When I started the practice of mindfulness to help recover from my clinical depression and anxiety disorders, I didn’t apply it to my eating. Emotional eating was my final security blanket after I shed most of my other unhealthy habits. No one knew I had a problem with food; it was the one thing I had all to myself, and it always soothed any discomfort I was feeling.
But along with the soothing came guilt, self-loathing and weight gain. I felt like an impostor of a fitness trainer. If I couldn’t get a handle on my emotional eating, how could I teach other people to do it?
After years of denial and procrastination, I finally committed to applying mindfulness to my food choices.
Eating mindfully changed my body and my life.
I lost the excess weight without dieting or feeling restricted, and I have much more energy and brain space for the things that are truly important to me — energy and space that food used to occupy. Eating mindfully also helped me become a more conscious, patient and loving person.
The thing is, eating mindfully can be really hard if you have no idea where to start. That’s why I never stuck with it in the past. To help you stop restricting once and for all, starting today, I’m psyched to share my practice of mindful eating.
I developed a triple-check system in my personal mindful eating practice, and it’s worked wonders for me. It makes the process incredibly simple and straightforward. If you’re ready to deal with your eating issues head-on and do the work to rise above them, you absolutely can do this! Try it for yourself and you’ll see.
1. Emotion Check: What am I feeling?
No matter where you are or how hungry you are, take a full minute or two to sit and get in touch with how you’re feeling. Think of it as a mini meditation: Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself: “What am I experiencing that may trigger me to emotionally eat during this meal?”
Take a few more deep breaths to get in touch with your emotional center. Face your thoughts and feelings honestly and fearlessly so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
2. Honesty Check: What do I really need?
It takes a lot of bravery to be honest with yourself about food, but the payoff is priceless. Ask yourself before every meal: “Will this food choice fuel me or fuel my emotional eating?”
Facing your honest answer in the moment before emotional eating (or restricting yourself) takes place will feel very uncomfortable the first few times. The part of you that drives you to eat emotionally will fight for power; it will not make the choice to eat mindfully an easy one. If you are truly honest with yourself when you answer this question, it will force you to make better food choices, often much healthier and in appropriate portion sizes that don’t leave you feeling overstuffed.
Commit to answering honestly and following through on it. Forming new habits requires effort at first. The discomfort will not last forever — you are strong enough to deal with anything that comes your way. Emotions will not destroy you. Refusing to face them, however, will.
3. Action Check: What can I do instead?
Perhaps the most difficult part of my journey so far has been discovering other ways to deal with the emotions that arise when I don’t eat over them. There were times when I was riddled with anxiety, which caused me to lash out at my husband or isolate myself from friends because I didn’t have coping mechanisms set up to handle the emotions I was no longer numbing out with food. If I wasn’t careful, I knew I would trigger a depressive episode eventually, so I got smart instead.
I researched mindfulness tools that didn’t incorporate food and found several that help me every day.
Preparing for the emotions is the best way to find consistency in mindful eating. There are times when it will be so tough to say no to the comforting call of food, so having a coping skill at the ready could be a lifesaver.
Here are the tools that are the most helpful for me:
- Take a walk outside. Just 10 minutes can help you reconnect to the reasons you’re putting forth all this effort in the first place.
- Color in a coloring book. It might sound ridiculous, but there are specific coloring books created for achieving calm states of mind. Coloring gives you something to do with your hands while also distracting your mind from the obsession over food.
- Journaling. Those feelings that are cropping up aren’t going to resolve themselves. You have to work through them. Sometimes, though, you just don’t know what exactly is going on. Journaling will help you gain clarity on exactly what’s bothering you so that you can take steps to resolve it.
- Talk it out with someone who understands. If you have a therapist, coach or friend who understands emotional eating (or maybe is working through the process along with you), call them and talk it out when emotions arise. Talking it out with someone who understands is a way to find relief and support. The person you reach out to could have a recommendation for a new way to cope that you may never have considered before.
It’s a lot to digest (hardy har har), I know. I’ve started down and abandoned the mindful eating path many times with other techniques. This triple-check is the only process that I’ve been able to use over and over again without feeling overwhelmed, because it’s rooted in your power.
Every step in this process is a choice to put your mind and body first. If you can just concentrate on the fact that you are choosing this, and release the feeling of “being forced” to change, each step becomes a bit more easily.
Relief from chronic dieting, restriction and emotional eating can be yours if you are brave enough to get still, get honest and take action. You have everything it takes to make this happen. Now the choice is yours.
Amy Clover is a fitness personality & the force behind Strong Inside Out, a site that inspires you to become stronger than your struggle through mindfulness, movement & balanced nutrition. Get her FREE Emotional Eating Toolkit here.
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