We have all been there – that moment where you are staring into an empty packet of crisps or reaching for the last block of a slab of double caramel chocolate and having no idea how that happened…and yes, it did happen…and no, I am not necessarily saying here that chocolate or crisps are the enemy. What I am talking about is mindless eating – eating that is not driven by hunger, but by emotions. 

Our eating is heavily influenced by our “fast-paced” lifestyle which makes it so much easier and faster to fix up that microwave meal or the grab-and-go salad (or pizza-slice) and let’s not forget the morning brew-on-the run. Our eating is also influenced by emotions that we may not like to feel, and instead, make us reach for the cookie jar. This, of course, only works short-term as emotions are a little more stubborn than that – if fact all you are doing is hitting the snooze button and after a while, they come back with a vengeance.  

Emotional eating

Our triggers for emotion-based eating are often based on childhood experiences or significant life events. I like to refer to these triggers as “sensitivities”. For some of us, this may be feeling not good enough, for others, it may be loneliness.  For others, it may be conflict in relationships and so on. These sensitivities can stand in the way of feeling connected to ourselves. When teaming up with their best mate – mindless eating – they can really be a barrier to achieving our goals. For example, reaching for that triple choc sundae when procrastinating on completing the work assignment due tomorrow. Yes, it may work in the short term but the emotions are only sleeping and they will awake at some point! I would say it is much more helpful if we can buckle up and buddy up with our emotions than hanging out with the empty cookie jar. Wouldn’t you agree?  

How to start eating mindfully

Mindful eating is much more than just tackling that meal one-bite-at time and chewing that raisin for the hundredth time. Now, HOW do we actually do this thing called mindful eating? 

It all starts with being more aware of how our bodies are feeling in the moment. Often if we have been stuck in patterns of avoiding our emotions, it may be quite hard to identify them. Becoming aware of our physical experience is a good place to start. Becoming aware of what your body may need and may benefit from in the moment. What it feels like and what would make it feel better, rather than what your brain is telling you, you are allowed to eat or not allowed to eat. Perhaps this means being aware that instead of food, you may need rest. By growing in awareness, you are starting to learn to trust the messages your body is sending you. 

By growing in kind awareness you learn which sensitivities trigger the urge to eat – i.e. do you eat when you are feeling upset after conflict, do you eat when you are actually in need of rest, do you eat to procrastinate when needing to complete a challenging task? Mindful eating is about paying attention to WHAT you are feeling and WHEN you are feeling it and then responding in a way that would be kind, nurturing and fulfilling to YOU and your body. 

Tips to start

Specific mindful eating boosters that have been helpful for me along my journey to kick-start awareness have been:

  • Before each meal, take a moment to do a quick body scan to tune in to the physical sensations, to connect to your body, and what it may need in that moment. 

  • Allow time for eating, with that being all you focus on – it does not matter whether it is 5 or 60 minutes. Sit down, enjoy every bite, and then go back to what it is you were doing before or need to do next. You and your body deserve that mini reset.

  • When you have eaten something that does not make you feel at your best or have one of those empty-tub-of-ice-cream kind of moments, try to pay attention to your thoughts and change them to compassionate thoughts. Move on from that eating event by responding with compassion, nurturing you and your body during the next meal rather than for example reacting with restrictive eating. 

  • Each meal could be an opportunity to tune in to your senses. Create the space that would best allow for that when you do eat – be it cleaning your desk, putting your phone out of sight or lighting a candle at home. Celebrate your meal and YOU with every opportunity.

  • Make the whole process from shop to table a mindful experience where you take time to plan what would make you thrive food-wise. When you go grocery shopping, maintain focus on that question – what would make me feel and function at my best? 

As you embark on this process of noticing, connecting to your body and YOU, that healthy relationship with yourself will emerge – one bite at a time. In fact, if you truly listen to your physical and emotional needs, creativity will flow, goals will be achieved, and you can unleash the best version of you! So…next time you find yourself at an eating crossroad, first ask yourself, what is it that I feel right now? What is it that I need right now? Most importantly, what will make me thrive right now?

