, I don’t eat that much’ or ‘I have been really good, I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight’.

DSC00122

It was only when I actually started to examine my eating habits and relationship with food this time that I realised the extent of how much I actually ate without thinking and how common it had become in my daily life. I then realised that if I was ever going to achieve long term success with the weight that I was now losing, that I would need address this habit, as well as the others that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

I approached this in a number of ways, the first was to begin to make a diary of all the food and drink that I had each day – trying where possible, to note this down at the time of eating, so that it wouldn’t be forgotten later. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget having a couple of biscuits with a brew or a slice of something, especially if its not something that you’ve previously planned for.

The second was to throw out all left over food straight away or to ask people to scrape their plates into the food bin after leaving the table. This now removed any temptation of eating anything left on a plate and meant that I didn’t have to worry about this anymore.

The third was to ‘eat consciously’. This may sound a bit odd, but I found when I looked further into this, that actually its a really common habit that many people have and you are more likely to eat far more when eating ‘unconsciously’, than when you eat in a planned and structured way. However with a few simple steps you can begin to correct this unhealthy trait – these include;

  • Planning meals in advance and eating in a structured way. As mentioned in my previous post, 4: Change your ‘Final Destination’ by Planning for Success, I now plan my meals for the week in a structured way to help me stay on track and trouble shoot any potential tricky situations in advance.
  • Eat when you are hungry. Sounds straight forwards but I can tell you that I am a grazer and pick and graze throughout the day if I can. I now question why I want to eat, as quite often it is not linked to hunger but something else, like boredom, nerves or even not drinking enough.
  • Eat in a designated place. So for me this meant that I now sit at the table, with my family where possible, to eat my meals.
  • Do nothing whilst eating – no reading, watching TV or making plans etc, whatever I was doing before is now off limits and I now focus entirely on enjoying my meal.
  • Savour the food you are eating.  Enjoy the taste, smell and texture of the food you are eating. Make sure that it’s not a cardboard TV dinner type rubbish that you would struggle to truly enjoy. Make mealtimes something to look forwards to!
  • Chew each mouthful 10 – 15 times before swallowing. This felt totally alien to me at first, as I found that one of my habits was to wolf food down super-fast, sometimes without even chewing it at all! Now chewing each mouthful for this amount of time before swallowing, has slowed my eating right down and gives me the opportunity to actually taste and enjoy the food I am eating.
  • Place your knife, folk or spoon down in-between each mouthful. I found that quite often in the past whilst I was eating I was cutting up my food and getting the next one ready to go, meaning that I was still distracted from what I was doing – eating – and also consuming my meal much faster. I now find that eating is a much more pleasant experience, feeling more relaxed, where as in the past it felt hurried and sometimes a little bit stressful.
  • Stop eating when you feel satisfied. I found that eating in this slower and much more controlled way, allowed my body to recognise when I was actually full and helped me to stop eating when I had eaten enough. This had been a particular problem for me in the past, as I would often eat so fast, (particularly when bingeing) that it didn’t register until I had eaten so much I could barely move.
  • Do this as often as you can to make it a habit! Sounds obvious but as I’ve mentioned before it takes up to six weeks of consistently doing something, before it becomes a habit. mindful eating

The fourth was to Plan for snacks in advance. Before I started to do this I would quite often graze without thought, continuously on bits and pieces throughout the day – whilst at work and in the evening when cooking or watching TV. I now take what I want to eat into work with me, like a couple of pieces of fruit and a cereal bar, along with my lunch and only eat this. I also put to one side the things I want to eat at night and will eat them whilst watching TV or even going to the Cinema, in a planned ‘conscious’ way. I do still sometimes eat the odd piece of ham or chicken whilst cooking if I’m hungry, but I feel I am aware of it now and able to control how much I consume. I also note everything I eat and will include these within my daily tally of food consumption.

By following these fairly simple steps I have managed to get a better handle on what and when I am eating and feel much happier as a result. We now quite often (when we’re all together) enjoy family meals at the table and I have started to enjoy cooking more adventurous foods that I enjoy the taste of. Eating is no longer a means to an end that is squeezed into my day, it is something to look forward too and enjoy the space that this new way of eating has created. I am also more aware of when I am sliding back into old habits like picking or grazing on random bits of food and feel able to stop and question myself on, ‘why’ I want to eat’ and ‘if’ I am actually hungry or if something else is at play.

