It’s that time of year again. I’m noticing a rash of weight-loss commercials on the TV this morning. On the Today Show they had a segment about willpower where they interviewed an expert on the subject, Kelly Mcgonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and yoga teacher at Stanford university, who happens to have a book out: “The Willpower Instinct”.
Perusing a little on her website, I am seeing themes reminiscent of some of the insights I learned from Dr. Daniel Amen’s work. The brain is crucial. If there’s something off in the brain, achieving lifestyle-change goals will be more difficult. But information IS power and, although I struggle with some issues like ADD, addressing the brain chemistry issues has enabled me to turn the corner on my heath and lifestyle goals.
Dr. Mcgonigal’s work adds the psychological dimension including the importance of self-compassion and strategies for using and building self-control. I will write more about her work as I research it. Meanwhile, here is a great article from her website: http://kellymcgonigal.com/2011/10/21/how-mindfulness-supports-weight-loss/
For your convenience, here is one section from the article that I found fascinating, but you really ought to read the whole thing when you get a chance.
From Mindless to Mindful Eating
According to Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eat, Drink and Be Mindful (New Harbinger 2009), mindless eating is a major factor in weight gain and a saboteur of weight loss. “In many cases, it’s not the meals we eat that cause weight gain. It’s the snacking, the mindless eating while watching television, when we’re on autopilot and not really aware of what we’re eating.” And it’s not just the environment or distractions that trigger automatic eating. Emotions play a big role. “The majority of food decisions people make have nothing to do with hunger. They have to do with stress, anxiety, sadness or frustration.”
This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention, both to inner cues (thoughts, emotions and sensations) and to your environment. When applied to eating, this can mean the difference between one more failed diet and lasting change you can live with. “When clients address their mindless eating, they often naturally lose weight,” Albers says.
Albers breaks mindful eating into three components:
- Mindful Eating in the Moment. This means getting rid of distractions like reading, watching television or eating on the go. It also means being aware of the sensations of eating—really tasting, smelling and enjoying the food as you eat it. Finally, it means knowing what it feels like to be hungry or full, and learning to honor those signals. “Mindless eaters have so lost touch with the feeling of fullness. But with practice you start to realize, if I eat any more, I’m not going to feel good. ”
- Nonjudgmental Awareness of Eating Habits and Beliefs. Albers encourages her clients to keep a food journal to get a clear sense of their eating habits, and to pay attention to habits like where they keep food in the house or office and how they go about food shopping. It’s also important to notice how you talk to yourself about food. “Be mindful of the voices in your head, the messages Mom might have given you about food.” Common self-defeating beliefs include not wanting to waste food, putting foods into black-and-white “good” and “bad” categories or trying to show people you love them by sharing rich comfort foods.
- Nonjudgmental Awareness of Environmental and Emotional Triggers for Eating. A bakery case full of French pastries may trigger a craving that was not there a moment ago. That craving has nothing to do with the body’s true needs and everything to do with the eating environment. A mindful approach can help you become aware of the difference between hunger and craving. And when you are aware of your personal triggers, it is easier to avoid them or to pause and make a conscious choice. Stress is another common trigger for overeating, but it’s not just negative feelings that trigger mindless eating. “Positive feelings can prompt automatic eating, too,” Albers says. “You want the happy feeling to continue, so you celebrate with food to hold on to the joy.” Mindfulness can help you recognize when you are eating for emotional reasons and can allow you to develop other strategies for self-soothing or celebrating.