Key to start listening to your body

You have to switch your head off first.

When you allow yourself to let go of the control of your mind you will be able to hear your body’s signals better. Something in your head is constantly talking: “Oh, I must not eat this, I should rather eat that”, “This is unhealthy – this is healthy”, “You have to eat only this much or that much”, “Last time!” and so on. This constant talk is interrupting your ability to make space in time and attention to hear what the body has to say about this. If we only listen to the head we won’t know what’s right and what is wrong to your body.

When you give yourself time to hear and follow your body’s language, you have a better chance to make right choices. The cues that you get will come from your taste buds, the feeling in your stomach and the general satisfaction before, during and after a meal.

You will probably experiment and find out just how much cake and how much chocolate is most satisfying (it is surprisingly little!) for you and how it feels after eating lots of vegetables. It may not be your body’s choice to eat a kg broccoli for dinner! It may be happy with just 100 g and then something else too. It can be a very exciting journey to learn what your body likes and how much.

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Mindful eating starts with relaxation

Your nervous system needs to calm down before it will let you know exactly what it needs.

In my determination to master mindful/intuitive eating and many failed attempts to practice it I learned that I have not primed myself properly beforehand. What I mean by priming here is making the practice easier by removing the barriers on the way. There are different barriers that can influence you, for example, you can have financial and planning difficulties, making it a challenge to have many types of foods available at home all the time. You can lack knowledge and/or a support group where you can learn and teach what you have learned. But the biggest barrier is biological: if you are stressed and your body is full of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, you will not be able to be a “real” mindful eater.

The hormones influence your ability to listen to your body, making it difficult to recognise your hunger and fullness cues and let go of the restrictive thinking. If you are in a constant stress at work, at home or in your relationships, the levels of cortisol are constantly high. The high cortisol levels make your digestion system to slow down and actually make you “ready for fight”, taking the blood to the muscles. This is not an issue at all if you are in a dangerous situation and you need to run. The problem is that if you stress about work (or another thing) all the time the levels will inevitably be high all the time too.

What if you don’t have stress at work but still fail with mindful eating? The issue may hide in your thinking about dieting and the restrictions that dieting is all about. As it is widely agreed in meta-kognitive psychology, it is your thinking about what may stress you that causes the cortisol levels to go high. Your brain doesn’t see a difference between the actual dieting and the dieting that’s all in your head. For example even if you allow yourself to eat a big piece of cake but your mind is talking “this is so fat, I’m going to put on the weight, it’s double the calories of my daily intake, I must have a detox tomorrow, I need to run 20 km now” and so on, you are making the stress happen! You eat the cake faster, as if you had to run from a bear or as if hunger would happen tomorrow, you put less attention to its taste and take an extra piece, even though you are really full.

This scenario would not happen if you didn’t had this stressful thinking. Your mind will always stress if you think about how little food you will have tomorrow. Your mind will stress if you think about punishing yourself with long runs or hard exersize. Your mind will stress if you criticise yourself for eating.

So please stop doing that. The most important thing here is to understand the nature of stress. I mentioned meta-kognitive therapy, it’s a ground-breaking development of the kognitive psychology that has much better results than the “old” cognitive practice.

To conclude this, I suggest this exercise to make your stress levels lower:

1. Do something relaxing every day. Make sure your body – and mind – takes a break from the fast-paced everyday reality. Some people like to meditate, go for a walk, read a novel, take a bath etc.

2. Challenge your stressful thinking: if you think that you need to be very very hungry tomorrow to pay for this piece of cake, advocate for other solutions. Think again! It usually helps to think that the hunger will not happen because you have the food on every corner of your city and you can get access to food all the time.

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Designing mindful eating behaviour

So, I’m quite sure, that intuitive and mindful eating is the right thing for me and my health. But it’s so incredibly difficult to practice it! It’s almost impossible to remember to focus on listening to your body if all your other habits tell you not to!

I’m sure I’m not the only one that meets this challenge when starting to eat mindfully. That’s why I have decided to take a professional approach to this and use behavioural insights to become full-time mindful eater!

I want to nudge myself to mindful eating. I will try some tricks every day, and judge their effectiveness and usefulness. But first of all I will describe the way experts approach behavioural change.

When you want to change someone’s behaviour, you need to look at the following:

  1. Define the desired behaviour.
  2. Do a barrier analysis
  3. Design the solution
  4. Test the solution

To change the behaviour easily we need to go through these four steps.

In this post I’ll write about the first part of the work process.

Desired behaviour.

The behaviour has to be concrete and measurable and it must not be misunderstood. For example, in our case the behaviour is actually quite complex, because it consists of more than one action.

Mindful eating consists of several actions: a) assessing the hunger level – before, during and after eating; b) being attentive to the food while eating – smell, taste, texture; c) choosing the foods that match the current craving. So in our case we need to either try to do all these actions or take them one at a time.

How can we observe and measure these actions?

In behavioural design there’s something called “video test”. Can anyone outside yourself observe the behaviour? The big problem with mindful eating is that the actions taken are actually internal, and need to be taken out to be measured. One thing that comes into my mind right now is taking time for use of a check list, where the actions taken towards mindful eating are being noted and documented. The other thing is talking through it or writing through it. But any way there’s a need to follow a kind of a plan.