Mindfulness is a really useful tool which I’ve not only used for helping me gain a better awareness and control of my eating, but in combating stress and other pressures that life can bring – which I will talk more about in a future post.

I hope you have found this post interesting, next time I will be looking at exercise and how beginning to conquer my fears around this helped me to scale mountains.

Have a good week

Much Love

Marie x

Previous posts

7: Putting Your Needs on the Menu

6: Start With Your End in Mind: Visualising what Success Would Look Like

5: Refill your Glass and Retune that Inner Voice

4: Change your ‘Final Destination’ by Planning for Success

3: What Lies Beneath: Understanding Reasons Behind Actions & Behaviours In My Relationship With Food

2: Begun is Half Done: – Taking That First Step Towards Changing Your Life

1: Introduction: My Re-Design For Life – Losing the Weight and Gaining a Life

 

 

 

3: What Lies Beneath: Understanding Reasons Behind Actions & Behaviours In My Relationship With Food

shipwrek2: Begun is Half Done: – Taking That First Step Towards Changing Your Life

1: Introduction: My Re-Design For Life – Losing the Weight and Gaining a Life

For some losing weight is simply a case of reducing the amount of calories they take and increasing their exercise. Some people have no issues with doing this when they need to and can easily and successfully manage their weight without any real problems.

However for others, things aren’t that simple and this was true for me. I had a very complex relationship with food and my excess weight, which got in the way and stopped me from achieving the success I craved.

For people like me, more work is required, often involving looking back at past events, to try and identify and understand what is happening, why and what you can do to change this.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” Stephen R Covey

Food and eating it has long since been linked to emotions and providing comfort to people and this was certainly the case for me. I realised as I embarked on this journey that I needed to do something different if I was ever going to find success.

As I mentioned previously in the first post, I had tried many different approaches to losing weight in the past, with only very limited success and short lived results. I really felt that I couldn’t afford to ‘mess about’ this time and I needed a complete approach and to delve deeper than I had before, to put right what I began to realise was wrong.

 

In the past, about 10 years ago, I was prescribed with art therapy to help me identify some of the underlying issues that I had developed with food. However at that time I wasn’t in a place mentally, or physically, as I had to leave the course early, where I could truly utilise the opportunity.

But I have learned that nothing that you experience or learn is a waste, it’s all stored in your memories and hard drive. So I decided to reflect back on the sessions that I had had in the past and revisit what was discussed and how I felt about them.

blueprint

This was the start of me beginning to unravel the issues and the tentative start of redrawing the flawed blueprint I had been living from.

Through using a number of techniques, including,

  • Self-reflection and writing a journal.
  • Talking to people close to me about my thoughts and experiences
  • Reading information about eating disorders and ways to overcome them
  • Reading and completing self-help tasks, CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy)

I managed to identify a number of life events that took place during the course of my childhood, adolescence, including teenage pregnancy and Postpartum Psychosis  (a rare form of post-natal depression) and adult life, like being a single parent to children with autism. Where I sought food as a tonic and developed unhealthy destructive ‘coping’ mechanisms to help me deal with situations that I had struggled to make sense of.

Instead of dealing with these at the time, due to a number of reasons, I suppressed them and tried to solider on like everything was Okay. However like weeds, these underlying feelings and emotions found a route to the surface, which for me was a series of eating habits that formed into what would become ‘eating disordersweed 2

To the outside world I was fine, however in reality I was far from this and this unhealthy relationship continued to flourish and in the background I had created a blueprint or programme which silently run, ‘protecting’ me from harm – or so I subconsciously thought.

Comfort eating, binging, to the point of feeling physically sick, then purging and secret eating were all habits that I had identified. I even managed to locate, for some of these, times when they either began or where I had turned to the ‘safety’ of this behaviour.

I remember feeling extremely agitated when I felt like binging, it would build and build until I would embark on an eating frenzy that would put jaws to shame. Cramming endless random items of food down my neck, anything that was in really, that didn’t need much thought or preparation. Until the urge passed.

I would then begin the ritual of self-loathing, feeling dreadful and like a failure.

