Mindful Eating - Bringing Mindfulness to the Basics

By Amanda Gilbert, Mindful Eating Expert

Eating and breathing are two basic acts and fundamentals necessary to survive and stay alive. Both are often overlooked during daily living, in the midst of busy schedules, full email inboxes, a bubbling social calendar, and quality time spent alone or with loved ones. Our attention is regularly anywhere but on these two essentials to our very existence.

Being a meditation teacher, practitioner, and person who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle, of course I am biased when it comes to the opinion that mindfulness is the exact intervention capable of bringing our consciousness and attention to these two basic acts normally so automated and mechanical. However, within this bias is a strong and obvious truth based not only on personal experience and all of my years of practice, but on scientific research, and the self-report of so many meditators, that mindfulness meditation really does train you to be present for the most basic parts of your life.  Especially eating and breathing!

While being mindful of the breath is a very popular practice in meditation, being mindful of eating and food is quickly becoming a new companion in the mindfulness spotlight. Our relationship with food is often oversimplified with the belief that eating should be easy, straightforward, and not something taking up our precious bandwidth in life. But the reality is the opposite. Many of us have long-standing, dynamic, complex, and jumbled relationships with food and consuming food. Bringing mindfulness to this relationship exactly as it is can provide a lot of support around a seemingly out of control experience and become the doorway to change.

In mindful eating, we bring our non-judgmental attention to the entire process of eating and to our relationship to food. From picking up the fork and taking a first bite of a favorite food, to being aware of how full we become as we eat is just the beginning when it comes to mindful eating. We also observe our reasons for eating like true physical hunger in the body or a reaction to stress at work. And we practice making wiser choices around the types of food we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat.

Mindful eating can help us discern our motivations for eating and based on this knowledge free ourselves to make healthier and more supportive choices around food and how we eat.

Here are some simple and accessible mindful eating practices that you can do to immediately bring your attention to the present moment and to the food you are about to eat:

Pause and Take a Breath: This may seem very simple and basic and it is! This fundamental mindfulness practice of pausing and taking a breath with your full attention can help bring awareness to what you are about to eat and why you are eating.

3 Part Mindful Eating: Practicing mindfulness as we eat is a wonderful way to bring awareness into our lives and to the food we are eating. The 3 Part Mindful Eating practice is 1-bring your mindful attention to the utensil you are using as you lift the fork let’s say to your mouth, 2- bring your mindful attention to the bite of food you just took. Notice all of the textures, aromas, and flavors of the food. 3- bring your mindful attention to the fork as you lower it to your plate and let it rest on the plate for a moment, while you take a breath in and out.

Ask yourself, “what would my wise mind do?”: In mindful eating, we cultivate our inner wisdom to help support us making healthier choices when eating. This practice is great to do before you are about to eat and just by asking it you bring mindfulness to why are you eating. Then you can make a wise choice for yourself based on your inner wisdom. A common example is if you are stressed but not actually physical hungry you may be reaching for your favorite snack to comfort you. By asking yourself “what would my wise mind do?” you can then see if it is the right decision to eat or not!

As you embark on your own journey of bringing mindfulness to your eating know that just by practicing bringing your attention to the present moment as you eat via the practices above you are on the first step towards a change.  You can also listen to the new mindful eating series available on the Evenflow app where I walk you through a specific mindful eating practice made to guide you towards insight, health, and freedom around food.

Body Image: Don't believe everything you think.

By Lauren McMeikan, MA, AMFT #92052

Since we were wide-eyed infants, old enough to hear and see, we’ve been told, again and again, that our bodies are supposed to look a certain way.  We’ve been indoctrinated by television shows, billboards, magazine covers, and even by the voices of well-intentioned parents and friends.  While the details may shift ever so slightly from one decade to the next, the general idea is the same: your appearance is important.  In the 90s it was heroin-chic, today it’s fit, trim and toned, but no matter the guise, that underlying message remains.

And the message is potent.  So much so that while many of us believe consciously that appearance shouldn’t dictate self-worth, we still automatically judge our merit against society’s standards.  As a practicing associate psychotherapist, I meet many people who struggle with these dueling value systems.  When I ask them what they actually believe is important about a body they tend to say things like it’s health, wellness, and the capacity to sustain life.  

But our culture’s convictions are in direct conflict with our own beliefs.  And we are scared – scared of falling short of society’s standards. In this fear, we continue to live lives based on a set of values we ultimately don’t agree with.

Faced with these two belief systems, we are posed with quite a dilemma.  How can we mediate the impact of the beliefs that we’ve been handed – the ones that we don’t even feel are truly important – and, at the same time, reinforce what we actually feel is valuable?

