Category Archives: Mindless Eating

Eating for the Right Reasons

Young woman enjoying ice creamHow many of you eat even when you’re not physically hungry? My guess is that would be all of you. And, from time to time this is not a problem. Once in a while it is nice to have a special treat just because something tastes good. I particularly savor my first trip to the ice cream parlor in the spring when the weather starts getting warm. However, if you commonly eat to reward and entertain yourself and to ease emotional distress there is a chance you lose control over eating and think about food a lot.

The Eat for Life class that I teach at the University of Missouri is a mindfulness-based intuitive eating program that helps people discover why they eat when they’re not hungry and how to be more in control of what, when, and how they eat. In addition, the program shows how to turn exercise into fun and eating into a healthy joy. The research I conducted indicates that after the program people are more mindful, they eat based on physical instead of emotional cues, they appreciate their bodies more, and they binge less often.

My research indicates that mindfulness training was the key to success in all of the other improvements that people experienced. To support that finding, recent research by Mason and colleagues published in the journal Appetite demonstrated that adding mindfulness training to a diet and exercise intervention called Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise (SHINE)significantly improved weight loss.  This randomized controlled trial adds to the support of mindfulness training as an important part of any weight management or weight loss program.

Summer classes for the Eat for Life program are now registering.  This is great opportunity to learn to eat and live in a way that supports your physical and emotional well-being. There is an in person class in Columbia, Missouri, and an online class that you can take from anywhere in the world.  I hope you can join me.

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Mindfully Having Your Holiday Treats

We are smack in the middle of the holiday grazing period.  All of the break rooms Happy Holidaysare filled with candy, cookies, donuts, chocolate, cakes, and pies.  Brunches and holiday dinners with family and friends have tables filled with an overabundance of food. What to do?

These are just a few simple thoughts I want to offer you as you make your journey through the daily opportunities to eat holiday delights.

  1. Mindfully assess the situation. There will probably more food than you could possibly try or taste. Pick out the items that you think look the tastiest and just eat those.
  2. Relax. Enjoy the food you’ve decided to eat and savor it fully.  If you relax while you eat, you will be able to register fullness sooner and you will be less anxious –therefore not in as great a risk to overeat.
  3. Eat as if for the first time. Sometimes those treats that we think we like don’t taste that great if we eat them mindfully. Try tasting your food with a beginner’s mind. I recently tried this with a class of Eat for Life participants. One person brought in “puppy chow” for us to try because she said it was impossible to eat it mindfully.  We each ate only three pieces of this chex, peanut butter, chocolate, butter, and powdered sugar concoction.  I doubt that most of us will ever eat it again. If the food you eat is only palatable eaten by the handful, you might want to question if you really like it.  If it’s food you still really like, then you will be able to savor it fully.
  4. Beware of your hand that unconsciously reaches for food. If your office is like ours, there has been a daily influx of holiday treats. People commonly say things like, “I didn’t even want the donut but it was there so I took it.”  I would recommend questioning that strategy.  Do you really want to eat it just because it’s on the table? Or, if you’re standing at a party, try standing away from the food so that you’re not just automatically reaching for food that’s an arm’s length away.  It is estimated that we make 200 food decisions a day on a regular basis, but I’m sure that number increases during the holidays.  Make mindful, conscious choices and you will feel much better after the holidays.
  5. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is no forbidden food so you can eat anything that you want. Having holiday treats can be a wonderful way to celebrate. When you don’t prohibit yourself from having food then it is less likely you will binge on it.

If you eat more than you planned, don’t get down on yourself.  This is the hardest time of the year to eat mindfully.  Enjoy every morsel! Enjoy your life! Enjoy the blessings of the season! Your happiness will help you be the best you can be and eat in a way that honors your body.

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Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

imagesCATU9PPADid you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Continue reading

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Take the “craving” challenge!!

This is an addendum to an earlier post I wrote entitled “Riding the Urge.”  In the post I described Alan Marlatt’s metaphor of “urge surfing” as a way of staying present with the intensity of craving without needing to act on it.  He actually suggested that you picture the urge as an ocean wave and imagine yourself surfing, using the breath as a surfboard to ride the wave.  You can breath deeply as you feel the urge rising and falling, like a wave.  Imagine yourself riding the wave of the urge through its peak and its decline.  

I suggested that you pay attention to the cravings and urges you have for food as well as the urges and cravings you have for other things–shopping, gossiping,  arguing, drinking, watching TV, etc.  If you can pay attention to how you are being pulled into various activities or behaviors before you act on them, you have greater choices in life. 

This week in the Eat for Life class we were talking about how to cope with our emotions without using food.  Because, let’s face it, one of the reason why we have “urges” and “cravings” for some guilty pleasure or “fix” is often because we are trying to suppress or avoid an unpleasant emotion or situation.

 So, here’s the challenge!! (and it is the one I gave my class).   At least once this week, determine with all your might, that you will not give into at least one craving (whether it is for food, shopping, or whatever).    Determine ahead of time (like now) what regular craving you have that you will not give in to –at least once.  When that craving arises, check the time then go ahead and re-engage in whatever you were doing.  In the background, notice when the craving ends and how long did it take?  Maybe the craving ends and maybe it doesn’t.  It is all useful information.  Sometimes cravings pass and sometimes they are still there but you notice that you don’t have to act on them.   Both of these experiences are quite helpful to know for yourself. 

I’ll give you an example.  I don’t usually have what I call “cravings” for food anymore.  When I want food, I eat it and I eat it from a calm and centered place so that I don’t “act out” around food and it is not a problem.  However, I do have “urges” and “cravings” around shopping.  I am particularly attracted to sales (never want to pass up a bargain) and boots (there are two pairs in particular that I am currently lusting after).   I say this to point out that we ALL have cravings and food is just one particular area that we can get caught.  

I think we are not very skilled in this culture to take care of our emotional needs.  We have been so used to using food (or shopping) that it is what we naturally turn to.  Take some time this week to find more healthy, skillful ways of nurturing yourself.  Examples that quickly come to mind include taking a walk, calling a friend, reading a book or interesting magazine, playing or listening to music, meditating, doing yoga, coloring or painting, cooking for fun, getting a pedicure or massage.  In addition, give yourself some time to fully allow your feelings, particularly if they are difficult.  Imagine holding them like you would hold a small child.  Bring compassion to yourself and the challenges that you face from day to day.  By befriending yourself through nourishing activities and with time to experience your emotions you might find the “urges” and “cravings” to fix with food come less often.

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How yoga changes how you eat!

There is a fairly new measurement of “mindful eating” that was published in the American Dietetic Association Journal (Framson,, 2009) that I am very excited to start using in my research here at the University of Missouri.  Their findings regarding the relationship between doing yoga and mindful eating was also particularly intriguing. Continue reading

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