We’ve got the big secret to weight loss. Believe it or not, it isn’t a fad diet, it’s perfectly safe, and it’s doctor recommended. And it’s all in your head.
Mindfulness is “the practice of being in the moment and deliberately noticing every sensory experience, while also separating direct experience, thoughts and feelings from judgments about them,” says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, CA who specializes in mindfulness and eating disorders.
It may sound a bit Bohemian for some, but it’s a serious psychological practice with a research-proven track record. Mindfulness can help “re-wire your brain,” Greenberg says, yielding better control of fear and increased activity in the part of the brain that affects empathy. It improves memory and reduces stress, depression and blood pressure.
When it comes to eating, Greenberg explains, mindfulness helps restore your own intuitive wisdom around eating (you know, that gut instinct babies have that tells them when they’re hungry). Better still, it helps you enjoy the sensation of your food. Here are nine simple but effective tips for using mindfulness to help shed extra pounds.
1. Ask yourself “why?”
Considering why you eat is the first step to eating more mindfully, according to Michelle May, MD, in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. If you ask yourself this question before digging into a mid-day snack, you may realize you’re eating for a reason other than true hunger, like boredom or stress.
2. Create a nourishing space.
Your environment can have a huge impact on how much you eat, so it’s important to create a soothing ambiance. Greenberg recommends setting the table with flowers, for example, to set the stage for a calm and positive meal. Avoid distracting sounds or visuals as well as anything that makes you physically uncomfortable so you can focus on your food instead.
3. Power off.
Eating in front of the TV can cause you to eat 10 percent more calories at mealtime, and a whopping 25 percent more calories later in the day, one study found. And the trouble isn’t just premium cable. Research suggests that ditching the laptops and smartphones in favor of a more focused meal can help you become more aware of how much you’re eating and enjoy it more.
4. Quiet down.
Eating in silence can make it far easier to focus on the physical sensations of your food, says Greenberg. If eating alone or in total silence isn’t an option, consider setting aside a certain period of time for eating quietly with your family. It’s also still possible to be mindful while chatting, Greenberg says. Just do so deliberately. Don’t be distracted from your food by the conversation or vice versa; take your time and enjoy both.
5. Notice everything.
Before digging in, look at your food as if you’re seeing it for the first time. This is a common practice in mindfulness studies, where participants are challenged to eat a raisin like it’s the first time they’ve seen one. Observe the deep, purple-brown colors and the raisin’s wrinkles and fold. Smell it. Touch it. As you take a bite, “slow down and actually taste it,” says Greenberg. Try doing the same with your own meals — even if it’s the same breakfast you eat every day.
6. Put down your fork.
This just may be the hardest part of mindful eating. Rather than plowing through a whole plate of food, take a bite, taste the food, and swallow — all before picking up your fork for another bite. Forcing yourself to eat slowly can help you cut down on calories, since you notice that you’re full sooner, researchers have found.
7. Make eating harder.
Still not sure you can pump the brakes? The Harvard Health Letter offers a few tricks to force yourself to eat more slowly. Cut your food into much smaller bites. Eat with your non-dominant hand, or eat with chopsticks if you don’t usually. Bonus: You’ll be training your fine motor skills in the process!
8. Be grateful.
“When you eat, savor [your food]. Think about how it got there — your part in a larger whole,” Greenberg says. Think of the farm or animal it came from, and the many people, vehicles, or machines that may have been involved in it arriving on your plate. It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe or gratitude for all those moving parts. This thankfulness can help you eliminate any negative judgments about the food you’re eating, quiet guilt, and help you feel more satisfied.
9. Accept what you’re feeling.
For many, eating can be a remarkably emotional struggle. If you feel guilt, stress or sadness while eating, accept those feelings. Mindfulness isn’t about hiding from how you feel, says Greenberg. What matters is noticing and accepting those emotions. By allowing them to come over you without fighting them, you may realize that ultimately they do pass on their own, and that your emotions don’t have to rule you.