Break free from toxic dieting with mindful eating

Sloths: the mindful eater’s spirit animal.

Sloths: the mindful eater’s spirit animal.

For most of our species’ existence, food scarcity was among the greatest threats to our survival. For many of us modern humans, however, trouble finding food is not the major concerns; quite the opposite. With cheap and calorie dense foods conveniently at-hand seemingly at all times, the bigger struggle many of us in modern western societies face is eating well.

With busy lives, the common desire to eat well has led to a proliferation of diet fads promising to help us lose weight fast. The books, lectures, blogs, and programs that comprise the multi-billion dollar diet industry have certainly lined pockets, but they’ve done little to help people lose weight. In fact, research shows that these restrictive approaches to weight loss almost always leave us heavier and less healthy (both in body and mind) than we were when we started.

This is because diets don’t work.


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For most of our species’ existence, food scarcity was among the greatest threats to our survival. For many of us modern humans, however, trouble finding food is not the major concerns; quite the opposite. With cheap and calorie dense foods conveniently at-hand seemingly at all times, the bigger struggle many of us in modern western societies face is eating well.

With busy lives, the common desire to eat well has led to a proliferation of diet fads promising to help us lose weight fast. The books, lectures, blogs, and programs that comprise the multi-billion dollar diet industry have certainly lined pockets, but they’ve done little to help people lose weight. In fact, research shows that these restrictive approaches to weight loss almost always leave us heavier and less healthy (both in body and mind) than we were when we started.[1]

This is because diets don’t work.

Diets ask us to fight millions of years of evolution that drive us to eat. Put simplistically, we feel bad when we are hungry and good when we eat. Our brains actually release dopamine—the pleasure hormone—when we eat food, giving us a pleasant sensation when we eat and a not so pleasant feeling when we deprive ourselves of food.[2] The “diet mindset” on the other hand tells us we are “good” when we abstain from certain foods (or food altogether) and “bad” when we indulge in cravings: the exact opposite of what our bodies are telling us.

Even for those of us who have never been on a diet, we have internalized this cockeyed food morality. In fact, many of us have been instructed since infancy to ignore our own body signals by being forced to “eat your vegetables” or “clean your plate” even when you felt full.

As a result, we have learned to ignore our own internal cues and fight our bodies’ instincts. This takes an enormous amount of mental resources and, once those resources are depleted (due to stress, tiredness, emotion, or sheer hunger) we are left at the mercy of our bodies’ hedonistic whims. This is what leads to the diet whiplash or cycle of strict adherence followed by periods of bingeing or “cheating.”     

The goal of Lotus Eater is to put a stop to the pathological relationship with food created by diet culture and, hopefully, bring the obesity epidemic to an end. Re-establishing a healthy relationship with food necessitates requires both skills and motivation, which the resources at Lotus Eater will help you build.

Skills: Our informative posts will give you the tools you need to reconnect with your own body, manage your emotions without food, eat intuitively, and select nourishing foods.

Motivation: At the heart of Lotus Eater is a belief that real changes come only when people are internally motivated to change. In psychological terms, this is called the “self-determination theory” which holds that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than external prompts (e.g. acceptance or attractiveness).[3] At Lotus Eater, our objective is to help you separate your needs and desire from the demands placed upon you by others or society as a whole. We want you to eat well, not because you’ll lose weight or even because you’ll reduce your risk of disease later in life, but because you feel good when you eat well.

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The “one simple thing” that can change your life

If you’ve ever read a diet book or blog, you’ve probably heard the promise that there is one small thing you can change to achieve the body of your dreams. Attractive as it might be, there is no “one thing” or food you can incorporate or avoid that can transform your body or your life.

Mindful eating, far from “one simple thing,” is a total shift in the way you think—about food, about your body, about your own mind. It takes time and practice, but you can begin to benefit from mindful eating from the first day. The first step is to hear what your body is telling you.

Back to the BASICS of Hunger

When we ignore our hunger it triggers our primal mechanism, increasing our drive to eat and, often, to overeat to compensate for periods of food scarcity.[4] If you’ve ever skipped breakfast and lunch you know what I’m talking about: the minute you sit down for dinner is like the starting gun of a race and, before you even realize it, your plate is clean and your belly is overstuffed with food you barely tasted. This is what mindless eating looks like and, if you’ve ever experienced it, you know it doesn’t feel good—physically or spiritually.

To avoid this dietary whiplash, we need to reconnect with our own bodies, learning its signals for hunger and satisfaction. The easy way to begin hearing your body again is to follow the BASICS method.[5]

B: Breath and belly check before you eat

A: Assess your food

S: Slow down

I: Investigate your hunger throughout the meal

C: Chew your food thoroughly

S: Savor your food

 

The first step in this process is, perhaps, the most important. It asks only that you check in with your body throughout the day to assess your own level of hunger. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and tune into your stomach. Does it feel empty? Is it growling? What about the rest of your body? Are you feeling irritable or light headed? If yes, than you are somewhere on the hungry side of the scale and should honor what your body is telling you by eating something!

Image via Advanced Care.https://www.avancecare.com/eat-mindfully-before-taking-the-first-bite/hunger-scale. Uploaded March 22, 2018. Accessed September 22, 2018.

Image via Advanced Care.https://www.avancecare.com/eat-mindfully-before-taking-the-first-bite/hunger-scale. Uploaded March 22, 2018. Accessed September 22, 2018.

Once you learn to recognize where you are on the hunger scale you’ll have the valuable information (thanks to your body) to determine what you should do. If you’re hungry you should eat. If you’re full you should not eat. If you’re starting to feel full you should respect your body’s natural signals and stop eating.

The simple act of listening to your body signals, before and during the eating process, will help you make better choices, avoid over-eating, and enjoy your meals more. As you practice these mindfulness techniques you will become more and more capable at recognizing internal cues and more able to accept your body and its needs, without judgement. This will, not only allow you make better food decisions, maintain a healthy weight, and improve your overall health, but also will liberate you from the toxic dieter mindset.



References:

[1] Mann T, Tomiyama J, Westling E, Lew A, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets are Not the Answer. Am Psych. 2007;62(3):220-233. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220.

[2] Rosen E. The Science of Appetite. The Institute for the Psychology of Eating web site. http://psychologyofeating.com/science-appetite. Updated November 2015. Accessed September 22, 2018.

[3] Ryan RM, Deci EL. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol. 2000;55(1):68-78. Doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68.

[4] Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. P22

[5] Rossy L. BASICS of Mindful Eating. University of Missouri System web site. https://www.umsystem.edu/newscentral/mindfuleating/basics-of-mindful-eating. Updated April 2012. Accessed September 21, 2018.