By Charlie Remiggio
“Pleasure is always derived from something outside of you, whereas joy arises from within.” – Eckhart Tolle
Losing weight can be a challenge for us because food tastes really great. We all have trigger foods that bring us pleasure. I love sugary foods, pizza, bagels and pasta. When I worked at my corporate job many years ago, I used to get a fresh baked muffin or bagel most mornings and a pizza or sandwich and occasionally chips most lunches and I would have pasta most dinners along with the occasional ice cream or cookies. My weight was slowly going up until I had to change my habits.
Although I love sugary foods, pizza, bagels and pasta now, I love looking and feeling healthy more. I understand that the pleasure from these foods doesn’t last very long and that looking and feeling healthy lasts much longer. I may have them once or twice a week now, instead of once or twice or more a day as I did then.
One thing that helps me is that I use a mindfulness approach. So what is mindfulness? I think I heard that word when I read a book years ago called, “Wherever You Go There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Over the years I’ve read other books on mindfulness and have done mindfulness meditation which has helped me feel happier, less stressed and keeps my eating in check. In a book called, “Mindfulness” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, they state that “mindfulness is about observation without criticism; being compassionate with yourself.”
They also state that “scientific studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily. Other studies have shown that regular meditators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital. Memory improves, creativity increases and reaction times become faster.”
Now that you understand mindfulness a little, I’ll explain it from my perspective to help you with weight loss.
1) We all have thoughts.
2) Those thoughts create feelings we like or don’t like.
3) We then react to those feelings.
It looks like this:
THOUGHTS ⇒ FEELINGS ⇒ UNCONSCIOUS REACTION
An example relating to food would be that you see a commercial for ice cream and tell yourself that you want it or picture yourself eating it (thoughts), you feel this rush of energy in your stomach and chest and your heart beats faster (feelings) and you go to your freezer and make a large bowl of ice cream and start eating it (unconscious reaction). You then may feel guilty afterwards and judge yourself as bad and beat yourself up (judgements of a past event).
A mindfulness approach would take a different path which would look something like this:
THOUGHTS ⇒ FEELINGS ⇒ MINDFULNESS ⇒ CONSCIOUS DECISION
Let’s use that same example. You see a commercial for ice cream and tell yourself that you want it or picture yourself eating it (thoughts), you feel this rush of energy in your stomach and chest and your heart beats faster (feelings) but now you just sit there and notice your thoughts and feelings in the present moment without judging them (mindfulness). You realize that you were fine before the commercial but you can see how the commercial triggered the thought and you can see how the thought triggered the feelings. You don’t run to the freezer but you just breathe and pay attention to the feelings and sit with them. You can feel how strong they are. You notice that they are uncomfortable but you also notice that it’s not an emergency situation. You understand that if you were fine before the commercial that your feelings will go back to normal if you give them enough time. You breath and sit with these uncomfortable feelings for some time.
At this point you may decide that you’re not going to have the ice cream because you just recently had a treat and this would move you away from your goal of losing weight (conscious decision).
You may also decide to have a small bowl of ice cream without guilt because even though you were triggered by the commercial, you will have it as a treat knowing that you didn’t have that many treats during the week and it will not take you away from your weight loss goal (conscious decision and nonjudgmentally).
The goal of a mindfulness approach is to be in the present moment and not be reactive because of the thoughts and feelings, but to make conscious decisions regardless of the uncomfortable feelings a craving may bring.
Let’s use an analogy of your thoughts and feelings about a craving to a child who wants something.
A parent may take their child into a supermarket and while standing in the register line the child may see a candy bar. The child has thoughts and feelings about wanting that candy bar and tells the parent but the parent says “No!” The child then has a tantrum and starts yelling and crying. This is very uncomfortable and embarrassing for the parent. The quickest and easiest way to calm the child down is to give them the candy bar (reaction by the parent). The problem with this approach is that the child will cry and scream and act bratty every time he or she wants something. There are better conscious decisions a parent can make in this situation.
When you have uncomfortable feelings about foods during a craving, the easiest way to calm the uncomfortable feelings down is to give in to the craving and immediately have the food. If you continually do this, you will create a habit that will be ingrained each time the thoughts and feelings arise just as in the child analogy.
When you’ve had this reaction habit for many years, it can be a challenge to make a new habit. I don’t get it right all the time, but now I get it right most of the time because I’ve practiced sitting with uncomfortable feelings knowing they will pass. Remember, mindfulness is about having compassion for yourself while you’re trying to change a habit. Be patient because it takes time to change old habits.
When you have a craving, try not to react right away. Notice what the trigger was for your craving. This can help you to plan better in the future. Notice if the craving is just a pleasure craving or real hunger. If it’s real hunger, try to make a healthy food choice rather than restricting food when your body needs it. If it’s a pleasure craving try to sit with the uncomfortable craving for a period of time (5 or 10 minutes or more). Label it on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest). Pay attention to see if your cravings come in waves. Let the time pass and see if the craving is still at the same level or did it lower. You can understand that just because you have an uncomfortable feeling doesn’t mean you have to react. Allow yourself to be with uncomfortable feelings without fighting them. Allow them to be there. Tell yourself, “It’s OK”. Be patient and maybe this approach can help you with your weight loss goals.