There’s been a lot of discussion in the forum lately about mindful eating – generally how much people don’t want to do it. It’s ironic that emotional eaters who claim to love eating find it so hard to just eat – to focus only on eating when they’re eating. It seems the only time that emotional eaters don’t think about food is when they’re eating!
Mindful eating is the functional opposite of emotional eating, and therefore its antidote. It blocks the payoff of emotional eating, so it’s no wonder that people resist it. But for that same reason, it’s essential.
The complaints about mindful eating generally fall into five categories:
- Mindful eating is boring.
- Checking in with myself makes me anxious.
- I’m too busy to take the time to just eat.
- It feels like too much work.
- It feels like a diet.
Here’s what’s behind each of these complaints.
1. Mindful eating is boring.
From the forum:
“Being mindful with EVERY BITE??? Are you kidding? Seems so BORING to me!”
Mindful eating is boring only if you are not truly hungry. If you are truly hungry, eating is the most interesting thing you could do. From Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:
Next time you’re out for dinner with friends, watch for this common pattern. There is much conversation while waiting for the food to arrive, and then after the food is served, conversation stops almost completely for a while. Maybe someone will comment that the food is good, but for the next 5-10 minutes, people mostly eat rather than talk. That’s because true hunger makes food more interesting than anything else. You want to fully focus on your eating experience so you can enjoy it.
In fact, one of the primary cues for satiation is finding the food less intensely flavorful and interesting. When the food no longer can hold your full attention, you’re done eating.
So if eating mindfully feels boring, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. You’re probably not.
2. Checking in with myself makes me anxious.
From the forum:
“I notice when I log in my feelings that I feel afraid. I wasn’t aware of how often I record, ‘afraid.’”
Sometimes the trigger for emotional eating is clear – though the solution to the underlying problem may not be clear. Other times, the trigger itself is what you are hiding from by emotional eating.
When you take away the addictive payoff of emotional eating through mindfulness, some intense emotions can come up. If it feels very overwhelming for you, then seek support from a therapist as you work on Normal Eating®. That way, as issues come up, you can work through them in a safe context.
3. I’m too busy to take the time to just eat.
From the forum:
“I feel like I don’t want to/can’t spend time *thinking* about my eating – too many other important things to do. Just grab some junk and go.”
If your life is so stressful and busy that you can’t take time to quietly enjoy a meal, that’s a problem that needs fixing. Not making yourself a priority is the core reason for emotional eating. Emotional eating is giving yourself a “food band-aid” rather than what you really need.
People often feel guilty about relaxing. They don’t make time for themselves because they always rate other people’s priorities and needs higher than their own. This doesn’t work in the long-term. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t be your best for anyone else. From Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:
…self-care is not only your right, it’s a sacred responsibility. Life is a gift. To not embrace this gift by treasuring your life, protecting your physical and emotional wellbeing, and enjoying your time on Earth, is to disrespect the gift! You were not put here to suffer. What you want and need are just as important as what other people want and need. You have the right to be happy.
Figure out how to make time for yourself!
4. It feels like too much work.
From the forum:
“Right now I’d like to eat more candy, but I just am not up for sitting down and JUST eating candy and noticing every bite. It’s too much work.”
* * *
“I am finding that in my crazy, busy life – the only time I have to myself with no guilt involved is when I’m eating… When I’m done, I have to get back to work so I tend to want to eat more to prolong the ‘relax’. Being mindful just makes it less relaxing and messes with the whole process.”
The underlying complaint here is that mindful eating interferes with the use of food as a drug, as a way to numb out. This is the crux of emotional eating, and the core behavior you are trying to stop.
Mindful eating is the way you abstain from using food as a drug. It’s not comfortable, but it’s necessary. You can think of it as the medicine you must take to cure the problem of emotional eating. Eventually, you’ll enjoy eating mindfully. But in the beginning, it will just feel like a bother. You have to do it anyway if you want to solve this problem.
5. It feels like a diet.
From the forum:
“To eat while not reading or not watching TV is a big behavior change and it feels like a dieting behavior change to me.”
When people complain that mindful eating “feels like a diet”, what they’re really saying is that it takes effort, that it interferes with doing whatever they feel like doing.
It’s important to recognize that freedom from dieting doesn’t mean freedom from effort, nor does it mean freedom from impulse control. If you want to stop emotional eating, you have to be willing to put in some effort and do some things you don’t feel like doing. It doesn’t stay hard forever, but in the beginning it takes effort.
Something to try…
If the idea of an entire meal eaten mindfully is overwhelming for you, the solution – as always with Normal Eating® – is baby steps.
Mindful eating is the key to overcoming emotional eating, but if you approach it in a black-and-white way, you will set yourself up to fail. So at your next meal, try eating mindfully for 5 minutes, or 3 bites, or 1 bite – whatever you can do to start. Do that for a while, and then slowly increase the number of minutes or number of bites.
There are enormous benefits to mindful eating. From another forum member:
“My eating is dramatically different when I have no distractions. I eat healthier and I don’t overeat. I also enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied. I watched a movie the other day without food… it felt really weird but I think I actually enjoyed the movie more because I was concentrating on it instead of my food. Mindfully eating just helps me to keep everything in check so that I don’t overdo it without realizing it.”
Mindful eating is worth the effort! So give it a try. Start practicing and post your experience.