Mindfulness is the first step.

The messages that we hear the loudest, clearest and most frequently are those from the media.  So we often default to this value system even when we blatantly disagree with it.  We can use mindfulness to take a pause, to gain perspective of what messages we’re buying into at any given moment and to determine whether we agree that these messages should dictate our worth.

For example, if you had the thought “I am getting so fat,” you can take a step back and gently consider that thought.  What would you have to believe to make that thought harmful?  You’d have to believe that appearance is an important part of self-worth and that fat is bad.  Do you actually agree with these beliefs?

When asked to explore what you truly value, most of us would agree that appearance is not among the most important aspects of life and that it doesn’t determine a person’s worth.  Sometimes the “fat is bad” belief tries to legitimize itself by clinging to the importance of wellness.  But as the health at every size movement gains momentum, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “fat is bad”  belief doesn’t have teeth.

Fat is a noun that describes something that every human being must have in order to live.  It’s not a state of being.  Some people have more of it, others have less of it.  But the amount of it doesn’t define us and our worth.

So then the question becomes what do you value?  Perhaps you feel that mental health is important or that radical acceptance is worthwhile.  If you can identify what you believe in then you can focus on fulfilling that instead of automatically capitulating to what society has told you to value.  

You might have thoughts like “Oh, they’re in such better shape than me. I hate my body.”  You can take a mindful step back and consider what beliefs make this thought upsetting.  This thought is only harmful if you believe that appearance is important and that all people are supposed to have the same body.  Again, this belief is one perpetuated by the media, but it doesn’t hold up to reality.

We are all born with a body type and our bodies aren’t like wet clay.  

Your body actually isn’t supposed to look like other people’s bodies do.  We are all unique beings with a different genetic make-up.  The idea of comparing your body to someone else’s is similar to comparing your thumbprint to someone else’s.

If we can become mindful of our thoughts and what beliefs they reflect, we can make a choice to realign ourselves with what we actually think matters most.

Sure, we live in the real world.  And there are people who will judge you by your appearance.  I wish that that wasn’t true, and I, for one, am hopeful that our culture won’t always put such emphasis on our looks.  Still, you probably do things with the intent of making yourself look “better.”  I wear make-up and style my hair.  I shop for clothing. But even if we do decide to pay attention to our appearance and to groom ourselves that doesn’t mean that our self-worth should be dictated by how we look and our proximity to some arbitrary cultural standard that will likely change again in a few years or a decade.  Perhaps more importantly, the judgments others make about appearance really don’t matter if we base our worth on our values.

It may take a considerable amount of time to counteract the effects of a lifetime of brainwashing.  In fact, we may always be bombarded by beliefs that we don’t agree with at our core.  That said, we can be aware of what value system is operating at any given moment and make a choice to be informed by other’s ideologies or our own beliefs.  We can decide what thoughts we buy into and which we deem unimportant.

Finding Yourself

By Laurie Cousins

A deep pattern of pain and suffering for me has been second guessing myself — my feelings, perceptions, and body.  In my early years of growing up, my family was in the throws of untreated alcoholism, codependency, trauma and all the stress that comes along with this kind of dysfunction. Of course, like any child, I did not have the capacity to hold what I was experiencing in a healthy and stable way. In an attempt to make myself feel better and protect myself from pain, I began to seek behaviors that I thought could help me cope. We now know through Science and Psychology, that we are hard-wired to survive and part of that design used can be to build coping strategies and defense mechanisms.

My first love as a kid was sugar and wow, it was a “sweet” relationship for a long time. But the older I got, the more I felt like there was a hole inside of me that I couldn’t quite fill and this lead to experimenting with other things, like smoking, dieting, shopping, using substances and alcohol, and technology. At first they really worked for a while. I felt like I had some type of control over my mental, emotional, and physical experiences. But eventually, each one was like a romantic relationship that became “real” and real destructive. I was constantly chasing something to be the answer to my problems, but in the long run ended up making more problems for myself and others.

These behaviors started out as good intentions, trying to soothe my discomfort and unease, but my mind became more obsessive and unkind, my emotions were like a scary roller coaster that I wasn’t sure I would survive, and I felt like I couldn’t be or feel comfortable in my own skin. I began to feel embarrassed and guilty for not being able to control myself, which led to feelings of shame because I thought I was the only one who suffered in this way. Even when I did have times of reprieve from a compulsive habit, there was always another one to take its place and I would think, “I can’t believe I am here again.” This is the delusional, suffering loop of addiction and addictive behaviors. If you identify with any of this, know you are not alone and there is hope!  