Lize’s mindful eating story

Since I was a child I have had food intolerances, which have resulted in often experiencing incredible discomfort and pain after eating certain foods. Over the years, initially out of desperation and later due to starting my own mindfulness journey, I became more in touch with what made me feel good in terms of what I was putting into my body. As I did so, I noticed that not only did my relationship with food and my body change but that I intuitively started making changes in other areas in my life that were no longer serving me. For example, running from one thing to the next, often without allowing myself enough time to take that breather that my body and I really needed to function optimally. Making changes, like purposefully slowing down including with meals, has had a profound impact on my wellbeing, energy levels and productivity. It also made me more and more curious about this concept of “mindful eating”. 

Lize is available for counseling sessions focussing on mindful eating and body image in Kingsland, Auckland.

Lize is a Clinical Psychologist at Renew Your Mind

Contact Lize

Mindful eating

We have all been there - that moment where you are staring into an empty packet of crisps or reaching for the last block of a slab of double caramel chocolate and having no idea how that happened…and yes, it did happen…and no, I am not necessarily saying here that chocolate or crisps are the [...]

Stemming from the days when we were still living in caves and hunted the bush for food, our brain was wired to produce offspring and find the most suitable partner to mate with. Women looked for muscle clad men that were fast hunters, indicating future security for her and her children. The stronger, the faster, the better because our brains love exaggeration. She was satisfied with the illusion that she would be saved from the sabretooth tiger or rival tribe member who also wanted her good genes for his offspring.

Therefore, the male brain was wired to deprive itself of showing and expressing its true feelings, fears and emotions. Instead, aggression and anger seem appreciated and somewhat expected. Men have learned to mask depression and harden up when anxiety is present. Society feeds into these stigmas and still now, in 2018, men are perceived to be successful when they flaunt a full bank account and spend hours a day in a gym.

The male brain

In the center of our brain is the emotional brain. You can think of it as a brain inside a brain. Its structure, organization and cells is very different from the neocortex, which is our thinking brain. The emotional brain can function independently from the neocortex. The emotional brain controls everything that is linked to our emotional wellbeing and, regulates heart function, blood pressure, digestive system and immune system. It activates you when you need to fight a rivaling alpha male or flight from a sabretooth tiger. It shoots off neurotransmitters like adrenaline, cortisol and testosterone.

When we experience emotional disturbances, it is the result of a malfunctioning emotional brain. For a lot of people, this malfunctioning stems from painful past experiences. While there is likely no connection to the present day, these painful experiences can leave a non-erasable print in our emotional brain. These experiences can reappear and dominate what one feels and does, even years later. The emotional brain activates and controls our survival responses AND emotional state. Now you may begin to see why it is perceived to be so complicated to be a male.

Mental health and culture

In my psychology practice, I often see men who present with complaints such as feeling physically exhausted and men who use substances or risky behaviors to feel better. They say they are experiencing a decreased interest or pleasure in things they have always enjoyed. They don’t sleep well, feel angry, irritable or anxious. It is this response that a lot of men struggle to understand and communicate. They feel disconnected from their partner, children and friends and some simply want to withdraw. After some time they will often open up about past trauma, painful experiences, broken relationships and loss. When they begin to understand that, like everyone, their emotional brain reacts to these past experiences their symptoms begin to make more sense to them and the door to real change begins to open.

In a society where men learned from a young age that talking about feelings is for girls, it’s no big surprise that there is an unhealthy stigma and culture of ignorance among a lot of men. It’s like the overplayed song on the radio, even though you may be sick of it, you continue to listen over and over, it’s familiar and predictable. I say it’s time for some new music, and a new approach to how men deal with and talk about emotions, for their mental health and wellbeing and that of all of us.

Emotional healing starts with acknowledging your inner voice and emotions. Understanding that your emotions and symptoms make perfect sense, given what you have gone through but they don’t have to be a song stuck on repeat. Then, step by step you can learn how to change how you relate to and deal with emotions. Growing in mindfulness, self-control and emotional maturity every step of the way.

Over the past 12 years, working as a clinical psychologist, I have mostly worked with men and this has also been my biggest challenge; getting men to talk about their feelings. Most men are not so keen to talk about their feelings, yet one out of eight men will experience serious mental health issues at some point in time. More drastically, 3 out of 4 suicides are committed by men. Mindfulness offers an effective tool for men to grow in awareness of emotions and learn how to talk about them which improves mental health and relationships.

