This week’s weight loss class focused on food. Here are two principles of weight loss with regard to food that are worth exploring further.
One is an internal principle: understand your relationship to food.
The other is an external principle: focus on the quality of your food.
Gaining mastery over these two principles will contribute to weight loss and an overall positive life. Mindfulness is the tool we use to master both of these principles. Here’s how it works:
The internal principle involves developing a regular practice of compassionate awareness— a mindfulness practice. When you get in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations you gain insight into what your body needs. You move from automatic pilot towards a more intuitive way of eating. You begin to notice ways in which food is used to relieve stress or to numb out from distressing emotions, and to really feel the effect of certain foods on your body. You also get in touch with what your body needs in the areas of rest, outdoor time, exercise, and movement.
Most of us are out of touch with our bodily signals. We spend much of our time “in our heads” and bypassing what our body is actually telling us. During one of our classes, a participant observed that when she began asking what her body needed, she was surprised at how many times she denied her need to rest. She wondered how people would react if we treated them as mercilessly as we treat our physical selves. Not well, I imagine. And what happens when we deny our need to rest? We seek quick energy from sugar and junk food.
Mindfulness helps us to know what our body wants and needs, and to explore how those needs can be met in healthy ways. This may sound simple, but it requires practice. While you might think “My body is telling me what it needs loud and clear–that box of donuts!” this isn’t a true bodily “need” but more of a junk food addiction, or some other craving. When you get good at tuning in, you become sensitive to the loss of control, spike in blood sugar, and crash of energy after eating such foods. Not to mention the emotional fallout of frustration and guilt.
The second principle relates to the quality of our food. The popular notions of “a calorie is a calorie” and “calories in, calories out” are deceptively simple and frustrate our attempts to lose weight. There is a substantial body of knowledge showing that all calories are not created equal. Starches (processed flour and sugar) are indeed more “fattening” than other foods because of their effect on insulin and leptin. Calories are a useful tool and need to be considered, but they are not the whole picture.
Our individual metabolic processes dictate weight gain/loss/maintenance, and compensate for differences in output and input. Thus, focusing on the quality of the food we eat is a more reliable way to regulate our metabolism to maintain a healthy weight.
I can speak from personal experience eating a whole foods diet with barely any added sugar, that I can eat as much as I want and maintain a healthy weight without meticulously counting calories. Additionally, getting off the “processed food roller coaster” increases satiety, i.e. I feel full and satisfied after a meal. I don’t feel driven to eat more and more. My body naturally regulates the correct amount of food I need to maintain weight.
Indeed, processed food and its effect on our hormones is a major factor in our weight struggles. If you look at the data, everywhere the highly-processed standard American diet has taken hold, obesity has followed.
So what to do? If you are new to this, just start small. Start asking your body what it wants, how it feels, and then quietly listening for the answer.