Wouldn’t it be something if we could lose weight as easily as we lose our keys? We’re often sold quick-fixes and follow fads that don’t last and promise results that don’t deliver. And that only leads to a seemingly never-ending cycle of losing and gaining weight. If you want long-haul results, you need something realistic that fits with your lifestyle. Enter mindful eating.
But let’s back up and talk science for a second. Research has found that the way your brain is wired to respond to food, and more specifically, highly desirable food—not to shade Brussels sprouts—can make your weight management plan more challenging. A recent study that looked at brain scans of people on a weight loss plan, for example, showed that the sights and smells of food triggered a neuronal response that was a stronger indicator of overeating and weight gain than any willpower happening up there in the rational, executive-functioning part of their heads.
And there’s plenty of evidence that the hunger hormones that tell your brain whether you’re ravenous or full can be thrown off when you lose weight. This is one of the reasons why people complain that once the pounds start coming off, they “keep finding them in the fridge.” Your body produces more of the so-called “I’m hungry” hormones—and, naturally, you feel hungrier. Here’s the thing, though: You can train your mind to be your closest ally on your weight care endeavor. And this means that you can come out with a major win—so let’s get you on the playing field!
Between brain chemistry, hormones and other factors, it’s not surprising that many of us aren’t in tune with our true feelings of hunger. Everywhere you turn, there’s a Doritos or Oreos ad on TV—or a McDonalds or Jack-in-the-Box around the corner, tempting you with juicy burgers, 40-ounce sodas, and all the fries you can eat. Saying “no” to that bag of chips or cookies seems like an uphill battle without the proper tools to help.
It’s especially difficult in a shared environment. Research shows that our food choices—and how much we eat—are highly influenced by others. We’re likely to eat more when sitting around a table with family or friends, for example, than we are when dining alone. (It’s a subconscious cultural cue.) Same goes if a coworker brings in a box of muffins. You might feel obligated to dive in even if you’re not really hungry. And think about how much of your grocery list—and the meals you eat at home–is influenced by your kids or significant other. So how do you curb this? You guessed it: mindful eating.
The idea behind this practice isn’t super complicated. It’s really about taking a pause to consider whether you’re actually hungry and—if you are—what would be best for your body before you reach for that yogurt or cold slice of pizza. Studies have shown that mindful eating can help rewire the way your brain thinks about food, helping to reduce cravings and having more food than you need. Here’s a primer:
1. Follow the hunger scale
When you open the fridge or pantry, think about how your hunger ranks on a scale of one to 10—one being ravenous and 10 being food coma status. If you’re genuinely at a three, that’s when you will likely need a meal or snack. And six is a good place to slow down or stop eating—meaning when you feel satisfied and full, but not stuffed. The hormones that tell your brain you’ve had enough take about 20 minutes to kick in after eating, so if you stop when you’re almost full, you’re bound to feel satisfied in a couple of minutes.
2. Check in with your emotions
Fatigue and mood can contribute to your self-control and eating habits. So tap into how you’re feeling—tired, sad, bored, happy—and whether that is what’s driving you to want something to eat. Because if that’s the case, no amount of salted caramel gelato is going to solve the issue. Instead, think: self care. Getting a good night’s sleep and managing stress (taking walks, spending quality time with your dog, whatever works for you) can keep cortisol and hunger hormone levels in check so you stay on track and reach your goals.
3. Don’t judge
If you give yourself the freedom to be aware of your eating habits in a non-judgemental way, research shows it can go a long way toward mentally uncoupling the desire for food from the actual need for food. It’s about trying to objectively observe and acknowledge how you’re feeling versus labeling your choices as good or bad. Does this take practice? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Also yes.
4. Create a support system
We don’t doubt for a second that you’re not strong on your own. But enlisting family and friends to help you along your weight care journey can keep you positive, motivated and focused on those days when you—and by you, we mean every human—are bound to need support. Hit up a friend for some healthy recipes. Schedule regular walks with a neighbor. Call your sister when you’re frustrated about a weight-loss plateau, or if a bummer day is tempting you to emotionally eat.
5. Keep a diary
You may have heard us say this before, but it’s worth repeating: Tracking your food and beverage intake—and how you feel before and after you eat and drink—will give you a picture of your overall dietary habits and keep you accountable to your nutrition and weight-loss goals. It might also help you pinpoint things like stress or tiredness that are triggering mindless eating.
6. Be prepared
It’s much easier to resist random distracting fridge contents when you already have meals in there that are prepped and portioned and ready to go. So take the time to make several dishes on, say, a Sunday so you’re set for the week. It will be well worth the effort!
7. Never deprive yourself
Research shows that any drastic dietary change—whether it’s slashing calories or cutting out specific dishes or food groups—will eventually backfire and likely lead to overeating. Sheer willpower simply can’t stand up to the other forces at play in a food-deprived brain. By eating mindfully you can eat what you love, nourish your body and get the weight-loss results you want.
And always know that your Found Coach is here to hold your hand through the entire process—and we can’t wait to help! Have you checked in with your coach today? Take some time to log your meals in the Found app, or text your coach so they can celebrate with you. Or if you’ve hit some roadblocks, reach out so they can give you some additional support.