Recovering from destructive behaviors is a process that involves replacing old harmful patterns with new healthy ones. But first we have to become aware of our patterns, when we get triggered, and discover what need is actually underneath the old craving, and meet it in a way that can be truly satisfied. This is where Mindfulness is key!

We begin to learn how to check in (versus checking out), and investigate our experiences from a place of curiosity, kindness, and acceptance. This helps us to become less identified and unhook from the habit loop, allowing more space to hold what is present, and increasing our capacity to tolerate what is unpleasant; especially because we know it will pass. Through the practice of compassion, we stop turning on ourselves and begin to turn toward ourselves with kindness and support, like a caring friend would when we are having a difficult time. Whatever we practice regularly is strengthened, and with time, we no longer have to second guess ourselves and can live from a place of joyful authenticity, inner wisdom, and resiliency.

Addiction can be a very isolating experience and many of us need extra help. My many years of recovery would not be possible without a lot of support, professional help, and sense of connection from several communities. In addition to this series, I recommend creating some type of support system. We do not have do any of this alone, nor are we meant to.

Parenting in the Age of Stress: How to put the brakes on and reclaim more balance

 

by Jason Thomas, Educational Psychologist, Evenflow Meditation Teacher

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As the parent of my own young children and having worked with many parents over the years, I can say there may be nothing in life that brings greater fulfillment than being a parent. However, it also brings tremendous stress.

In fact, the very idea of or striving to be a good parent can be a source of significant stress. Most of us are acutely aware when we are falling short of this ideal and we can become plagued by a sense of guilt and shame. It’s not your fault. The cultural expectations for parents continues to increase, while shared caretaking of children has reduced. This shift has caused an enormous burden on parents to fulfill all their children’s basic needs, and live up to societal expectations of working hard in a successful career while simultaneously ensuring your child is a socially sensitive and well-rounded Ivy League graduate. The deck is stacked against us.

This nearly impossible standard of being a “good parent,” that many of us tacitly agreed to, intensifies the pressure and constant stress that not only creates a slew of health issues for us, but gets passed down to our children, who are also becoming stressed out in huge numbers. Yes, stress is contagious, particularly when it’s passed from parent to child. In her article, “The Epidemic of Stressed Parents Raising Stressed Kids: From Generation X to Generation Stress” Kristin Race, Ph.D. argues that all the stress that parents are experiencing, is causing a whole new generation of stressed out children. She cites statistics showing that anxiety and depression are on the rise for elementary school students and that 20% of all school-aged children have a diagnosable mental disorder. In one telling bit of research, she reports Xanex is often now the “drug of choice” for teens.

So, how do we put the brakes on all of this and reclaim our balance? To begin, stop and put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Just as stress is contagious, so are other emotions. When we are able to reduce our own stress and increase our joy, this too is passed along to our family. Our children will benefit immensely when we are less stressed and feeling more at ease. So instead of trying to manage our children’s emotions and behavior so much, perhaps our children would be better served by us managing our own stress.  Thankfully, there are many things we can do to manage our stress.

  1. Drop out of the Rat Race - There’s a wise saying that even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. You don’t have to buy into the expectations that our culture puts on parents. Nor do you have to place your own self-worth on meeting impossibly high expectations. Prioritize what is important to you about being a parent and then let that be your guide. Comparing yourself to other parents and trying to keep up with them is often a recipe for more stress for you and your kids.  

  2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation - Participants in courses like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) have shown significant reductions in stress. Regular mindfulness meditation practice is an effective tool for managing stress. I developed a Stress Reduction mindfulness meditation series on the Evenflow App which I highly encourage you to try out. This can be a wonderful way to support yourself as you encounter the trials and tribulations of parenting in the modern world. Even practicing as little as 10 minutes per day, can have positive effects.    

  3. Self-Compassion - Parenting is hard enough without beating ourselves up. We all make mistakes and act in ways towards our children that are not ideal. Realize you are doing the best you can, given your circumstances and history. This is not to condone continuing harmful behavior, but rather a compassionate acknowledgment of the way things are. When you approach yourself with compassion, the natural extension of that is to behave in caring and non-harming ways towards yourself and others.

  4. Be Present and Notice the Good - Set aside time each day to put away all distractions and just be present with your child. This can be tough, but even for a few minutes a day try to put aside any agenda other than just being with your child and fully present. Stress rises when multiple things are demanding our attention. By taking time to devote our attention to just our child we setting the stage for a lower stress, better quality interaction. See if you might also notice their good qualities during the interaction. Get a sense of what it feels like to really enjoy being with your child.  

