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Back to Basics

I’m not perfect at mindful eating. (If any of you thought I was, my apologies for disillusioning you.) Most of the time I’m pretty good at it, but I’m not immune to slipping now and again, or even letting a slip become a bit of a slide, until something makes me pay attention and catch myself.

Usually that catch comes when my clothes start getting tight. It’s uncomfortable, but more than that, I hate clothes shopping, especially when I have perfectly good clothes at home.

This is the situation I’ve encountered recently, where I’m hitting the outer edge of being able to wear my clothes – and some I’m already past.

So how did this happen? It wasn’t because of any major change or stress. I think it started with worrying about getting too hungry, and then since I wasn’t weighing myself as much, my subconscious seemed to take that as an excuse not to be as mindful. It doesn’t take long for that to build on itself.

The good news is that I did catch myself. But, you may ask, what then? How do you regain balance?

For me, the best approach is to go back to the basis. When I want to eat, am I hungry? How do I know if I’m hungry? How much do I need to eat before I’m not hungry anymore?

And here’s one of the interesting things I need to remember, or sometimes re-learn: often, the more I eat, the hungrier I feel. The problem is that it’s usually not real hunger, but it does a good job of masquerading as it.

I don’t know if there’s any science to back this up, but my stomach seems to operate on the goldfish principle. That is, if you give a goldfish a large tank, it will grow to fill it. Similarly, if I eat more than I need on a regular basis, my stomach starts expecting that amount, and if I give it less, I hear complaints. This may just be my stomach digesting and reverting back to its normal size, but it can still be uncomfortable.

That makes the first day or two of mindful eating the hardest. Is this real hunger? When I’m paying attention, I can tell the difference, and I can distract myself until my stomach settles back down, but it does take a conscious effort.

Then there’s how much to eat. I start serving myself less – not a huge amount less, maybe three-quarters of what I would normally have. Then I focus on the food. I take small bites, put my fork or spoon down, chew thoroughly, notice what I’m eating. More often than not, the lesser amount is enough to satisfy me, or occasionally even more than I need.

The key here, though, is that I’m only cutting back, not cutting out, and I apply it to grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as sweets.

Since I’ve done this before, it only takes a few days for the changes to start feeling automatic. My stomach reverses its trend, getting back to its more usual size.

Even better, my hunger is different. Instead of feeling like an overtired toddler throwing a tantrum and demanding something now, it’s more of a polite request, like someone gently tapping at the door to say they’re waiting for me, and they can wait a little longer. They won’t go away, and they might become more insistent, but it’s still in a nice, thoughtful way.

What strikes me about this, every time, is how vastly different this feels than a diet. On a diet, eating less makes me think about food more, because it isn’t on my terms. When I eat mindfully, though, eating less and worrying less about food go hand in hand. I know I’m not going to starve myself, or deny myself certain foods, and that makes such a difference.

And so, after a week, I find myself back in balance. I also feel lighter, energized, and happily, my clothes have stopped growing more snug. They’re not loose, but I know if I continue to pay attention, they’ll be comfortable enough to wear for some time yet.

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