Ampara is available for mindfulness sessions in Takapuna, Auckland.

Ampara is a Clinical Psychologist at Renew Your Mind

Contact Ampara

Mindfulness for men?

Stemming from the days when we were still living in caves and hunted the bush for food, our brain was wired to produce offspring and find the most suitable partner to mate with. Women looked for muscle clad men that were fast hunters, indicating future security for her and her children. The stronger, the faster, [...]

the art of saying no

Have you ever wondered why you find it so hard to say no? Even though your calendar is overfull and you crave some ‘me-time’?

Understanding of the brain can shed some light on this common tendency to chronically overcommitting. Our brain is programmed for survival. Back in the day the safety relationships bring was essential for survival, especially for women. Anything that could put relationships at risk, such as saying no, could mean the loss of protection from the group so our brain is wired to steer away from it.

However, nowadays this tendency of overcommitting comes with some risks such as an overcrowded calendar, rushing from one thing to the next and not really enjoying any of the things you are doing. Only saying yes to the right things means you won’t be overwhelmed and will actually be able to do what you do well and enjoy it.

Discerning when to say no is not easy. One thing that can help is, before saying yes, to pause and reflect by asking yourself is this the right thing for me? or will this bring me closer to my goals? or Is this in line with my values? if the answer is yes then you can be pretty sure it is the right thing to do.

The good news is that your relationships don’t depend on you saying yes to everything and you can say no to things without damaging the relationship. It is all about how you say no. You could use the ‘sandwich method’ meaning you start by saying something kind, then you say no and you end by saying something kind.

For example:

Saying no when someone asks for your help

I would love to help you out with the preparation of your dinner party – but I have a full on week so I can’t commit to it – if you could give me more notice next time I’d be happy to help.

Saying no to an invitation

Thank you so much for the invite, I really appreciate it – but I need to say no and prioritize some family time this weekend – Let’s catch up in a fortnight instead.

Saying no to working late

I wish I could be more flexible and work late tonight – but I have already committed to other things – If there is anything I can help with tomorrow I’m here for you.

TIP

If you are a ‘yes-person’, someone who always says yes and then regrets some of the commitments afterwards, it is likely you are stuck in a bad habit. One way to break out of a bad habit is by practising the opposite. In this case, practising your no by committing to saying “no” to at least one thing per day. Then you will find that saying no is not as bad as you made it out to be and the world doesn’t fall apart when you say no. Who knows, maybe one day you will be equally proud of what you do as of what you say no to.

The art of saying no

Have you ever wondered why you find it so hard to say no? Even though your calendar is overfull and you crave some ‘me-time’? Understanding of the brain can shed some light on this common tendency to chronically overcommitting. Our brain is programmed for survival. Back in the day the safety relationships bring was essential for survival, […]

It is the most wonderful time of the year… or is it? For many people Christmas comes with stress, unmet expectations, tricky family dynamics and dramas. Here are some tips to help make your Christmas a little less stressed.

Tip 1. Be prepared – Forget about last minute Christmas shopping. Leaving things to the last minute leads to high stress levels. Planning ahead takes a lot of stress out of your Christmas.

Tip 2. Take 5 win 50 – Take regular breaks in which you don’t do anything, just for a moment. Stop to enjoy a cup of tea, the sunlight and the breeze on your skin. These moments of doing nothing ‘useful’ are super useful because they reduce stress, making you more effective and efficient when you get back to doing what you need to get done.

Tip 3. Stop multitasking – Do one thing at a time and finish it before you move on to the next thing. You will be more effective and safe time, which gives you more time to relax and enjoy your Christmas.

Tip 4. Mindfulness – When your system goes into overwhelm, notice it and simply say ‘Hello’ to it, then take a few deep breaths. This calms down your system and helps prevent Christmas outbursts and meltdowns. You can use our favourite guided mindfulness technique, click here to listen to it.

Tip 5. Remember Christmas does not have to be perfect for it to be wonderful.

