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5 Mindful Eating Lessons from “What About Bob?”

If you’ve never seen the movie What About Bob? I recommend it, as long as you’re okay with some black humor. It has a lot of fun moments, and it’s a great role for Bill Murray.

But what I hadn’t thought about until I recently re-watched it is that it has some lessons that you can apply to mindful eating.

It’s okay to ask for help (within reason)

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s about a man named Bob who has all kinds of phobias and fears. He uses a tissue to touch all unfamiliar surfaces. He gets anxious in new places. And he constantly imagines worst-case scenarios, like having his bladder explode.

Bob realizes that his fears are crippling him, so he asks for help.

Being willing to ask someone for help or guidance when you’re having a tough time is a good thing. As long as it’s within reason – I don’t advocate Bob’s approach of lying to get someone’s address and tracking them down while they’re on vacation.

But if you’re trying to do something, such as mindful eating, and you’re struggling, ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure; it just means you need a little extra support.

Baby steps

The big theme of the movie is taking baby steps. This is what Bob’s psychiatrist recommends for Bob, and it’s good advice for mindful eating, too.

Now, these aren’t literal steps, although Bob interpreted it that way and inched his way around town at the beginning of the movie.

Rather, the idea is to break things down into small enough steps that you can achieve them.

For mindful eating, this is a very useful approach. After all, if you’re used to eating mindlessly, and suddenly you try to think about if you’re hungry, consider why you want to eat, reevaluate your food choices, try to eat slowly and without distraction, and stop when you’re satisfied – it’s going to feel overwhelming.

Instead, start with one thing, like noticing if you’re hungry when you want to eat. You could even try it for just one meal or snack a day to start with, instead of doing it all the time. Or maybe, if you usually eat while watching TV or going online, try eating for a minute without that.

Or break it down in a way that works for you. Just remember – baby steps.

Take a vacation from your problems

Although taking baby steps was a good start, Bob still needed more help. So his psychiatrist gave him a prescription: take a vacation from your problems.

This approach may not always work, but it did for Bob, and I think it can work for mindful eating as well.

For example, one of the biggest challenges a lot of people face with their eating is self-judgment. It’s so easy to beat yourself up for making certain choices, but it’s never helpful.

Now think about taking a vacation from that. Not a vacation from eating mindfully, but a vacation from any negative thoughts you have about yourself.

This is usually a very freeing idea, and if you can quiet those critical comments for a little while, you may decide to make the vacation permanent.

Be willing to try new things

Because Bob had so many worries, his life was quite small. Before letting go of his problems, he never dared to try anything new. But once he took that “vacation,” suddenly he felt okay about trying new things.

This is a good idea for mindful eating, too. If you’ve been stuck in a diet mentality, you probably didn’t feel like you could try new things because you had to be so careful and controlled.

But when you can let go of that, you’ll realize that it’s good to try new things.

This could be a new food or recipe. It could also mean experimenting with when and how often you eat, as well as how you eat. For example, maybe you’ll be willing to go to a restaurant or an event where you don’t control the food.

And once you try something new, and it goes well, you’ll gain the confidence to keep expanding your horizons.

Enjoy your food

In one scene of the movie, Bob is having dinner with the psychiatrist’s family, and to say that Bob enjoys the food is an understatement. He keeps saying, “Mmm!” ecstatically and complimenting the food.

Now, you may not want to quite that far, but taking the time to enjoy your food is a big part of mindful eating.

If you’ve been in a restrictive mindset, it may feel strange to think about actually appreciating your food instead of worrying about calories or points or some other number. You might even have a hard time focusing on your meals that much.

So start small with this. Notice and enjoy at least the first few bites of food. Let yourself truly savor them and get as much as possible from the experience.

This makes meals more pleasant, and it also makes them more satisfying. When you’re savoring bites, you get the full satisfaction of your food, instead of eating mindlessly and then wondering what happened to your meal.

What about you?

Although some of Bob’s behavior (okay, much of his behavior) is over the top, you can still take some valuable lessons from the movie. Asking for help, taking baby steps, getting away from self-judgment, trying new things, and enjoying your food – all these are important parts of mindful eating.

So what about you? What can you try to incorporate some changes in your life? This will be different for each person, but just remember to start small, and as always, feel free to reach out if you have questions or want to talk.


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