The impossibility of mindful eating for weight loss?

Woman sucking her fingerToday’s post was inspired by Diane Carbonell’s recent post on mindful eating and weight loss. I’m inclined to think that mindful eating for weight loss is possible, but not easy or simple.

Let me explain.

I started brushing up my mindfulness skills in September and since that time I’ve had a couple of experiences that I think are very relevant to the topic of learning to eat mindfully. I’ve also been intrigued by a phenomenon I’ve come to call the disconnect between thinking and actual experience.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I also started salsa dancing in September and I love my new hobby to pieces and I haven’t skipped a single lesson. Nevertheless, every Saturday morning when my alarm clock rings, a tape in my head is activated: “’It’s too hard to get up this early’, ‘I would be much more comfortable staying in bed today’, ‘It’s not a big deal if I skip just this once’ and so on”.

This tape is playing in my head all the while I’m showering, making breakfast and putting on makeup. And every time I get to the salsa class I’m happy I did and feel super great afterward.

What’s so puzzling about this phenomenon is the fact that my mind doesn’t seem to (be able?) learn from my (actual) experience that salsa is fun.

I have another, recent example that is closer to the topic of mindful eating. While I was in the throes of flu #2 a few days ago I continually sucked sugary cough drops to ease my breathing. At some point I was feeling really wonky and realized I’m not merely suffering from the flu but also a bad case of sugar high (I wasn’t very keen on preparing proper meals for myself so I think I was also eating those cough drops for hunger(!)). Even my belly felt uncomfortably distended, perhaps because I was sucking in air with those cough drops.

The point of the second example is that I didn’t bother checking in with myself how I was actually feeling and how my actions contributed to my situation. If I had done it earlier, it would’ve saved me a lot of discomfort. Luckily, this time I learned something – I switched to sugarless cough drops and took an effort to make meals for myself. 🙂

How is this all relevant to mindful eating?

Most of us run on autopilot most of the time, and eating is certainly no exception to the rule. It takes considerable effort to pause and check in with yourself, perhaps doing things like the following:

  • paying attention to your physical sensations
  • asking yourself how you really feel at the moment,
  • asking yourself how you will feel if you eat this item of food
  • asking yourself if this what you really want/need
  • your emotions
  • your inner talk, “tapes”

I think it’s super important to learn to make a difference between how you really feel and your autopilot thoughts. In my salsa example my autopilot mind said that it’s really horrible to have to get up this early on a Saturday morning. Actually, getting up on Saturday morning is usually pretty neutral as an experience – regardless of what my mind says.

So, next time you say yourself it’s really horrible to have to eat veggies, why don’t you eat a slice of cucumber and ask yourself  “What does it really feel like to eat a slice of cucumber”? Or a piece of chocolate?

Diane also asked in her post whether mindful eating can help you eat healthy vs. eating fat-laden junk food. I don’t know but some people (i.e. Carla Birnberg) seem to have gone through a process where they ended up eating a healthy gluten-free diet, based on how they felt after eating certain foods.

I’m of the opinion that if you’re able to consistently eat mindfully, you’ll probably lose weight.

Unfortunately that is not an easy skill to learn to do consistently. In my experience, even washing dishes mindfully is sometimes mind-bogglingly difficult, so why would learning to eat mindfully (to lose weight) be any easier?

What do you think of mindful eating? Have you ever tried it?