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The Happiness Benefit of Mindful Eating

“Your journey to a healthier weight is not a journey that you start and then give up. It is a journey that you are living every day for the rest of your life.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

No one in Italy is saying “I’ll gain weight if I just look at the tiramisu.” While the boys and I were vacationing a few weeks ago, I watched the Italians eat with curiosity. Bread, cured meats and cheese were served right along aside incredible pastas, polenta and risotto. Truly a low carb dieter’s nightmare. They ate slowly, enjoying the company they were in and embracing a sense of community.

While my ability to speak, or understand Italian beyond “Bongiorno” and occasionally squeaking out a “Prego” at the appropriate time is pretty much zero, watching the locals eat was enough to fully realize the difference in their relationship with food, and ours.

And maybe the very relaxed, seemingly epically long lunches and dinners are unrealistic for our on-the-go culture to fully embrace. And that is ok. It’s the lack of a certain feeling in the dialogue that I believe is the biggest difference why they can eat carb and meat laden foods without the concern of weight gain.

They don’t feel guilty about what they eat.

You know what I’m talking about. That blind mindless eating where you are about to shove the third cookie into your mouth, blissful.  As you pick up the forth, reveling in the glory of how good it tastes, and then suddenly, becoming more present, you think that you “shouldn’t” because it’s so bad for you or you realize the number of calories you just consumed that will surely show up on your thighs tomorrow.

In addition to the guilt you now feel, there are the physical effects that sometimes more easily conjure up your feelings of guilt like at Thanksgiving dinner.  The belt loosening over full feeling you experience after eating too much, when it’s a toss-up between who is more stuffed. You or the turkey.

When you emotionalize what you eat, the inner dialogue of shame and self-loathing starts.  Certainly, you wouldn’t speak to anyone else the same way you speak to yourself. And yet there you are full of regret. The effects of which are detrimental to your health and wellbeing.  The guilt you feel with overeating disrupts digestion and causes you undo stress; and stress can cause weight gain. A vicious cycle indeed.

Breaking the cycle in theory is easy. Eat more mindfully. Be present more often. Doing simple things like sitting at a table, not eating in your car or while watching TV are powerful first steps to becoming present to your food. Put your fork down and take a moment to chew your food. You may find that what you eat tastes better than you think or that you feel more satisfied.

Eating mindfully takes practice. Treat yourself and the food you eat with compassion. Be aware when you start to think about how bad something is or the negative effects it may have on your body and your weight.

When those thought arise, shift them to a more neutral place. The food isn’t good or bad, nor is it out to get you. Focus on enjoyment not guilt. Eat slowly. Not only will you eat less of what you love, it will love you back in a whole new way.

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