A diagnosis of diabetes can feel like a death sentence. I remember observing the faces of some of the participants in a pre-diabetes program as the nutritionist described how to gain control of their blood glucose with portion control, eating more nominally-processed foods, and fewer sweets, sugary beverages, and processed baked goods. “Changing your lifestyle may feel like a lot of work, but when you consider the health consequences of diabetes, it’s worth the time and effort,” she explained.
But change, even when desired, can be stressful. Many of the participants’ comments revealed the notion that avoiding or managing diabetes translated as dieting, deprivation, and giving up the foods they enjoy.
Which explains why I’m so impressed with Mindfulness-Based Eating as a powerful antidote to the “there goes my life” reaction when confronted with a health issue-induced lifestyle change. For a client facing what may seem like an overwhelming and unwelcome shift in his or her daily routine, Mindfulness-Based Eating may just make the difference between finding a way to get blood glucose under control and feeling too unmotivated to even try.
Yes, the focus is on eating less, but paradoxically, it comes about by enjoying food more. The focus is on eating differently, but in a way that increases awareness, satisfaction, and feeling in control. Think of it as cultivating your “inner gourmet.”
In a mindfulness-based eating session, my client learns to tune in to how he or she feels physically and emotionally at any moment. That moment can be the point of power that allows him or her to make a thought-out response that feels more in control, rather than acting on automatic pilot from habit or impulsivity.
My observation in working with clients over the past 15 years is that in our sensory-overloaded world it is all too easy to barely be aware of how your food tastes, whether or not you’re enjoying it, and how full you are. It’s easy to be “out to lunch” during your experience of eating – whether it’s reading, texting, driving, talking, working, watching TV, or just drifting off somewhere else in your mind. Unfortunately, this fundamental inattention to the meal often leads to eating more. The insidious part is you’re not even aware that it’s happening … until it’s too late and you’ve overeaten … again.
Sometimes mindful eating gets dumbed-down as simplistic self-help how-to’s, such as, “Just put your fork down between bites, eat slowly, and stop eating when you’re full.” Not so easy for my client to do when he or she is surrounded by highly palatable food that is plentiful, easily available … and now “forbidden.” Add to their own internal impulses and cravings the social pressures from those around them about when, what, and how much to eat … well, you get the picture. Eating is an experience that is often laden with emotions, whether we’re aware of them or not.
It’s powerful to give my clients an actual experience of what it feels like to eat with calmness and awareness – to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied, the experience of not judging food as “good” or “bad” but choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to them and nourishing to their bodies.
The best part is that I get to tell my clients they don’t have to eat every bite of every meal mindfully to change their relationship to food and eating. They learn that just a few bites eaten with awareness can help them get in touch with their level of hunger before they take the next bite.
EATING IS AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS OFTEN LADEN WITH EMOTIONS, WHETHER WE’RE AWARE OF THEM OR NOT.
Dr. Jan Anderson is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She is in private practice in Louisville, KY. Her CD Mindful Eating: A Guided Experience is available at www.DrJanAnderson.com.