Mindfulness & Dieting Success
Becoming A Dieting Jedi Using Meditation & Mindfulness
So as you know by now if you read my latest article I’ve been working on really fixing up my sleeping habits and the results have been amazing ; both mentally and physically.
Getting more sleep has allowed me to be 100x more productive and more importantly I’m better able to control my hunger without constantly getting insane cravings [currently dieting]. In that article, I mentioned meditation as one of the things that has had a huge roll on helping me sleep better.
However, what I didn’t mention was that it’s also having an amazing impact on me dieting.
How, you ask?
Did you know that around 70% of the decisions we make everyday are unconscious ? I.e we don’t think about them, we do them as a force of habit.
Don’t believe me ?
Try this :
Take the Facebook app on your phone and place it somewhere else on your homescreen (or remove it from your homescreen completely)
I can say with 100% confidence that every time you want to check FB you will subconsciously click where the Facebook app use to be and then curse, frustrated that you clicked the wrong app.
No matter how many times you remind yourself that you switched the apps location, you’ll click on the place where the app was initially kept.
This is habit.
You’ve done the same thing over and over so many times (in this case constantly clicking on that certain location for the FB app) that every time you think about the act of going on FB, your brain automatically signals your finger to that exact location.
Just like with lifting weights, the more you squat, bench press or deadlift, the better you become with the movement to a point where you don’t need to think about it as much as you did when you first picked up a barbell.
Your brain likes efficiency.
The more efficient you can be in something, the less calories you will burn, the longer you will survive (hence why you feel tired and lethargic during a diet. Your body is simply trying to conserve energy).
While being more ‘efficient’ can be great at times, it can also be detrimental.
How many food related decisions do you think we make in a day ?
Whatever answer you may have thought, double it and then triple it.
In a study done at Cornell University participants were asked to make a guess of how many food related decisions they made. The average response from participants was 15.
However, when the researchers then asked the participants specific questions about when, what, and how much they ate, the researchers found that the participants underestimated the number of food-related decisions made by an average of more than 221 decisions.
This was termed ‘Mindless Autopilot’ by one of the researchers, Brian Wansink, who is also the author of the brilliant book ‘Mindless Eating’.
Now, think about your day.
How many choices do you make about the foods you are going to eat, or not going to eat.
McDonalds or Subway ?
Salad Bowl or Sandwich ?
Coffee – cream or no cream? Milk? What about sugar – Do you use the real shtuff, or an artificial alternative ?
What about the cookies your friendly colleague brought in to work today ; ‘maybe just one…..No, no I’m dieting’.
And on it goes, all day.
We’ve become so accustomed to constantly eating that we’ve totally lost touch with our body’s natural hunger and satiety cues.
We mistake cravings (mental constructs) for actual hunger. And even when we are full, we continue eating because we’re not ‘mentally full’ and then when we are ‘mentally full’ we feel physically sick because we overate.
Add to that the easy access we have to a variety of calorie dense, highly palatable foods at every corner which doesn’t help.
It’s already established that people are terrible at accurately gauging how much they eat, and add to that this ‘mindless autopilot’ and you can see why our waistlines are ever expanding.
What Is Mindfulness ?
Mindfulness is [according to the dictionary – and by dictionary, I mean Google] :
‘A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.’
It’s the opposite of impulse.
It’s the ability to delay the ‘i want this now’ for the bigger, long term goal.
Being mindful is having a craving kick in, and instead of immediately rushing to the kitchen to satisfy this urge, sit and focus, asking yourself : Is this real hunger (you needing to eat) ? Or simply mental hunger (you wanting to eat) ?
Mindfulness brings you back into the ‘moment’ and teaches you to become more in tune with your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues.
So this brings me back to the topic of meditation and how I’ve been using it for dieting success.
[Before going on I feel the need to give the disclaimer that I am no Xiaolin Monk, and this meditation thing is new to me too. I’m just sharing what I’ve done and how it’s helped.
For transcension please seek guidance of a real Xiaolin. Ty].
If modern day society is encouraging this mindless autopilot, meditation gives us back this skill. Yes, skill, because it can be trained and yes, it’s f* difficult.
Have you ever tried to just sit still and not think of anything. No, really. Nothing.
Because if you have, you already know how difficult it is.
Trying to focus on your breathing, while your brain goes straight hyperactive puppy mode and constantly keeps reminding you of all the things you still have to do is no simple task.
But, it’s this process that cultivates mindfulness. It’s the equivalent of lifting weights, for your brain. The more you lift the stronger and bigger your muscles become ; the more you can practise cultivating mindfulness through meditation, the stronger your mindfulness ‘muscles’ become.
Being able to sit quietly and have random thoughts come into your head and then being able to bring your focus back to your breathing really teaches you the discipline you need to cultivate this skill.
Over time, you stop stressing and fearing the wandering of your thoughts and just see it as something that’s there and you’re better able to combat them and bring your focus back to your breathing.
This is mindfulness.
Mindfulness = control.
Control = dieting success.
How Does This Help With Dieting ?
The ability to control your thoughts (impulse) and bring them back to your focus point (breathing) is the same control you need to exercise when cravings (i.e not real hunger) kick in.
- This mindfulness also begins to get you back in touch with your real hunger and satiety cues. Instead of eating the bag of cookies even though you aren’t hungry (impulse), mindfulness allows you to stop and think about what you’re doing :
‘Am I really hungry right now, or is this simply a mental construct (craving)?’
- It brings back rationality to your thought process ; reminding you of your bigger goal/s : ‘I’m currently dieting, will eating this cookie take me towards my goal, or away from it ?’
- You will be able to eat a meal and know when you are full (physically) as you begin to become more mindful of your body’s natural hunger/satiety cues.
- You will learn to ‘sit’ with hunger. The awareness that even though slight hunger is kicking in, you’re not going to die. Amir Siddiqui of Symmetry Gym put this brilliantly when he said : ‘Hunger is the background music to your life during a diet’ Becoming more mindful helps you deal with this background music instead of stressing out over it.
- Most importantly, It has made me appreciate food (and life) ; the fact that I have the ability to walk into the kitchen and eat something whenever I’d like is not a luxury everyone has.
(Meditation, like a bawse)
- Find a comfortable spot to sit. Can be on a chair, sofa, bed, floor or rock in the middle of the ocean.
- Follow the guided prompts from the app
- If you aren’t using an app, simply sit quietly for 3-5 mins (yep, doesn’t have to be insanely long) and focus on your breathing. Random thoughts are going to come and go, don’t stress this. Just accept them and bring the focus back to your breathing.
- Achievement Unlocked : Jedi level mindfulness
Stay tuned for part two, where I’ll be discussing hunger and cravings, the mechanism behind both and some tips and tricks to help curb hunger and keep cravings at bay = dieting win.
But understanding mindfulness is the crux of those tips aiding you.
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