Merry Christmas everyone

From the Renew Your Mind team

I’m dreaming of a stress free Christmas

It is the most wonderful time of the year… or is it? For many people Christmas comes with stress, unmet expectations, tricky family dynamics and dramas. Here are some tips to help make your Christmas a little less stressed. Tip 1. Be prepared – Forget about last minute Christmas shopping. Leaving things to the last [...]

Mindfulness is the latest buzz word in our ongoing search for more balance and happier lives. If you’ve not come across it yet, I imagine it won’t be long, as there is now strong evidence to show that everyone from children to multinational corporations are benefitting from Mindfulness.

There is a certain irony about adding a new technique or idea to our already busy lives, in order to simplify them. However Mindfulness that is based on brain science, encourages shifts in the actual infrastructure of your brain. It creates a calmer mind, which improves everything you do. For me, it has had a greater impact on my parenting than anything else I have tried.

3 Mindful Tips to get you started:

Tip 1. Give your brain a break

For most parents busy is normal. A busy brain is, however, only a few steps away from a stressed brain. A full nappy just as you’re about to leave the house, unexpected traffic or simply a firm ‘no’ from your child, and your system can be flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. You can’t see it but, you definitely feel it and it can easily lead to reactions you regret later on.

It is surprisingly simple to shift your brain from a state of stress to a state of calm. A simple Mindfulness exercise in a moment of stress can do the trick. One way to do this is by consciously paying attention to the sights and sounds of your environment. For example, every morning I make a coffee and instead of thinking off my To Do list, I focus on the sounds, smells, taste and sensations of those few minutes. I do the same in the car on the way to school. Each time I feel my brain relax. After those 2 or 3 minutes I feel calmer, more confident and ready for the day.

mindful parentingTip 2. Be present

It is possible to spend a whole day with your children without actually being present. Our minds are so busy thinking about the past, considering what we should or could have done, or worrying about the future. By this you are missing out on precious moments that are happening right now. Learning to be mindfully present is a gift, especially for your children.

It’s as simple as making eye-contact and listening with your undivided attention, with no agenda or expectation of what should be said. I call it the cushioned brain, the brain that can marvel at your children’s creativity, unexpected ideas and challenging opinions with curiosity and kindness, without jumping in with your own.

Tip 3. Accept all emotions, not all behaviours

Emotions are probably the biggest challenge for us as parents – both our children’s and our own. Emotions are often inconvenient, badly timed and seemingly out of proportion. Creating a family culture where it is ok to feel and express your emotions is the safest way to ensure we don’t learn to suppress or get stuck in them. Reflecting back a child’s emotions before trying to solve them lets them know that it is ok to feel angry, sad or scared. When their emotions are discouraged, for example when we tell our children they are fine when they have fallen, or they are making a fuss when they are upset, they will either ramp up the emotion or learn to suppress how they feel. When their emotions are validated, for example by saying ‘that must have really hurt’, their brains calm down and creative problem solving comes naturally.

It often comes as a surprise to people that validation is the key to calming down, but imagine coming home from an upsetting day at work to a partner who tells you not to worry, it’s really not a big deal. Or a partner who tries to fix the situation, rather than listening and acknowledging your emotions. It is not only invalidating but it will probably make you feel more upset.

Mindful parenting is learning to manage your own stress levels and learning techniques to connecting with your children in a way that counteract your brain’s propensity to busyness and stress. Mindful parenting encourages joy and acceptance in each and every moment.

Shirley’s top 3 mindful parenting tips

Mindfulness is the latest buzz word in our ongoing search for more balance and happier lives. If you’ve not come across it yet, I imagine it won’t be long, as there is now strong evidence to show that everyone from children to multinational corporations are benefitting from Mindfulness. There is a certain irony about adding [...]

Over 1200 people in Auckland have now taken our Mindfulness course and the next courses are about to start! Help us spread the word so more people can learn the simple yet life-changing techniques that are taught in this course. Please leave a comment below sharing your experience of the course and how practicing mindfulness has affected your life.

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Mindfulness course testimonials

Over 1200 people in Auckland have now taken our Mindfulness course and the next courses are about to start! Help us spread the word so more people can learn the simple yet life-changing techniques that are taught in this course. Please leave a comment below sharing your experience of the course and how practicing mindfulness [...]

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