By Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski
Guest Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network
Mindful eating practices can help you rein in your food cravings and regain control
The tug feels stronger than an ocean’s undertow. You just ate, but you can’t stop thinking about the candy jar on your cubicle neighbor’s desk, so you invent a reason to walk past and dip in. Back at your desk, the self-loathing begins: “Why did I do that? I was doing so well. I have no self-control. What is wrong with me?” Believing that you sabotaged your plans to eat well that day, you decide to stop for a milkshake on the way home. “I already blew it. Might as well just keep eating.”
The cravings cycle is powerful, beginning on an unconscious level and ballooning very rapidly. During a teleconference, The Center for Mindful Eating board member, Ronna Kabatznick, Ph.D., compares the cravings cycle to falling out of a tree. “As we’re falling through the branches, we don’t notice we’re getting cut and bruised. It’s when we hit the ground that we realize we’re hurt.” The consequences of mindless eating vary, says Kabatznick, sometimes severely affecting health and/or relationships.
When we eat mindlessly we detach ourselves from the experience. Lost in thought or emotion, we miss out on the flavors, textures and aromas of what we are eating and then wonder why we still feel hungry. Kabtznick points out we are challenged by the non-linear process of our cravings cycle. Many incidences occur randomly, taking us by surprise. We then proceed to indulge those thoughts and convince ourselves that happiness will only prevail if we surrender. After all, our age of instant gratification often dictates that satisfaction should be ours whenever we want it, by any means necessary.
Why does such a notion pervade our thoughts? “We erroneously believe that suffering is unnatural and wrong, something to be avoided at all costs.” So our need for escape from negative thoughts and/or feelings materializes in our pursuit for a more sensual experience, whether it’s food, sex or drugs.
Understanding the Cycle
The first phase of the cravings cycle begins with a trigger. Whether you’re feeling lonely or you’re at a party, Kabatznick says cravings are always ready to manifest, and it doesn’t take much to spur them. Next comes tunnel vision. All we can think about is the object of our desire, and how it could be the solution to all of our problems. Happiness can only be attained if we have even just a small bite.
And so the great debate begins. We first hear the Defender’s voice: “You deserve it. It’s been a long day. It’s low-fat. You’ll only have a little.” The goal of the Defender, Kabatznick says, is to “dazzle, convince, or seduce us into believing that the object of our desire is so worthwhile and special, and will make us feel so good, that we’d be crazy to pass up an opportunity to enjoy it.” The Defender is so convincing we deny the negative consequences of our actions.
Along comes the Prosecutor: “You’ll regret it. Think of how far you’ve come. Don’t ruin it.”
The cycle goes on to include the full consumption of desire to the ecstasy and agony of surrender. It tastes sweet at first. Intoxicatingly sweet. But the moment is very fleeting and soon gives way to despair and self-loathing. “I failed. I will never lose weight this way. I might as well give up.” And then what happens? The cycle begins again, because now we are so down we need something to pick us back up.
Tools for the Taming
With some guided meditation techniques, we are brought back to the present moment, consciously acknowledging what we are taking into our bodies. We must learn to identify our hunger, the place from which it is arising, whether it is real or imagined.
The best place to begin mindfulness is with the breath. Check in with yourself every now and then. You might be surprised to find your breathing has been reduced to a shallow inhalation. When we turn our attention to our breath, we become aware. We put ourselves in the moment.
Now turn toward your hunger. Jan Chozen Bays, Zen teacher and author of, “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food,” identifies a number of different types of hunger. Eye hunger for instance, may be compared to the moment when you are stuffed to the gills in a restaurant, but suddenly discover room when your server brings around the dessert tray. Or heart hunger, when you feel a void someplace other than your stomach.
Making mindfulness a regular, natural practice takes time. But with enough focus, you can eventually become the victor in the great candy jar debate.
Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski, NASM CPT AFPA CNC is a certified nutrition counselor and personal trainer, member of the Center for Mindful Eating & founder of 3V Training, LLC.