  5. Accept Some Stress - It’s not possible or even ideal to get rid of all stress. Some stress is helpful and gives us the focus and energy we need to tackle everyday problems. So instead of striving to get rid of stress totally, aim for moderating your stress so that it doesn’t become toxic.

  6. The Bigger Picture - It can sometimes be hard to recognize the difference between big deals and little deals in parenting. We often worry that one behavior is going to expand into a full blown character flaw later in life. It’s very difficult to “trust the process” of growing up. And yet, somehow we all developed into adults. Asking yourself, “is this going to matter (next week, month, or five years from now)” will help give you some much needed perspective when your child is refusing to eat their vegetables.

  7. Recognize Your Limits - It’s okay to say no. Your child will survive if she doesn’t do everything. I love the acronym HALT. If I am Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, I need to take steps to care for myself or risk  causing harm to myself or others. Seething resentment makes you and everyone around you miserable. It is far better to pause and care for yourself rather than plunge forward with a bad attitude.

There is no getting around it - parenting in the modern age is stressful. We feel it, our partner if we have one feels it, and most of all our kids feel it.  However, you can be the one who injects more calm and ease in your family. By letting go of what everyone else thinks is important, connecting with what is most important to you as a parent, and reducing your own stress you can reclaim the balance your family and you desire. For more help on managing stress check out my series on Stress Reduction in the Evenflow app.


 

   

 

How To Be More Positive Every Day

Jason Ryterband -  Certified Meditation and MIndfulness teacher

 
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You may have noticed—for modern people, positivity is not a given. Being positive might feel good, but our survival as a species has depended far less on how good we feel, and far more on how vigilant we are.  Over millennia, we’ve learned to anticipate threats, stay close to the herd, compete and strive.  Even as basic needs like food, water and shelter have become more readily available to more of the world, our habits of vigilance, anxiety, and worry have remained.  

So in short, if you’re a worrier, you’re not alone.  Furthermore, as sure as your mind is good at worrying, it can also be good at thinking positively.  It just takes practice.  

Positive states of mind may feel difficult or insincere at first, but in the long term, they become a deep support in challenging times.  These states of mind promote clear and rational thinking (even under stress), they use less energy, and they are “pro-social”—they support us in maintaining healthy relationships.  They also have substantial physical health benefits.  

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Here are four positivity remedies you can explore on your own:

1. Focus On What You’re Doing

Harvard University researchers found that human beings spend just about half our time thinking about something other than what we’re doing.  More importantly, time spent wandering off was consistently shown to be less satisfying than time spent attending to what was happening in the moment.  In other words, our happiness is intimately connected to our ability to be present.  So, in any given moment, how much focus can you pour into what you’re doing?  Even simple tasks like folding laundry, washing dishes, or walking from place to place can be opportunities to soak into the sensations, sights and sounds of the experience, rather than just letting the mind wander.

2. Kindness

Think of a person in your life that naturally causes a kind, friendly state of mind to arise.  Maybe a child, a niece or nephew, a mentor or friend.  As you visualize this person, notice what this kind perspective is like.  What feelings are present in your body?  What sorts of thoughts show up?  Pleasant thoughts and feelings don’t always arise and that’s ok, but if they do, this person is a resource.  Thinking of them can help you jump-start a kind state of mind any time.  

3. Gratitude

In addition to thinking of people, we can also use situations to remind us of the good in our lives.  For a few moments, let your mind wander over situations in your life that evoke a sense of gratitude or appreciation.  See the images of those situations in your mind.  Feel any pleasant feelings that arise.  Just as our minds are good at mulling over difficulties, they can become good at reflecting on good fortune, and this will color how we see ourselves and our lives.

4. Allow The Negative

Sure, positive emotions feel great.  But they are just one side of the coin.  It’s not possible to eliminate the negative, but we can change our relationship to it—letting difficult feelings be and remembering that all things fade.  So the next time you’re feeling a difficult emotion, take a deep breath, let your shoulders drop, and say to yourself, “right now it’s like this, and I know this will pass.”  

The ability to simply let the storm blow over can be your greatest ally.  Each time we meet discomfort with an allowing attitude, staying with it until it passes, we see once more that it can be done.  In this way, we come to trust the process, and emotional resilience grows.

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You may have noticed, all of these remedies rely on the ability to direct your attention.  One of the best ways to learn to direct your attention is through the practice of mindfulness meditation.  In mindfulness meditation, we cultivate concentration, clarity about what is happening in the moment, and the ability to allow things to come and go with ease.  Specific mindfulness techniques can also help us to cultivate positive states like kindness and gratitude (as we began to do above).