< Previous Post | Next Post >

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

By Michelle May, M.D.

Before every action there is a fleeting moment with the power of choice. Read on to learn how to identify and access the power of the pause.

The power of the pause

pause button squareBetween every thought and action, there is a gap. That gap holds the power to move you from reaction to response.

In order to access the power in the gap, you must 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!

Enter the pause

The most challenging part is the most simple: Remembering to pause.

A lot of us spend most of our lives in autopilot mode. Like one of those perpetual motion toys, just push start and off we go bouncing from one thing to the next without thinking about why we are doing the things we do. Not until afterward anyway.

Maybe you’re in autopilot mode right now.

If you are, pause.

Take a slow, deep breath. Feel your chest and belly expand as your lungs fill with life-giving air. Exhale.

Inhale and exhale again. This time, listen. Look. See. Feel.

Notice everything around you as if it were for the first time. Because the truth is, you are experiencing this moment for the first—and the last—time.

(Read more about Beginner’s Mind.)

When you did this little exercise, what did you notice that you weren’t aware of even a few moments earlier? What did you hear that you hadn’t noticed before? What in your surroundings did you see for the first time today?

I bet you were surprised. Isn’t it amazing how much new information you discovered in that brief pause?

Pause before eating

Now imagine this scenario: You’re in the kitchen standing in front of the refrigerator because you feel like eating.

Instead of just acting on autopilot and starting to eat, remember to pause instead. In addition to the desire to eat, notice what else is happening right now. Think back to the exercise you just did… What other information is available to help you decide what to do next?

Body-Mind-Heart Scan

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 valuable when you feel like eating but aren’t sure whether it’s from physical hunger or head hunger. When you take a moment to pause 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? 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? 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 sugar, 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. Often, your thoughts will give you clues about whether or not you’re hungry.

For example, if you find yourself rationalizing or justifying what you are about to eat, it may indicate that you aren’t hungry.

If you’re thinking things like, “It’s been three hours since lunch, so I should be hungry,” or “I might not have time to eat later,” you may be looking for a reason 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 pause to become aware of your emotions, you are better able to see if they are affecting 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!

(This article was first published in 2012 and has been updated.)

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

What motivates you?

A common but often unrecognized trigger for overeating.

How to stop using exercise as a punishment for eating.


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.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

< Previous Post | Next Post >