My holiday gift to you is support for your weight loss goals. Here are four steps to weight loss: Awareness, Rules, Structure, and Peacefulness.
Eating, and liking certain foods are learned behaviors. As omnivores, we eat different foods based on our learning. This means that our preferences for certain kinds of foods developed over time and become habits. Some of us think we are “addicted” to different foods like sugar, or even fatty foods. Research tells us that we may have preferences for sugary foods (and who doesn’t??) but these preferences are actually learned behaviors. Since they are learned behaviors, we actually can end overeating in four steps. Keep reading for more!
The workplace is prime for overeating. The busy corporate woman pictured is multi tasking, grabbing for highly palatable “comfort” food which is quick, cheesy, easy, and requires no thought to eat. It was probably brought into her workspace for her by a thoughtful (?) manager who wanted to make sure she had food so she could keep working to meet deadlines. It is true that the pizza will satisfy her hunger for the short term, but it will leave its mark. Digestive problems, the feeling of sluggishness, even something people call brain fog may be the immediate residue from a highly processed, salt, sugar and fat laden meal that is eaten unconsciously while doing other things. Longer term, she is likely to experience unwanted weight gain, dis-regulated blood glucose, elevated triglycerides, irritability and mood swings, and even more serious things like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even cancer.
Mindless eating, stress eating, shoving down food, not stopping for meals (even for a short break) are symptoms of both learned behaviors and disconnection from ourselves. Pizza lacks fiber, has too much salt, sugar and fat, and the calorie imbalance (too many carbohydrates and fat, not enough protein) cause digestive difficulties. We are what we eat, and this worker is paying the price for not tending to the most basic human need for nourishing, healthy food.
Habits Can Change
If any of the above resonates for you, know that learned habit driven behavior can change. We absolutely can influence our eating preferences. We can learn how to take ten minutes to eat a nourishing meal. We can bring the meal from home (yes, you can get up ten minutes early to make a nourishing salad full of whole foods: vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit, hummus, basalmic vinegar, and other nourishing things.) It is a learned behavior to take time to put together a healthy meal and healthy snacks. This type of learning pays tremendous dividends, and helps to break the cycle of eating food with a grab and go mentality.
What if we got dressed with clothes that were just shoved in front of us in the morning? If we didn’t care what we looked like, because we didn’t have time to make decisions about getting dressed? What if we put on the equivalent of junk food being shoved at us? Is that how you want to look? Of course not, yet that is how many of us eat – whatever is in front of us, thoughtlessly, which we justify because we are too busy, or tired, or bored, or hungry, or fill in the blank.
- Awareness is the first step of mindfulness. In any mindfulness practice, we notice how we feel, and without judgment pay attention to the experience of feeling. My colleagues in overeating and food addiction suggest that awareness is the first step in breaking conditioned hyper eating. It is no surprise this is the first step alcoholics take when beginning the change process. Once you understand that your brain is being activated, you can consider questions like: “how can I cool off the stimulus?”
- Step 2 is developing your own set of rules regarding overeating. There may be certain foods (like french fries) that you need to make off limits, because it is impossible to stop. So, consider not eating them. I find that this works for me, supporting a 44 pound weight loss over nearly 30 years. There are just many foods that I won’t eat because of their ability to hijack and manipulate my taste buds.
- Step 3 is to build structure around your eating. Create a plan, know what you’re going to eat, and when you are going to eat, and eat with a certain structure so you are not grabbing food constantly throughout the day. This way of creating boundaries is very helpful in controlling overeating. Boundaries and rules keep the brain in check. If I tell myself “no french fries ever” then I’m not tempted each time I drive past a fast food restaurant. It ends the dialog and allows me less anxiety, which means less suffering.
- Step 4 is eat in a planned way, which is peaceful. Chaotic eating patterns cause difficulty for our brains. Snacking constantly is simply a response to cues in the environment. If we eat every time we get a cue, we’re eating all the time. Having a planned structure and routine with food settles this habit response to food stimulation, which is everywhere.