This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune.”
couple weeks ago, I wrote a column on mindfulness versus willpower. It was well received by some people, but others weren’t convinced they could be successful with mindfulness.
Mamas, I am right there with you. As much as I love the idea of making wise, mindful choices about what I eat, I have many a time reached for chocolate after quelling a temper tantrum. I’ve accidentally stuffed myself at family gatherings. And I confess, as I was considering interview questions for this piece at 10 p.m. one night, I “mindfully” opened up the freezer and started eating gelato out of the carton.
Keeping my own challenges with mindfulness in mind – and considering some that you might have, as well – I spoke with expert Rachel Lurie, a therapist in Chicago specializing in behavioral coaching for eating and exercise, for her advice.
Nicole: In the past, I’ve found that if I follow a diet, I’m guaranteed results – maybe not in the long-term, but at least while I’m on the program. When I try to just be mindful about what I’m eating, I sometimes feel out of control and make poor choices. Any tips?
Rachel: Diets are really seductive. When we lose any amount of weight, even when we gain it back, what we remember is the joy and excitement of how it felt to lose that pound. But diets don’t work for most people in the long-term because they are externally imposed. Most of us have a pretty rebellious heart and don’t like being told what to do.
With mindfulness, the key is getting in touch with the part of yourself who is loving and compassionate, but also definitely an adult. This is the part of you that cares about your body, doesn’t want to feel bloated or have a stomachache, wants to have energy, and understands what your body needs. When you make choices about eating and from this place, it eliminates rebellion because you’re acting on internal evidence; you’re recognizing that it feels good when you eat a certain way.
Nicole: OK, let’s rewind for a second. This loving, compassionate adult – where do I find her?
Rachel: Good question. I like to think of this as a motherly figure – you can even think of it as yourself and the way you talk to your kids. You wouldn’t tell your kids, “Don’t eat that. It’s bad.” You would say, “I want to make sure you’re eating something that gives you good energy so that you can play.” The tone is filled with love, but also wisdom. It’s saying, “I care about you, body, and I want you to feel good.”
Nicole: I can totally get that. I’m always saying stuff to my kids like, “You need to eat breakfast so you have energy.” But I think I still need more boundaries and structure if I’m going to be successful with mindfulness. Do you have any suggestions?
Rachel: Geneen Roth, author of “Women, Food and God,” has a great list: Eat when you’re hungry. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. Eat without distractions. Eat what your body wants. Eat until you’re satisfied. Eat in full view of others or with the intention of being in full view. Eat with enjoyment, pleasure and gusto.
Some of these might be tough if you’re a mom with young kids. Maybe you can’t eat without distractions, but if you have your kids running around, the TV on, and Facebook open on your phone, you can at least try to pare down some of the noise.
Nicole: Do you ever recommend rules, like don’t eat after 8 p.m. or don’t eat certain foods?
Rachel: In short, no. But I recommend being very honest with yourself about how particular foods, amounts of foods and eating at particular times of day that you eat make you feel. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the truth of this, but once you do, that loving adult in you can look at the data and say, “When you eat too much sugar, you don’t feel as alive as you want to feel. I don’t want that for you.”
Nicole: OK, so I can see myself drawing up this kind, loving adult voice when I’m in a calm state of mind, but a lot of the time, I’m not. And I notice that certain things – like being stressed or tired or annoyed with my kids – provoke me eating. Any suggestions?
Rachel: I would say to really acknowledge the part of you that is saying, “I want to get out of here. I love my kids, but this is hard. Right now this feels hard.” Stop and validate the little girl in you who is tired and stressed, and calm her down. And then react to those feelings with something other than food. Maybe say, let’s go sit on the toilet for a minute and just step away. But try to see if you can call upon that inner caretaker to take care of you in that moment.
Food for thought
Looking for actionable ways to be a more mindful eater? Kate Merkle, a Chicago-based dietitian who specializes in mindful and attuned eating, shares these tips to help you get started.
1. Start small. Practice taking three mindful bites at the beginning of each meal.
2. Pull in all of your senses at the beginning of a meal. Pay attention to colors, scents, temperature, textures and flavors. Give yourself a moment, without judgment, to notice that food has come into your personal space.
3. Slow down. Practice putting your silverware down every few minutes and taking a mindful breath. This will help with your attunement to hunger and fullness.
4. If you need a snack between meals, pause to check whether it’s stomach hunger or mouth hunger. If it is stomach hunger, pair something protein-based with carbs.
5. Think of eating as self care, and make your eating experience a priority. Consider how you would feed a friend: You wouldn’t have a friend just grab food out of the fridge. You would plate it, serve it with a beverage and offer your friend a seat. Give yourself the same respect.
6. Don’t create a dichotomy of good foods and bad foods. Everyone has an internal rebel. What we make forbidden becomes desired. Legalize all food.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.