Don’t Let One Dark Cloud Get You Down
A few days ago I was out for a walk on a lovely morning, with sun and a mix of blue sky and white, puffy clouds. Then I spotted a single, dark cloud in the middle of all that lightness.
It looked out of place, but it also changed my mood. Instead of enjoying my walk, I began wondering if we were supposed to get rain (which would actually be a good thing given our current drought). I started looking around for other dark clouds, almost expecting to find something else out of the ordinary.
It made me realize how easy it was for one unexpected thing to shift our mindset, which in turn got me thinking about how it’s so easy to get derailed from eating mindfully.
Maybe you’ve experienced this, too, where you feel like you’re paying attention and making good choices – and then you stop being mindful for a moment. Maybe you ate something that you wouldn’t normally choose and you don’t feel good physically afterward. Maybe you overate. Maybe you started eating because you’re stressed.
Whatever the cause, it’s very easy to ignore everything that came before and focus on that one moment. It becomes like a dark cloud, overshadowing everything else.
You might feel like you’ve failed. Perhaps you’ll think that you’ve already blown it, so why not just keep eating mindlessly, or choosing to eat something that you don’t need (or even want)?
It’s very easy to feel this way, but you don’t have to give in to that feeling. If this has happened to you, here are a few tips to help, so one “dark cloud” doesn’t get you off track.
Choose Not to Let It Overshadow Everything
While you can’t do anything about the weather, you can choose how to respond when you notice that you’re not eating mindfully.
Instead of letting that one moment take over and overshadow everything, use this as an opportunity to pause. It’s not always easy, but when you notice yourself eating mindlessly, try to stop and reflect.
Check in to see how you’re feeling, both physically and emotionally. Are you hungry? Are you overly full? Are you eating for emotional reasons?
And then decide what you want to do next. You might decide to keep eating, and that’s perfectly fine – the difference is that this time, it’s a conscious choice.
Or you could decide to stop eating or to change what you’re eating, or how you’re eating. Maybe you were eating some chips out of the bag while standing at the counter. You could decide to put some in a bowl and sit down to eat them more mindfully.
The goal is simply to shift to a more mindful decision for your next steps.
Use It as a Learning Opportunity
You might also be tempted to beat yourself up about not eating mindfully. Many of us who struggle with our relationship to food have perfectionist tendencies, and we don’t like getting things “wrong.”
The good news is, finding that you’re not eating mindfully doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong – it just means you’re human!
And in reality, if you notice these occasions and try to understand them, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself than if you ate mindfully all the time.
For example, maybe you notice that you tend to eat mindlessly when you have a difficult conversation with a certain family member or friend. If you know that, you can think about a few things:
What makes those conversations so difficult? Is there a way to make them easier?
If you can’t change how the conversations go, can you think of another way to respond afterward?
Can you set your expectations about those conversations so that you’re mentally prepared for how things might go and aren’t as negatively impacted?
Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t turn to food afterward. Maybe you’ll still want to have a favorite treat, but perhaps you can do it more mindfully and make it a choice.
Don’t Forget the Times When You Ate Mindfully
Our brains often focus on the negative, which means that when you start eating mindlessly, you might forget those times when you were eating mindfully. This adds to the feeling that you should just throw in the towel because you’ve already blown it.
In those moments, it’s important to remember that making a misstep doesn’t invalidate all the other times when you ate mindfully. It simply means that you took a step in a direction you didn’t want to go.
Thinking about the times when you ate with intention and attention will remind you that you’re capable of it, and it will help you recover from the misstep.
You Can Choose to Bypass the Dark Cloud
Spotting one dark cloud – figurative or literal – doesn’t mean you should give up or focus too much on things that aren’t going the way you’d like.
Instead, this is an opportunity to pause and reflect, and then to choose how you want to respond. You could keep eating, or choose something different. Whatever your situation is, see what you can learn and how you can apply that moving forward more mindfully.