As they say it: Fail to plan – plan to fail 🙂

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Mindful Eating

I have been experimenting with eating mindfully since I read Susan Albers’ book Eating Mindfully. This is a wonderful book that has lots of wisdom inside and can function as a reminder to eat in a conscious and mindful way.

I have been breaking some bad habits since I’ve started eating mindfully, and the first steps that I took was to…

  • eat without distractions. No phone, no TV, no music, no computer or iPad as well as no thinking about other stuff while eating.

Only me and the food. 

It is important to take attention to what we are eating because otherwise the brain doesn’t register how much we have eaten and we can appear to be hungry after we’d eaten a huge meal! This is the reason why people overeat in dark places, while driving or doing something else. Some research has shown that the foods don’t get properly digested and we don’t get the right amount of nourishment from the foods we eat if we don’t pay attention to the process of eating. This is important, so I have decided for a change!

Boy has it been difficult to break the bad habits! My personal story is like of many of us: growing up eating everything in front of the TV. My evening meals were eaten in the dark (!) in front of the TV, and it was just the norm in my family. To take the first steps and eat – even a small snack – without distractions has definitely NOT felt normal to me! I felt nervous and felt like running away from the experience. I felt like I would waste so much time if the only thing I had to do while eating was to eat. How scary is that!! :)))

So after “torturing” myself by eating without distractions I took the second step to…

  • notice the look, smell, taste and sound of the food. You may think it’s easy, but it requires attention and focus. It’s way too easy to start thinking about anything on earth but food while eating. Writing a mental to-do list, thinking about future events and problems.

The third step that I’ve taken to become a mindful eater was to…

  • look for the Last Bite Threshold. As described in The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Tribole & Resch: “It’s a point at which the body gives the cue that you are at a comfortable fullness level. At this point, you will find that satisfaction in what you are eating will begin to diminish”. So I have been looking for cues and the biggest one has been that the food wouldn’t smell that well anymore.

After taking these three steps I have surprised myself with this important insight!

I don’t want to eat food that I don’t like. This may sounds crazy to you: “Why would she even eat foods she doesn’t like?” But here is the explanation. Because I don’t want to waste my time I want to get “value for the time spent eating”, so I choose only the foods that I’m really attracted to. As a result, it has been easier to say “No” to the foods and snacks that I would previously eat just as a complement to other tasks that I was doing. 

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Time is money!

There’s good advice. There’s better advice. And there’s advice for money. Which would you like more?

Usually people answer that they want advice for free, because why would they choose the one they have to pay for if they can get the same with no cost. But there’s a rationale behind getting advice for money: this advice is more likely to help you. When we pay for something, we want something in return, and if we pay for getting advice we actually follow this advice much more often then the free advice.

But why??? It’s the same piece of information that you get. Why would it make a difference which way you get to this information?

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How can nudging help with alcohol consumption?

There’s a big problem with alcohol consumption in Denmark. The country is the proud European leader in the amount of alcohol drunk by the young generation. 

The problem is partly influenced by the low price of beer and wine. The other and the most important reason for the enormously big consumption is the accept of alcohol as a “door opener” in social situations. The young and the insecure use alcohol as a common ground for establishing new relations.

All the studies at the university start with a “rustur”, when the students get to know each other while drinking 5 days in a row. Much, much alcohol, resulting in bad decisions and a lot of vomiting. 

So now that we know about the social role of drinking how can we nudge the young to drink less? 

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The concept of pleasure

I recently came across a TED talk about pleasure. In this talk a woman described her battle with herself trying to achieve the perfect weight. She restricted her calorie intake, she wore herself out during long painful workouts and she hated herself.

She was fighting in a war against her own body. She hated the process of achieving her goal, and when she finally got to her perfect weight, she didn’t feel happy at all.

What was wrong?

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Relativitet i praksis

Jeg bestilte et nyt køleskab i går.

Jeg købte selvfølgelig det køleskab, som fik vurderingen “Bedst i test” og i mellem prisklasse. Det skulle bare være en Siemens. Da jeg var i gang med at lede efter det perfekte køleskab, gik jeg bĂĄde efter A+++ miljømarkeringen, men ogsĂĄ lydsignalen ved ĂĄben dør og stilfuldt udseende udenpĂĄ.

Disse funktioner var afgørende for mig, og mine valg kan forklares med adfærdsøkonomi.

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Nye veje til den naturlige sult

Er du en af dem, der ønsker at finde din egen sult at kende, men har problemer med at mærke dig selv og din mave, kan du gå en anden vej end den, som jeg foreslog i mit indlæg Lær din sult at kende.

Den vej kalder man en rehabilitering, hvor i stedet for at gå hele vejen og bruge alle kræfter på at lytte til dig selv og dine reaktioner, laver du en plan for din spisning.

Der er nogle regler, som er nemme at følge, men som vil give dig en mulighed for at føle sult og mæthed bedre end nogensinde.

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Lær din sult at kende

En af grundstenene i intuitiv spisning er at kunne mærke og respektere ens sult. Den naturlige sult signalerer, at mavesækken er tom og blodsukkeret er lavt, og at der kunne være dejligt at få spist noget.

Selvom vi ved det, er der mange af os, der enten spiser, når sulten er for lille eller trækker tiden for langt, så sulten bliver for stor. Ved at ignorere det risikerer vi, at vi bliver for tykke eller for tynde og mister forbindelsen til vores krop.

Hvad ødelægger vores forhold til den naturlige sult?

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