- By Emily Gurnon
You’re in good company if you have tried and failed to lose weight or to keep the pounds off. But Jean Kristeller, professor emerita of psychology at Indiana State University, may be able to help.
She developed a Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training program with funding from the National Institutes of Health. And her research has led to the new book, The Joy of Half a Cookie: Using Mindfulness to Lose Weight and End the Struggle with Food, written by Kristeller with Alisa Bowman (© By Jean Kristeller, Ph.D. A Perigee Book, an imprint of Penguin Random House).
The following is an excerpt:
Mindfulness meditation is not just about relaxing, although that can happen. It is about tuning in, letting go of judgment and embracing what you experience in the moment. Practicing meditation helps cultivate that capacity to stay mindful, regardless of how compelling or overwhelming a situation feels, and that will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
Let Go of the Struggle
People tell me that, before learning to eat mindfully, it seemed to them as if they spent most of their waking moments worrying about food and their weight: what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, how much to eat and what effect it would have on the scale.
With mindfulness, you’ll learn to let go of this seemingly constant struggle. And give this energy and attention to areas of your life that are richer and more important than whether you’re going to eat that brownie.
With mindfulness, you’ll shift away from policing yourself and toward understanding and nurturing yourself.
The patterns you have and the way you relate to food have been there a long time. It might take some time to re-create them, but you can begin to experience success immediately.
Turn Mindless Eating into Mindful Eating
Our decisions around eating can happen in milliseconds: I want more. I want less. I’m terrible for doing this so I’m going to keep doing it. If I have this I’ll feel better about myself.
Even as we’re obsessing, we’re often not even aware we are making decisions. By becoming aware, we can interrupt the cycle and gain freedom over the next moment. We can change our automatic reaction into a mindful response.
Through meditation practice and mindful observation, you’ll learn how to notice what’s arising in a nonjudgmental way. You’ll get in touch with what it means to be hungry, full, satisfied and filled with pleasure, rather than with discomfort. You’ll learn how to make decisions around your eating that are enriching rather than painful.
We are bombarded with a wealth of choices. You’ll learn how to stop and tune in to that wealth of choices without being overwhelmed and without drawing unnecessary boundaries.
Notice the Thoughts that Trip You Up
We bring a history to every meal we eat. For example, workshop participants tell me that they struggle to leave food on their plates because their mothers always told them not to waste food. When I ask, “Is your mother in the room?” some even joke, “Oh, she’s here, all right.” I then ask, “I wonder if there are other things your mother told you to do, that you don’t do anymore?” And suddenly the room is quiet for a moment. Then I hear a chorus of, “Oh yes.”
With this book, you’ll learn how to feel comfortable leaving food on your plate no matter what your real or imagined mother tells you. And you’ll notice and respond to other unhelpful thoughts that powerfully affect your eating. How many times have you lost the battle between your willpower and your desire and told yourself, “I’ll just have a little bit”? Then maybe you had a little bit more. Then you thought, “I’ve blown it,” and you kept eating until you felt physically uncomfortable or even sick?
The “I’ve Blown It” cycle often reflects a sense of defeat: I can’t control myself anyway, so why bother? The secret to overcoming the cycle has nothing to do with shoring up your willpower. Reactions get locked in and you might feel as if you didn’t have a choice, but with the power of mindfulness, you do.
When you give yourself permission to be present with strong negative emotions, cravings, guilt and other triggers as well as to enjoy the foods you love, you can gradually break this cycle, tap into your inner wisdom and feel a sense of freedom when you eat.
Get Away from the Food Police
The idea of policing yourself — whether with a journal, a buddy, or the scale — often triggers a sense of rebellion and an inner voice that whispers, “Who says I can’t have this?” With mindfulness, you’ll shift away from policing yourself and toward understanding and nurturing yourself.
Can it be helpful to keep track of your food sometimes? Yes, and I’ll show you how to do it in a totally different way, with a sense of curiosity and exploration, rather than as if someone were looking over your shoulder.
Let Go of Calorie Anxiety
I’ve worked with some people who fear calories so much that they don’t even like saying the word and never check to see how much they’re eating. Others obsess over minor amounts like 10 or 20 calories, counting up what they’ve eaten every day. With The Joy of Half a Cookie, you’ll learn to manage your eating more flexibly, in much the same way as you manage your money if you’re on a budget — not an absolute set amount every day, but keeping an eye on the bottom line.