What happens when you are surrounded by an abundance of delicious food? Whether it’s the holiday season, vacation time, or socializing with friends, it’s common to feel tempted by goodies. If the thought of the ubiquitous box of donuts in the break room strikes you with more trepidation than being chased by zombies, you’re not alone. Easy access to food – especially “naughty food” – often triggers the “what the hell” phenomenon.
What the hell is the “what the hell” phenomenon? It’s when you tell yourself, “what the hell – I blew it already” and then you eat a lot more than you would have otherwise. Even an itty bitty piece of Halloween candy is a potential tripwire to lead you into a sugary free-for-all. This could go all the way to bingeing, although it doesn’t always get to that point.
What’s the antidote to a food free-for-all? Try mindfulness.
Simple definition: mindfulness is being in the present moment, without judgment. It’s about being aware of your present-moment experience.Awareness of your present-moment experience keeps you from being judgey. Focusing on the present moment keeps you from lamenting the past and worrying about the future. That pretty much squashes anxiety (at least for the time being) because anxiety is future-oriented; with anxiety, you worry about what might/could happen in the future.
Although practices like meditation are great to increase your mindfulness, you don’t have to sit quietly for hours at a time chanting a mantra. Big relief, huh? Because I suspect the idea of meditating might be sending your monkey mind into a tailspin of misery. Luckily, you can fit being more mindful into your busy life.
As you engage in mindfulness practices, remember the main point is awareness. Being present-focused and aware of your experience may result in you making some different choices. The purpose is not to control yourself or exert more willpower. It’s not about preventing yourself from eating another piece (or 5) of candy or about making you stay away from the holiday buffet table. Rather, mindfulness is about bringing yourself to the present moment.
When you overeat, you are very likely not paying attention in the present moment. If you’re used to eating on autopilot or numbing yourself out with food, you can see that mindfulness is a very different kind of experience.
Something as simple as pausing before you eat is a start to being more mindful. Pausing allows you make a choice instead of careening blindly to grab another brownie or glass of wine. Pause for a moment, then act. Choosing to have more food is always one of your choices.
You know what? It’s totally fine to eat Kit Kats. It’s even totally fine to eat lots of Kit Kats. But preferably, you’ll eat them out in the open where you can actually enjoy them. When you eat mindfully, chances are you will eat fewer Kit Kats. But the bottom line is this: it isn’t about monitoring the quantity of food you eat; it’s to have a present-focused experience.
You can incorporate more mindfulness into your life, even if you aren’t able to sit down and eat a whole meal mindfully. Remember to pause, even if it’s just for a few seconds during a meal. Bring your awareness to your experience in the moment.
What about those times that external experiences drive you to want to eat? Like…Is your sister’s boasting about her great new job making you feel like face-planting into the bowl of artichoke dip? Tune her out for a second and focus on yourself. Is the interaction making you feel tense? Self-critical? Anxious? Just allowing yourself to feel that feeling in the moment takes you off autopilot.
Then decide what you want to do. Here are some examples. You could change the subject. You could excuse yourself and step outside in the fresh air. Or you could take a deep breath and continue with the conversation. And – you can eat, if you want to.
The next post in this series will focus on being nourished.