In today’s Health and Fitness industry, you can go to nearly any trainer, dietitian, nutritionist or general gym goer and request a diet that will aid you in losing weight. Heck, there is a new 8/10/12/6 week challenge being released all the time, designed to give you that magical “motivation” and “drive” that you so desperately desire and believe is required to hit that goal weight.
The next fact is something that all of us pretty much know but either choose to ignore or plead ignorance and state that it won’t happen to you.
Over 90% of those who complete said challenges regain the weight they lose (1).
Because nobody stops to teach them how not to repeat the behaviours that placed them in that position in the first place, instead it is expected that the individuals will continue to follow the diet/binge/diet cycle, like a mouse on a wheel, for the rest of their lives because that’s just how it’s done right? Wrong!
There are so many different reasons that we put on weight; stress/hormones/shift work/mental health to name a few. It is all very well and good to put these things to the back of our mind for a short period of time to just get through the challenge, but what happens when you stop?
One of the first things I work on with clients is teaching them to look at food as a scale or a pendulum. Foods exist everywhere from being low in nutrients (typically considered unhealthy), through to extremely high in nutrients (considered healthy), and everything in between. The majority of diets teach you to focus on just the high nutrients end and to completely avoid the low nutrient dense foods.
Now I’m not saying this is bad at all. We should be aiming to regularly eat more foods that have higher levels of nutrients, however, having chocolate, or some pizza, or ice cream in moderation is definitely not going to be detrimental.
When we tell ourselves these foods are bad we create an elephant in the room, especially when we are trying to adhere to this fairy tale idea in our head about what ‘healthy’ actually looks like. Sure you can eat all of the best “clean” foods in the world but if you are miserable as hell and hate what you eat, is this really healthy?
If you can no longer eat certain food groups because they’ve been removed from your diet for so long and you miss eating them is this really healthy?
So where does mindfulness come into this?
Mindfulness is defined as a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings and sensations but not judging them (2).
So how can we apply mindfulness to nutrition and weight loss?
The two main areas I am going to focus on are the thoughts that drive overeating and the thoughts that drive weight loss.
A good way to think of the art of mindfulness is that you are sitting on the side of a busy road, watching all of the traffic driving past, these are your thoughts.
Now if we jump up and run out onto the road to jump onto one car this can cause quite a bit of mayhem. This is the exact same with your thoughts, so, the thoughts telling you that you need to eat certain foods, or that you need to do that challenge to get back on track, your life would be so much better if you were 10kg’s smaller, etc etc, are the exact thoughts that practicing mindfulness teaches you to acknowledge, not ignore, accept and be aware that they exist.
But just because they exist doesn’t mean that they need to make you do anything, no matter how uncomfortable they get.
The more we run out onto the road to jump onto a car, the more mayhem that occurs, like a ripple effect. It also effectively trains our brain that this is the behaviour we want as we invoke the reward centre, whether the behaviour is desirable or not.
So what are some of the ways you can implement mindfulness?
- Learning meditation is a great one, there are a few really good guided meditation apps out there now such as headspace and smiling minds, which start with just ten minutes a day. Mindfulness can assist with anxiety and stress as well, which are a two big factors in overeating.
- Reflective journaling is another good method to use to see what emotions are around when you are triggered.
- Finally, find a coach or a counsellor who is able to assist you in implementing some more long-term behaviours that will be far more beneficial for sustaining long-term weight loss than just doing a challenge with a general diet.
Don’t underestimate the change of mindset by focusing solely on the change on the scale.
(1) Grodstein, F. (1996). Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program. Can you keep it off?. Archives Of Internal Medicine, 156(12), 1302-1306. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/archinte.156.12.1302
(2) mindfulness. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved October 11, 2016 from Dictionary.com websitehttp://www.dictionary.com/browse/mindfulness