There’s a saying: How you do anything is how you do everything. In other words, your habits, effective or ineffective, tend to show up in all areas of your life. If you’re struggling in one area, it is likely that the underlying thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and habits are also affecting you in other areas. And the converse is true too. As you resolve those ineffective habits in one area, other areas improve too. That’s how mindful eating opens the door to mindful living!
Mindful eating as a path to mindful living
During my work with people who are struggling with yo-yo dieting, we often uncover underlying thoughts and beliefs driving their behaviors with food. For example, a common mindset in their approach to eating is all-or-nothing thinking: either “on their diet” or “off their diet” and “in control” or “out of control.”
Of course, none of these extreme options are helpful. Worse, restrictive dieting leads to deprivation, cravings, bingeing, and guilt which reinforces the belief that they are out of control, driving them back to restriction so they can feel more in control again – even though it is only temporary. So the cycle continues. (Sound familiar?)
During our work together we often discover that they also use all-or-nothing thinking in other areas of their life: work, parenting, exercise, money, even cleaning their house! As we resolve their issues with food through mindful eating, they learn to apply those same skills to more mindful living!
Mindful eating was my path to freedom!
This has been true in my own life too. As I learned more effective ways to relate to food, I learned more effective ways to relate to my husband, my children, my career, my free time, and much more – and most important – myself!
It may sound strange, but I am truly grateful for my earlier struggles with yo-yo dieting. I now realize that my journey to freedom with food has really been a journey to freedom in my life. And I’ve heard that from many of you too. Since “how I do anything might be how I do everything,” learning to eat mindfully has taught me (and continues to teach me) how to live mindfully.
Although disordered eating was a significant challenge for many years of my life, in return I received the precious gifts of insight, authenticity, and compassion that I’m now able to use to inspire and help others.
Eating mindfully opens the door to living more mindfully
It’s not about being in control, it’s about being in charge.
What else, besides food, are you trying to control instead of giving yourself the flexibility to make decisions that are best in that circumstance?
Whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask “Am I hungry?”
Rather than reacting on autopilot, pausing between the stimulus and the response gives you response-ability. What other triggers in your life need a pause button to give you time to think about your next action?
Guilt fuels the eat-repent-repeat cycle. Regret leaves the door open for learning.
Are you allowing guilt or shame about the past paralyze you and prevent you from moving forward in some area of your life?
Your Thoughts lead to your Feelings which lead to your Actions which lead to your Results. Diets don’t work because they are focused on actions, not the root causes (your thoughts and feelings). In fact, the “actions” encouraged by dieting creates new thoughts and feelings that drive more overeating! Where else in your life do you try to fix the outside without addressing your underlying thoughts and behaviors first? How is that backfiring?
Allow Balance, Variety, and Moderation to guide your food choices.
These principles work well for nutrition decisions. How can you apply them to your work, exercise, and other aspects of your life?
Mindful Eating is eating with intention and attention.
What else in your life, in addition to eating, would benefit from more intention and attention?
Eating the right amount of food isn’t about being good; it’s about feeling good.
How can increased awareness of the effects of your choices (without judgment) help you choose more wisely?
Build a self-care buffer zone.
Practicing consistent self-care builds a buffer zone that helps you cope with the inevitable challenges that life brings. Are you investing in yourself consistently to build your resilience?
It’s never too late!
I hope these lessons help you as much as they have helped me. But if you haven’t started this journey yet, it’s never too late!
A while back, I had the opportunity to facilitate an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program in a retirement community. On the first day, one of the participants, 70 year old Velma, said, “Honey, I’ve been on every diet invented. I don’t see how this one’s going to be any different, but why quit now?” (She didn’t know yet that this wasn’t a diet!)
On the last day of our workshop, with tears in her eyes, Velma said, “Why didn’t anyone teach me this stuff forty years ago? It makes me sad to think of all of the time, energy, and money I’ve wasted – but I’m not going to waste one more minute of my life dieting!”
Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly!
And that’s why whenever anyone buys one of my books from our website or in person, I always sign it with…
Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly!
Michelle May, M.D
This article is updated from a previous version.
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