Eating is something that is a part of all of our lives, and for some of us, it’s a source of please and pain. Try as we might to avoid it, we get caught in unhealthy styles of eating in attempts to soothe discomfort. Unfortunately, this is followed by self-judgment, which takes all the joy out of eating.
This is why I am thrilled to bring to you a true expert on the topic, Susan Albers, Psy.D., who has authored the latest book “But I Deserve This Chocolate!: The Fifty Most Common Diet-Derailing Excuses and How to Outwit Them,” along with “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food,” and the classic, now in its second edition, “Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food.”
Today, Susan will talk to us about why we sabotage healthy eating, the mind traps involved and give us some tips to get started on a healthier mindful eating.
Elisha: What’s behind our subtle drive to sabotage healthy eating?
Susan: Many people wake up in the morning and say, “Today is the day that I am going to eat healthier,” and then by noon, their mind talks them right out of it with thoughts like “I’ll start tomorrow,” or “I’m too stressed out.” We often want nothing more than to eat healthier. But why don’t we do it?
My clients often scratch their heads trying to understand this dilemma. Unfortunately, many chalk up overeating to “laziness” or lack of knowledge about food. Instead, I think self-sabotage actually comes from fear, stress and habit. When you’ve tried fad dieting, you can easily become afraid that nothing will change or that you will fail. When stressed and overwhelmed, we automatically slide right back into old behaviors.
If you notice that you talk yourself out of eating healthier, do a mini self-assessment. Ask yourself if there is anything you might be afraid of if you should start today? Are you fearful of disappointing yourself? Worried that you can’t eat healthier for the long term? Pinpoint which emotional obstacles you need to tackle to really get started.
Elisha: Are there any specific common mind traps or excuses that we should look out for?
Susan: Although I list 50 mind traps, there are many, many more. In fact, I include a space in the book for you to write down your own mind traps and excuses. I developed this list of 50 from simply listening closely to my clients. I noticed that they kept saying the same things over and over again—things like “I don’t have time,” or “I’ll start after things calm down in my life.”
These often aren’t “excuses” because they are often very true. You may not have a lot of extra spare time. Instead, these thoughts are like emotional roadblocks. Also, be cautious of self judgment. Being critical of yourself can crush your motivation and stop your action in your tracks. If a judgment pops into your mind, just notice it. Try not to get caught in your emotional reaction to your reaction (being frustrated about being frustrated). This creates a mental tug of war which distracts you from putting all of your energy into making healthy, mindful choices.
Start by keeping a record of the thoughts, excuses, rationales that your mind frequently enlists to hinder your efforts to eat more mindfully. You will likely notice a pattern. The book, “But I Deserve This Chocolate,” gives you ways to counter these thoughts to help you to continue to move forward.
Elisha: If someone was sitting across the table from you and asking for some specific practices that can support them in meeting their health goals, what would you say?
Susan: Here are three tips:
- You don’t have to make grand changes. Just start with being more aware–noticing each bite (more on this in Eating Mindfully, 2nd Edition). Pay more attention. Turn off distractions while you eat. Psychological research indicates that we do better when we know someone is watching like a boss, coworker–or even yourself. Focus on changing how you eat before you alter what you eat.
- Focus on the processes, not the outcome. Instead of setting a goal to lose 5lbs (the outcome), keep your mind aimed at the process of mindful eating—things you can do to bring you closer to eating healthier. Eat slower. Put your fork down between bites. Etc. When you are eating mindfully, the weight takes care of itself. You only have control over eating well in this THIS moment, not the outcome in the future.
- Manage stress, not weight. Doing a simple, short mindfulness meditation (like you find in The Now Effect and 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food) can help you cope better with cravings. Mindfulness research indicates that being mindful can change the way you experience cravings, even on a neural level. Practice taking a mindful breath or doing a yoga pose. The good news is that mindfulness requires no formal training and is free. Ultimately, learning mindful skills can pay off by making you happier, healthier and decrease your stress eating.
Thank you so much for your wisdom, Susan. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of getting started on a path to mindful eating. That’s why your tips are so critical to help us get moving and get past the thoughts that slow us down or keep us from getting back on track.