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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