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The Power of the Pause: Body-Mind-Heart Scan

By Michelle May, M.D.

pause button squareBetween a thought and an action is a gap. That gap holds the power to move you from reaction to response. In order to access the power in the gap, pause.

Think about it. When you don’t pause to consider the present moment and instead react mindlessly, your brain has no choice but to re-act – in other words, to repeat past actions. No wonder you keep getting the same results!

The Pause

The most challenging part is simply remembering to pause. It’s as if we’ve been set on autopilot mode–just push start and off we go from one thing to the next to the next without thinking. Perhaps you’re in that mode right now.

Pause. Take a slow, deep breath and feel your chest and belly expand as your lungs fill. Exhale. Feel. Listen. See. Notice everything as if for the first time because in truth, you are experiencing this moment for the first and last time. (Read more about Beginner’s Mind.)

What did you notice that you weren’t aware of even a few moments earlier? Isn’t it amazing how much information you discovered in that brief pause?

Body-Mind-Heart Scan

Now imagine that you feel like eating. Instead of acting on autopilot and just starting to eat, you remember to pause and notice what is else is happening right now, in addition to the desire to eat. What other information is available to help you decide what you’ll do next?

One of the many skills we teach in Eat What You Love Love What You Eat and Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes is the Body-Mind-Heart Scan. This skill is particularly useful when you feel like eating but aren’t sure whether it’s from physical hunger or head hunger. By pausing to become fully present and mindful, you can better identify your true needs.

Pause: If possible, close your eyes for a moment. Take a few deep breaths and calm yourself. Be aware that being near food or thinking about eating might cause you to feel excited or anxious, making it more difficult to identify the signs of hunger. By taking a few calming breaths first, you’ll reconnect your body and mind, making it easier to focus on important sensations and feelings.

Body: In your mind’s eye, scan your body from head to toe. What physical sensations are you aware of? Are you thirsty or tired? Are you aware of any tension, discomfort, or pain? Does your body feel good? Ask yourself, “Am I hungry?®“, and connect with your body by placing your hand on your upper abdomen, just below your rib cage. Picture your stomach. Think of a balloon and try to imagine how full it is. When empty, your stomach is about the size of your fist and can stretch several times that size when full. Are there pangs or gnawing sensations? Is there any growling or rumbling? Does your stomach feel empty, full, or even stuffed? Or perhaps you don’t feel your stomach at all. Notice other physical sensations. Do you feel edgy, light-headed, or weak? Are these signals coming from hunger, low blood glucose, or something else? This is a great opportunity to become mindful of your body’s signals and reconnect with your inner self.

Mind: Without judgment, notice what you are thinking. Quite often, your thoughts will give you clues about whether or not you’re hungry. If you find yourself rationalizing or justifying, for example, It’s been three hours since lunch, so I should be hungry, you may be looking for an excuse to eat. If you have any doubts about whether you’re hungry, you probably aren’t.

Heart: What emotions are you experiencing now? What feelings are you aware of? When you become aware of your emotions, you can better see whether they affect your desire to eat-and even what or how much you want to eat.

Like any new skill, the Body-Mind-Heart Scan becomes more natural with practice. The key is to pause and discover the power in this present moment!


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

One Comment

  1. Darlene Lyons says:

    I am about half-way through your book. I am a Diabetic so I am always interested in reading about things that could help me. I thoroughly love your book. You have made some excellent points about Why we eat, etc., and I agree with what you have said. It has caused me to re-think about my own personal eating habits. I am learning to “slow down” and think before I eat. I realize that I do not have to eat as much as I “think” I need. Thank you so much I can’t wait to finish reading it. I also plan to re-read it to get it “into my head.” I do not want to forget what you have said.

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