mindful eating stops overeating

Five ways mindful eating can stop you overeating

2 August 2021

Are you putting on weight and don’t know why? Do you find yourself overeating but don’t know what to do about it? Maybe you always eat on the run, quickly fitting in food between other things, or absentmindedly munching in the car, or as you sit at the computer?

Mindlessly overeating

It’s easy to eat mindlessly, as if on automatic pilot, putting food into our mouths almost without noticing.

Very often hunger and the body’s need for food is not the reason we eat. Instead, we eat to socialise, relieve stress, combat boredom, make ourselves feel better, and to satisfy cravings.

Eating has turned into something we do to fill any number of needs, and so we often end up eating mindlessly without enjoying what we are doing..

Distracted overeating

Eating mindfully can be an antidote to this type of distracted overeating. Mindful eating can help us to understand our patterns around food, such as eating too much, emotional eating or eating when we’re not hungry.

Taking time helps stop overeating

Learning to slow down and pay attention when we eat, is probably one of the best ways to get the mind and body to communicate and listen to the body’s needs.

The body sends signals it’s satisfied roughly 20 minutes after the brain. This is one of the reasons we unconsciously overeat. If we slow down, the body gets a chance to catch up to the brain and interpret the signals to eat the right amount.

For more on understanding your body’s signals have a look at https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/the-benefits-of-body-awareness/

Understanding hunger

We can learn not to eat from emotional signals such as stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness or boredom, and instead, to listen to our body’s signals.

A growling stomach, lack of energy or feeling lightheaded are the body’s way of telling us to eat. Often, we eat when our mind tells us, rather than our body, and as a result this can lead to overeating.

Mindful eating

Mindful eating involves listening to our body’s hunger signals, sitting down to eat, using all our senses, learning to slow down and enjoy our food.

Researchi indicates that mindful eating:

  • Reduces emotional eating, stress eating and boredom eating
  • Reduces binge eating
  • Helps you feel good and better about your body
  • Encourages a better relationship with food
  • Helps you to be healthier overall
  • Enables you to make more mindful food choices

It takes practice

If you would like to stop distracted eating, there are steps you can take to change. Mindful eating is a skill that takes thought and practice. By focusing on changing in steps and stages, it can be done. With practice, eating mindfully can become as automatic as overeating.

When I work with clients who want to eat more mindfully, I listen to all their worries and fears about giving up their eating habits. I support them to make changes at a pace that is right for them. We work together to develop a balanced attitude to food and to integrate mindful eating into daily life.

For more on how I can help you with overeating and emotional eating see https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/treatment/weight-loss/

learning to enjoy eating again

Client story

Take Steve, for instance, a 46 year old director of a care home. Steve was on call at night every other week, and had trouble sleeping. He would wake in the middle of the night and mindlessly eat whatever he could find in the fridge. He was also drinking a bottle of wine a night to help him sleep. His erratic sleeping and eating patterns meant that he was steadily gaining weight.

Steve felt bad about himself and felt that he couldn’t control what he was eating. He would try and eat as little as possible during the day to make up for the amount he was eating at night.

Because he was waking to eat in the early hours of the morning, Steve wasn’t getting enough sleep.  He was constantly tired and lacking in energy. He worried about his appearance and his health and couldn’t motivate himself to exercise regularly.

Steve had spent a lot of time trying different diets, but none of them seemed to help.  He felt he was failing because he couldn’t manage to stick to them for any length of time.

By the time Steve came to see me he was desperate. He was feeling bad about himself, guilty about his weight and depressed by his night eating. No matter how hard he tried, he was constantly gaining weight. He thought about food and eating all the time, to the extent that it was dominating his life.  He was even beginning to notice he’d stopped enjoying the rest of his life too.

Together, we looked in detail at Steve’s thoughts, feelings and actions around food. We worked on how Steve could start to eat more during the day.  This was an important first step in freeing him  from being driven to eat at night, when his body wanted to sleep.

