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Mindful Eating… Before You Get to The Table

Posted by June Atkind, LICSW

“Eat mindfully” has become a familiar phrase, and something that shows up on a lot of people’s “should” list – along with getting to the gym, bringing our own bags to the grocery store, and flossing daily, to name just a few.  The problems with “shoulds” is that, from as far back as we can remember, authority figures have been telling us (mostly for our own good) that we “should” do this or that.  And we, at least to some extent, have been bristling under those suggestions, bits of advice, and veiled threats.  How many of these “shoulds” were delivered with a wagging index finger?  How often did our mind instantly apply itself to avoiding, finding a way around, or giving the impression that we complied with the “should”, while we attempted to continue to do what we wanted to do?

So I will not suggest that you should eat mindfully, or what, specifically you should do to eat more mindfully.  Instead, I will pose a few questions:

  • Why do you want to eat more mindfully?
  • Why do you want to change your eating habits?
  • What will be different in your life if you choose to eat more mindfully?
  • Why does that matter to you? 

Just as children tend to be more willing to follow the rules if they understand why the rules are important, when we stop to consider why doing something is important to us, rather than expect that, as adults, we will respond any better to “shoulds” and wagging fingers, change is more likely to happen.

In fact, it only gets harder when we reach adulthood, as we end up adding a formidable authority figure who is practically impossible to fool or avoid – ourselves!  How many times, on a daily basis, do we tell ourselves that we “should” clean out that closet, or make that phone call, or read that book, or finish that project?  Often we will share our “shoulds” with friends or significant others, hoping that having someone hold us accountable will increase our chances of success.  So many of the “shoulds” seem so simple!  At some point, the other people in our lives may stop hearing our “shoulds” because we are too embarrassed and ashamed to let others know that we still haven’t done what we said so long ago or so often what we intended to do.  The wagging index finger continues to plague us, but it is only seen and felt internally. And what is one of the most common and effective tactics to numb ourselves to the discomfort of guilt and shame?  Stress eating, of course! A vicious cycle!

The answers to these questions can’t be Googled, or found by consulting an authority figure, but rather already lie within you.  The beginning of the journey towards mindful eating is started by mindfully (defined as non-judgmentally noticing and paying attention to present-moment experience) connecting with our own values, which are our guides to what we want our lives to be about, what truly matters to us.  Change is difficult – humans really are “creatures of habit” – but eliminating the wagging finger by bringing mindful attention to our values related to eating can pave the way to change.