How mindfulness eating can help us to quit sugar
Understanding the psychology of eating is helpful in making healthy choices and living sugar free. It is important that we are aware of what helps and what hinders us in making healthy food choices. For instance, taking a mindful approach to eating, aids us in making conscious choices, as opposed to operating on automatic pilot, which can lend itself to reaching for convenience foods and eating mindlessly.
Extensive psychological research suggests that various techniques and practises within the field of psychology strengthen areas of the brain associated with responding to, and calming, the nervous system, leading to mental resilience and impulse control.
Research highlights that the practise of mindfulness activates areas of the brain such, as the left prefrontal cortex. The areas stimulated are responsible for our higher/executive functions, such as, response flexibility, concentration, focus, decision making, problem solving, emotional intelligence, among others.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a learnable skill. It is a capacity we all possess by virtue of being human. It consists of learning to become aware of specific aspects of experience, in the present moment. A substantial amount of thinking occurs automatically, frequently going unnoticed, and assumed to be true. Many are not aware that our thoughts are not facts or truths.
We frequently give in to a thought such as ‘I have to have this’, as a way to attempt to alleviate the associated urge or craving. We frequently believe our thoughts to be true. However, when we stop to monitor and notice them, they are often uncertain and largely false.
It’s useful to periodically take a few minutes to allow yourself to observe your stream of consciousness without attempting to change anything. A specific exercise employed for this purpose, used in Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) is referred to as the ‘tiger task’.
The 'Tiger Task'
1.Close your eyes and form an image of a tiger. Simply do nothing with the image for 2-3 minutes. The key is to neither try to change the image, nor stop it from changing. Allow it to have a life of its own and observe what occurs.
2. Having completed the first exercise, again close your eyes and form an image of a tiger. This time, however, take 2-3 minutes to attempt to suppress the image of the tiger. The aim this time is to avoid thinking about the tiger.
When left alone, thoughts and images naturally pass through awareness. Automatic thoughts and images are transient, fleeting through our minds like clouds passing across the sky.
In the second exercise above, you may have noticed that the more you attempt to suppress thoughts and images, the more you focus attention on the very thing you wish to suppress.
Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, naturally fading from our mind when we do not engage with them. However, becoming overly-preoccupied with a certain topic, inhibits the thoughts from naturally passing through our stream of consciousness.
How to use mindfulness eating on a sugar free diet
Mindfulness in plain english is a process of learning to acknowledge and accept the thoughts, feelings and sensations, which come to our attention, as opposed to the unproductive behaviour of trying to push them out of conscious awareness. Developing mindfulness provides us with the freedom from the tendency to allow distressing or uncomfortable thoughts and cravings overwhelm, which commonly leads to low mood, stress, anxiety and unhelpful habits.
Mindfulness requires practising conscious awareness; continually bringing oneself back to the present moment.
The following questions can help us get more out of meal times:
How does my breakfast taste today?
How satisfying is my lunch?
Am I noticing every bite?
Am I enjoying every bite?
While research suggests that it is not realistic to expect us to notice every bite, of every morsel we eat, nevertheless, it is possible and certainly very helpful to pay more attention to what we are eating. Bringing awareness back to the here and now, taking things moment to moment is conducive to being less reactive and less habitual. This is key, in terms of, adopting healthy new choices and staying sugar free.
How does mindfulness guided meditation help?
The more we practise the formal practise of mindfulness, such as listening to a mindfulness guided meditation, the easier it is to let thoughts go. Adopting a mindful approach, we notice the thoughts that sabotage our intention to make healthy choices. In developing mindfulness, it offers potential for us to develop insight, clearer perspective; making conscious healthier choices, facilitating personal transformation - it really is extremely powerful.
Tips to maintain a healthy mindset
The following are some tips on how to maintain a healthy mindset for focusing on your goal.
1. Reasons list
‘Motivational review’ or ‘Annoyance review’ are the names given to the process of compiling a reasons list. This list consists of a review of the things, which annoy you about sugar, in addition to, the positive benefits of living sugar free.
It is important that this list features all your reasons’ for choosing to be sugar free and not reasons that seem to be the right answer. These are reasons, which apply to you, they are important to you personally and drive you forward.
2. Prepare a healthy response to your sabotaging thoughts
The more we become aware of our thoughts, the more we can learn to respond in a healthy way to automatic thoughts. Each time you notice an uncomfortable, unhelpful thought, have your response ready to dismiss and undermine the negative thought.
For instance, In response to ‘ This feels hopeless and too difficult, I’ll never get a handle on this’. It is preferable to suggest ‘I can do this.’ ‘I am focused on my goal.’ ‘That thought is unhelpful, I am letting that thought go.’
3. Guilt is useless
Let go of guilt. If you give into sugar and pick up old habits, begin again and let go of feelings of guilt. If we get caught up in feelings of guilt, it will start to feel uncomfortable and we have a tendency to try to stop thinking about, the things which evoke guilt and discomfort.
Guilt may get you started, however, it will not help you achieve your goal. A response such as, the following may help; ‘I choose to gain control. This is important to me. I am beginning again’.
4. Adopt an attitude of flexibility –‘choose to’ rather than ‘I have to’
Put simply, when we use nagging ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’ or ‘need to’ statements, we feel pushed into something and are more likely to react by resisting and exerting free will. It is far more productive to suggest ‘I choose to’ or ‘I get to’.
Give it a try the next time you want to motivate yourself.
5. Mindfulness benefits
Mindfulness can help with uncomfortable feelings and emotions on those tough days. We are all familiar with automatic pilot and mindless eating. When we learn to observe that our thoughts are transient, we can witness that thoughts and the associated feelings and urges are fleeting.
In developing a mindfulness approach, we learn to accept thoughts and notice them pass and/or gently let them go. As a result, the associated feeling or urge passes. Mindfulness advocates self – compassion and nurturing the body. Through choosing a sugar free lifestyle we are responding to the body’s needs in a healthy way.
Amanda Walsh MBPsS, GQHP, MNCH (Acc), GHR (Reg), DHCBT, DPsCP O.U, BA N.U.I.G.
Amanda is a Psychologist and Clinical Hypnotherapist based in Castlebar, County Mayo. She is a Member of The British Psychological Society, a Licenciate Member of National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) and a Registered Member of the General Hypnotherapy Register (GHR)
Amanda has contributed to the mindfulness meditation sessions which are included as part of the Make Me Sugar Free 21 Day Detox Program, which you can sign up for here. It is designed to help you through the entire process of cutting sugar from your diet and breaking the sugar addiction cycle by providing a full detox guide, meal planners and recipes, guided mindfulness meditation sessions and daily video tutorials.