Dear darlings: I know that weight talk and body stuff can be tough for some of you. It’s never my intention to shame you or make you feel bad, and this post definitely won’t aim to do that – but if you know that this subject matter is tricky for you, I encourage you to skip this post. You know what’s best for you, my friend!
I’m a chubby bunny, and mostly I’m okay with that. I’ve been lucky enough to have lovers and suitors in my life who’ve lavished attention on my curvy bod, making me see that my wide hips, soft belly and thunder thighs might not be the end of the world.
That said: my body seems to work better at a weight that’s a little lower than where I’m at right now. Currently I hover around 165 pounds, and when I’m down around 140-150, I feel stronger, healthier, happier, and more energetic. And who doesn’t want that?!
Last summer I lost 20 pounds (most of which I gained back from the stress of school and a break-up – oh, woe!), and during that process I learned a lot about habit formation, nutrition, and self-control strategies that work for my particular brain. As far as tangible processes go, calorie-counting is the only thing that’s ever worked for me – but my calorie-counting successes were only made possible by practicing mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? It’s an old, old concept often attributed to Buddhism. It’s the practice of being present, of being here now, of noticing and fully experiencing the sensations and thoughts and events of the current moment. When you’re being truly mindful, you don’t replay the past or worry about the future. You just be – here and now and only here and now.
You may be familiar with the idea of mindfulness if you practice meditation or yoga, or if you’ve studied facets of the Buddhist tradition, or even if you’ve used certain psychotherapeutic techniques like CBT or deep breathing. It’s all part of the same overarching idea, but today I’m going to tell you specifically about how mindfulness helps me lose weight. (If phrases like “lose weight” bother you, you can sub in the phrase “get healthier” – the same principles apply!)
1. Mindful eating.
I am still learning how to do this well. Meal times are often blessed breaks from work, so it’s natural to want to kick back and do something relaxing while you eat, like catch up on your Netflix queue or scroll through your Twitter feed.
But experts say eating mindfully is a way better approach. You digest your food better and get more nutrition from it. You’re less likely to overeat due to distraction. And amazingly, you actually enjoy your food more. Tastes and textures seem fabulously vivid and pleasurable when you give all your attention to what you’re eating.
2. What am I really hungry for?
I have learned that often my desire to eat is rooted in some other kind of desire, some non-stomach-based hunger of one kind or another.
If you feel yourself wanting to eat something that may not be so good for your body, it can be helpful to ask yourself: what am I really hungry for right now?
If I’m just bored and want something to do, I can put on a TV show, work on a creative project, go for a walk, read a book, do some yoga, or pretty much any other activity that will capture my attention.
If I’m craving the pleasure I’d get from eating a piece of chocolate or a big-ass burrito, I can seek out pleasure in other ways – for example, by masturbating, listening to some favorite tunes, starting a conversation with someone who makes me laugh, or cuddling my cat. (Of course, it’s important not to replace unhealthy pleasures with other unhealthy pleasures, like excessive boozin’, drugs, or a shopping addiction!)
If I want the energy boost I can expect from certain foods, I can get the same kind of kick from tea or coffee, a brisk walk around the block, or a groovy yoga flow sequence.
If it’s just a “mouth-boredom” thing, I can make a pot of tea, chew some sugar-free gum, or even engage in some hardcore flossing.
And of course, there are times when hunger is actually hunger. Practicing mindfulness has sharpened my ability to identify when I’m actually, physically hungry. And when I am, I eat!
3. Mindful exercise – or not.
I used to hate exercising. (Well, honestly, sometimes I still do. But mostly I don’t.) While running on the treadmill or contorting myself into yoga poses, my mind would go a mile a minute. “I hate this!” “This is so hard!” “This is taking too long!” “Is this almost over?”
Eventually I learned that I experience less psychological turmoil about exercising if I choose to really center myself in the present moment. If I’m intimately focused on every footfall, on the stretch and pull of every muscle, on the dependable in-and-out of my breath, not only do I have fewer resistant thoughts, but the exercise actually starts to feel better. It can be downright pleasurable sometimes!
Learning about mindfulness has also shown me, though, that sometimes focusing too much on my present moment can emphasize any discomfort I’m experiencing. Mindfulness experts would tell me to “breathe through it” but sometimes that just doesn’t work for me, and the only way I can get through my workout is by watching a riveting TV show or listening to a fascinating podcast to take my mind off the exertion at hand. And I think that’s okay, because at least I get the workout done, even if I don’t do it the way I “should.”
4. Stop procrastinating.
Procrastination comes from being out of sync with the present moment. It comes from distraction, fear, and laziness. When I tap into the now, I don’t want to procrastinate.
“I could work out, but I don’t wanna,” I think. And then I ask myself, “What will I do now, if I don’t work out?” and the answer is usually some variation of “sit around doing nothing,” an activity that I know will just make me feel bad and gross.
Procrastination is avoidance – not only avoidance of the thing you’re putting off, but also avoidance of your feelings and experiences in this moment. When I’m really in the now, I often find that I want to work out. My body is crying out for it.
5. The moment will pass.
Studying mindfulness has taught me that no one moment is unendurable. Moments go by. They give birth to new moments. And the new ones feel different from the old ones. It sounds obvious but it can be a revelation.
Sudden snack attack? I can breathe into it. I can choose to think about something else. I can remind myself, “I will not actually die if I don’t eat a bowl of chips right now.” And the moment will pass.
Tired muscles during a workout? I can breathe into it. I can choose to think about something else. I can remind myself, “This is difficult, but it will not kill me.” I can remind myself, “I did this last time. I can do it again.” I can remind myself, “I will feel so awesome when this is done.” And the moment will pass.
Look at my body in the mirror and hate what I see? I can breathe into it. I can choose to think about something else. I can remind myself, “Lots of people have called you beautiful.” I can remind myself, “It’s okay to have ups and downs.” I can remind myself, “My body is strong and can do lots of great things.” And the moment will pass.
All moments pass. All moments can be endured, if you just take them one at a time.
Extra resources: Leo Babauta has taught me more about mindfulness than anyone else. He’s got great articles on mindfulness rituals, beating a food addiction, forming habits, overcoming instant gratification, getting in shape, and lots more.