Done with Dieting? Why you struggle with mindful eating

Dec 21, 2016


Three reasons women who are done with dieting struggle with mindful eating.

It’s easy to get frustrated with all the conflicting diet advice. And even when you’re ready to be done with dieting, it can be more confusing to sort through the information on how to stop dieting.

Methods like intuitive and mindful eating sound great initially, but for some, it’s just as hard to continue those habits as it is to stay on a diet. Even research tells us that one of the biggest reasons diets don’t always work is that they are all but impossible to stick with (file that under obvious, right?). 

But isn’t that true for any lifestyle change, including starting a mindfulness practice?

Most weight-loss diets are not meant to be permanent lifestyle changes. You do it for ten days, maybe 30, and eventually go back to regular eating. For most people, if the food restrictions go on for too long, any weight lost comes with a heavy price.

With each new food restriction comes a barrier to freedom and missed opportunities to connect with others. Once these secondary consequences start to affect your well-being, the diet is now a big problem. 

By the same token, if new habits from mindful eating do not weave themselves into your lifestyle, you may come up empty on that count, too. When it feels like a chore or another thing you have to do, it’s really hard to stick with it. But just like with food, it’s the general approach to mindful eating that makes all the difference.

Luckily, if you are really and truly committed to being done with dieting, there are some strategies to make mindful eating stick. First, let’s look at three reasons you might struggle.

Why the struggle?

There are lots of reasons people get stuck or give up on mindful eating. Some people are just skeptical. Some get really into it and then give up when it doesn’t give them what they’d hoped. Sometimes people aren’t as done with dieting as they thought. And others, frankly, feel intimidated by the whole idea.

But there is one big reason that most people lose interest and that has to do with their willingness to confront uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Mindfulness is learning to stay, even when it doesn’t feel good, without running toward our go-to ways of avoiding, escaping and distracting. So, if food and being in your body trigger uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations, no wonder you don’t want to do it!

Where might you be getting stuck?

One: The Disillusioned Dieter

If you’ve been on the dieting roller coaster for a while, you may already feel disillusioned when hearing any suggestion that changing how you eat might affect your well-being. You probably have some resistance to the very idea of mindful eating. Just as you would get disillusioned with a diet plan once it showed its true colors, it makes sense that you would be equally suspicious about eating mindfully.

Maybe you started a mindful eating practice, but didn’t really know if you were doing it right and weren’t really sure what the point was.

Maybe you thought it was kind of dumb. Or boring. Or a little too New Agey.

Maybe it brought up even more discomfort, which isn’t exactly why you decided to ditch dieting in the first place. Aren’t things supposed to be easier once you stop?

So you dropped it and went back to old habits.

Two: Secretly Using Mindful Eating as a Diet

Even the die-hard, diet-averse can get seduced by mindful eating as a non-diet approach to weight loss. If this is the case, then you just think you are done with dieting.

Using mindful eating as just another diet can seriously impact its effectiveness. If you approach mindful eating with losing weight as the main goal, you might miss out on the other benefits, such as more enjoyment and ease with food. It helps to remember that mindful eating is a practice with outcomes that compound over time as the practice becomes habit. When new habits become positive, sustainable lifestyle changes, the slow and steady progress that comes with those changes persists over time.

It pays to have patience and be willing to let go of the urgency to reach an expected result and focus more on your moment-to-moment experience with the practice itself. Keep an open mind. Slow way, way down in order to listen to your body in a non-judgmental way.

And even though the idea that you can listen to your body and eat whatever you want and maintain a comfortable weight seems as farfetched as losing ten pounds in a week, the former is actually more realistic because it’s closer to your body’s natural state to begin with.

Three: The Mindfulness Newbie

Releasing the goal-oriented mindset can be especially difficult for those who are new to mindfulness. In truth, being done with dieting is about letting go of such goals anyway. In any mindfulness practice, the most important thing is to practice. Sure, it helps to gain a little background understanding of the context of a practice, but the real wisdom comes from doing. Mindfulness skills take time.

What’s more, many people new to mindful eating soon discover that eating foods mindfully brings up a lot of anxiety or fears about eating certain foods and harsh judgments about themselves and their bodies. Sometimes this discomfort comes with a sense that other people can eat certain foods, but you can’t. The shame that comes with it triggers a lack of self-trust or discipline. Maybe even a fear of getting out of control or over-indulging. You may have years of not trusting your own body. Being done with dieting means re-establishing this trust. Learning self-compassion can help.

Having an open-minded, observant approach is fundamental to mindful eating, being nothing more than a practice of opening up the senses to food in an attentive and non-judgmental way and learning to respond to the stimuli gently and non-reactively.

So how do you do that if every time you sit down to eat you feel consumed with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about the food and your body?

What if every time you mindfully eat a forbidden food, you freak out a little?

What if just eating without distractions sounds foreign and impossible?

Good news: you don’t have to do it all at once!

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Start small. Book-end meals with moments of mindfulness for the first few and last few bites.
  2. Get grounded. Take a few deep breaths and connect with your present experience.
  3. Limit distractions. Commit to just a few minutes to eat without distractions and build from there.
  4. Practice yoga or other mind-body activities to establish a positive connection with your body. 
  5. Slow down. Find your natural pace of eating. Complete each swallow before taking another bite.

Mindful Eating Simplified

Want more tips? Download a groovy infographic, Mindful Eating, Simplified! Five easy DIY practices to get started.

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