Jacqui Lewis - BHSc Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine
Mindfulness: The Key to Healthy Eating After Weight Loss Surgery
The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness as "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique."
A decade ago, the term was barely used. Today, mindfulness is an accepted practice integrated into our society. Although mindfulness is practiced in yoga or cognitive behavioral therapy, you can apply mindfulness to every action you take.
This includes your relationship and behaviors with eating.
According to a study in the National Library of Medicine,
mindfulness techniques positively impacted 97% of individuals with obesity, aiding in weight loss.
On a nutritional level, as a bariatric patient, you understand how much protein, vitamins & nutrients, hydration, and exercise you need and why you need them to achieve your weight loss goals. Mindfulness is a tool that can be applied when faced with food triggers that may cause emotional or binge eating to make healthier choices.
Just like any other skill, mindfulness requires practice to reinforce positive behavioral changes while eating after Weight Loss Surgery. Practicing mindfulness will better connect with deciphering emotional hunger versus physical hunger.
Implementing Mindfulness Eating Techniques During Meal Times
1. Sit down comfortably at the beginning of meal time. Before you take a bite of food, use a scale of 1-5 to determine your hunger level - a 1 being full and a 5 being hangry.
If this hunger is physical or an emotional compulsion to eat, from a craving or a past coping mechanism. You are only observing the hunger sensation at this point- you are not judging it or acting on it.
2. Close your eyes, take the deepest breath you can, and exhale slowly. Take three more deep breaths, which helps to relieve the tension from your body and reduce the anxiety which causes compulsive eating.
3. Here is where the real technique of mindfulness comes in: using your five senses to eat your food.
Take a close look at the food you chose. Become aware of the colors and their composition on the plate. For example, you know a plate that contains several colors from different vegetables is a sign the food contains a healthy variety of vitamins and nutrients.
If it's a "finger" food, touch it lightly before eating it. For example, if it's a potato chip, chances are you feel the grease. When you associate greasy foods with nutritional density, you may realize there is little correlation and be less likely to overindulge.
Take a fork or spoonful and gently place it near your nose. Does it smell savory? Sweet? You want eating to be a pleasant experience, so if it doesn't even smell appetizing, why eat it?
This may sound unusual, but you can pay attention to the sound of the food as you chew. Does it make a crunching sound, such as when you eat carrots?
The most impactful of the five senses regarding mindful eating is taste. When you take a small bite of the food, chew it slowly. What is the texture of the food? What flavors do you notice? Is the food salty, bitter, sweet, sour? Do you feel satisfaction from each bite? How is the overall taste?
The way to process these observations most effectively is by taking just a few seconds before deciding to take another bite. When you repeat these steps, your body signals that you are full of the feeling of being satisfied but not stuffed.
Mindful eating can be an effective tool for weight loss as you train your body to become more satisfied with smaller portions of food and to make better food choices overall. Like any new skill, mindfulness needs to be practiced consistently. Instead of waiting until you are in a situation where you are tempted to overindulge, start at an easier time, such as when you are hungry but not famished, and you have a healthy plate of food in front of you.
Over time, practicing mindfulness techniques will become easier and more habitual. This way, when you are tempted to overindulge (those holiday parties), you will have developed the mindfulness technique to the point where you can apply it in a situation where triggers can occur.
Below is a guide categorizing the differences between
emotional hunger vs physical hunger.
Comes on gradually and can be postponed
Comes on suddenly and feels urgent
Can be satisfied with any type of food
Causes specific cravings, pizza, chocolate, ice cream...
Once you're full you can stop eating
Eat more than your normally would. Feel uncomfortably full
Causes satisfaction, doesn't cause guilt
Leaves you feeling guilty and cross with yourself
With practice, utilizing mindfulness techniques on your weight loss journey will only increase your chances of long term success.