When he started to eat more during the day, Steve noticed his mood improving. As he began to feel better about himself and the changes he was making, Steve discovered his motivation to exercise.  He stared going the gym consistently.

We also worked on ways to improve how he dealt with his uncomfortable thoughts and feelings so that he didn’t turn to food or alcohol to deal with them. As he got better at managing his emotions, Steve noticed he was comfort eating less and less. At the same time, we worked on improving his sleep, so Steve had more energy during the day.  Over time, he gradually stopped craving high fat and high sugar foods to give him energy. Steve started losing weight and for the first time ever, did not find it hard.

In Steve’s words,

Celia spent a long time in a very detailed consultation with me. She helped me to understand what was going on with my thoughts, feelings and body around food and eating and how my lack of sleep was part of the problem too.

Celia was able to immediately identify that I wasn’t eating enough during the day which was making me crave food all through the night and was stopping me sleeping. I had joined so many slimming clubs and she was the only one who realised the cause of my weight problem.

She completely personalised my sessions so we covered the issues which mattered to me. This had an amazing impact on me. For the first time in my life, I am losing weight without really trying. I feel healthier and happier now. The hypnosis was fantastic in keeping me motivated between sessions. Now, for the first time in 20 years when I look in the mirror I feel happy about what I see.

Thank you so much Celia for all your help and understanding.

Here are five ways to eat more mindfully.

enjoying food stops overeating

Try rating your hunger

First of all, try and rate how hungry you are on a scale from 1 -10. Imagine 1 is not hungry at all and 10 is starving hungry.

For one day, each time you eat, take a moment to notice where you are on the scale.

As a result of doing this, you may find it easier to tell the difference between being physically hungry or emotionally hungry.

Take one mindful bite

Start to become aware of how you eat by taking one mindful bite every time you eat. Try and make it your first bite, as it will be easier to remember. Don’t worry if it isn’t though, as just taking one mindful bite every time you remember can still make a difference.

As you take your first bite, slow down and ask yourself why you feel like eating and what emotions or needs (other than hunger) may be triggering the eating.

Next, notice the colour, smell, texture and also the taste of the food while you are eating. Take time to tune in to how you feel as you taste it. While you are eating, notice if you are enjoying it.

Notice your choices

Take time to observe what kind of foods you choose to eat. Do you pick nourishing foods that feel satisfying and comforting? Or, in contrast, foods that make are quick and easy to eat?

As a result of slowing down and taking time, we often find we want to eat more healthily.

We may have a negative story we tell ourselves about healthy foods, because we associate them in our minds with dieting and deprivation.

For more about how overeating can be down to dieting have a look at https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/when-food-rules-your-life-disordered-eating-explained/

When we start to notice what we like to eat, we can find we often enjoy healthy food more than we thought. The more we practice eating a greater range of food, including healthier items, so we become less inclined to binge on comfort foods, and more ready to choose healthy food.

Focus on eating

When we are distracted as we eat, it’s much harder to listen to our body’s signals about food and other needs.

See if you can take time to focus on eating and nothing else. The next time you have a meal, avoid screens and distractions while you eat. Instead, concentrate on enjoying the conversation and company as you share the experience of eating a meal together.

The more you manage to enjoy your food, the less likely you are to overeat.

Develop an if…then plan

Often we use food or drink as a way to reward ourselves.  Make a list of other ways to reward yourself because you’ve had a hard day. 

So when things are difficult, rather than turning to food to feel better, you could choose something from your list instead.    

Similarly, it can help to make an if…then plan for times you are tempted by emotional eating.  This way you have a plan in place and it helps you to make different choices in the moment and avoid overeating. 

Here is an example of an if…then plan.

If I am bored…then I will phone my best friend for a chat”

If I am angry…then I will go to the gym”

If I am stressed…then I will have a bath”, etc.  

It helps to make a plan of what you will do for each individual emotion, so that when that emotion comes up for you, you know what action to take to avoid emotional eating.

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i Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating, and intuitive eating is changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272-283. doi: 10.1017/S0954422417000154. Epub 2017 Jul 18.

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