Why could I not exercise some control? Why did I not stop when I was feeling full? Why did I even buy half the crap that was in my cupboards? Why was I so weak?

I was never going to lose weight or succeed! I was a failure!!!

These recriminations, often resulted in me heading to the bathroom to try to undo what I had just done, by making myself sick. I remember leaning over the basin, trying desperately to get rid of everything I had devoured in my last session and would stay there doing this until I felt sure I had put things right.

Of course none of this behaviour was right. Eating until you could barely move and then removing it again with the act of making yourself sick, was far from this. I would come to call this my ‘self destruct mode’. Where rational thought didn’t exist and I lived in a turbulent volatile world of extremes, binging and sometimes purging, sometimes sitting in extreme discomfort and continually self berating myself for being so weak.

Understanding and identifying these instances was the first step, but these behaviours were embedded and intrinsically linked to pretty much every aspect of who I was. Just because I had gained some sense of awareness in knowing they existed, didn’t automatically fix them.

I also began to realise that physical aspects of my excess weight, gave me a measure of safety and provided me with a shroud to hide within. One where I could dwell in relative safety and no one could bother or hurt me.

 

DSCF1383I remember during one of the therapy sessions, actually seeing and identifying this. I felt like I was viewing the world through a mask. I could even see the eyelets you would see if actually wearing a physical mask.

My excess weight had become a tool in which to hide in plain sight, like the cloak that Harry Potter wore, I, the real me, could move around undetected.

There were some obvious flaws in this plan, one I was obese, unhealthy and deeply unhappy and two this place of safety had now become more of a cell within a self-imposed jail.DSCF0515

This came as a bit of a shock, but also a revelation as I could now begin to see that I did actually hold the keys to my own release. I just needed to find them and then find where I’d hidden the lock…

To truly begin to address these deep seated issues I had to dig deep and remove the weeds I’d uncovered – from the roots. Replacing them with new seeds of ‘coping strategies’ and healthier habits that would replace the misguided safety net I had unwittingly created.

In essence I started to develop new ways to deal with lifes pressures.

But like anything newly planted, I needed to nurture and cultivate these seeds and shoots, so that they would grow healthy and strong. And be able to stand up to all the elements and tests that life would inevitably throw at them.

DSCF1272 - Copy

I had to practice new my behaviours repeatedly so that they would become the norm. I also needed to remember that it takes at least 6 weeks of repeatedly, consistently practicing an action before it becomes a habit. (Remember I said that this became my mantra, to help me when I deviated or struggled with the old feelings and urges)

My next steps involved beginning to re-program my brain and subconscious, to develop new ways of coping and ‘unlearn’ the destructive habits I’d depended for so long in the past.

For me this involved several approaches, I didn’t have access to therapy sessions now, so I pulled together my own ‘toolkit’ to help me.

By

  • using visualisation techniques I began to look forwards into what I wanted to achieve and learned to clearly see a vivid picture of what this could look like, and after a bit of practice, feel like for me
  • using conscious eating techniques to ‘consciously eat food’ (you would be amazed at how often you’re not!) I became aware of the amount and quality of what I was eating. In the past I often had no idea of what I’d eaten and I would eat so fast I never truly enjoyed it either!
  • reading a number of self-help books & DVD’s, including Hypnosis, I learned greater understanding, acceptance and ways to change and ‘take control’ of my relationship with food
  • beginning to practice simple Mindfulness techniques I learned ways to cope with daily life and stress that were not related to food.

All these methods, coupled with the newly adopted structure and support of the slimming group and unwavering support from my husband, helped me to map a new path and destination for me this time.

I’m aware that I’ve mentioned lots of different issues and conditions within this blog and I have included a number of links to NHS Choices on some of the topics for extra information. I would also recommend speaking to a health professional if you recognise any of the symptoms or behaviours that I have described, to ensure that you get the right support or treatment.

I hope you have found this post of interest and that it in some way supports you in your quest to live a healthier happier live.

My next post will be about Planning for Success, and how to give yourself the best possible chance of achieving it.

Good luck

Much love

Marie x

1: Introduction: My Re-Design For Life – Losing the Weight and Gaining a Life

2: Begun is Half Done: – Taking That First Step Towards Changing Your Life

About