Change your mind to change your figure: Fed up with failed diets? A new book says the key to weight-loss is learning to think differently about food
PUBLISHED: 22:00 GMT, 17 June 2012 | UPDATED: 22:01 GMT, 17 June 2012
Whether it’s cake, cheese, crisps or biscuits, women think about food more than 200 times a day.
From ‘I’ve been so good today I deserve a chocolate’ to ‘I’m miserable and only ice cream will make me feel better’, research shows it pops into our minds twice as often as sex does.
‘For many women, food is the first thing they think of in the morning and the effect that food has had on their bodies is the last thing they think of at night,’ says meditation expert Andy Puddicombe, author of a new book called The Headspace Diet, which claims to be able to change the way you think about food — and therefore help you lose weight — in just ten days.
Puddicombe believes this negative chatter, much of which is learned in childhood, developed through adolescence and reinforced in adulthood, lies at the heart of our warped relationship with food. It’s the reason we’re so often unhappy with our bodies, and why diets rarely work.
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The key to changing the way we think about food lies in harnessing the power of meditation to make us more ‘mindful’. Puddicombe says we need to clear the brain of unhelpful, unhealthy messages, impulses and drives surrounding food and ‘re-set’ ourselves and our mentality.
Puddicombe’s methods are based on the concept of learning to ‘observe’ your thoughts and acknowledge them — but not act on them. Through simple exercises, he promises you can escape the tyranny of emotional cravings for food. In some cases, it’s as simple as taking a little time to think before you shop, cook and eat, or just counting to ten before putting something in your mouth.
To start with, we need to identify what type of food thinker we are. Only when we recognise and acknowledge our negative thought and related eating patterns can we begin to use mindfulness to overcome them. So what sort of food thinker are you?
You snack, nibble and graze throughout the day — whether you’re hungry or not. You reject formal diet plans because you think your way of eating is better, but never seem to lose weight.
THE PROBLEM: You’re constantly thinking about the next snack. You’re in danger of eating too much, too often.
THE SOLUTION: Stick to three meals a day plus two healthy snacks (such as fruit, carrot sticks or oat cakes with hummus), and eat nothing else in between.
though you are desperate to lose weight, you find yourself eating in a self-destructive way, consuming large volumes of junk food or ready meals. For you, diets never last or work.
THE PROBLEM: This pattern is driven by emotional triggers — you gorge if you feel lonely, anxious or annoyed, but by giving in to it you’ll only perpetuate self-loathing.
THE SOLUTION: Exercise to boost your self-esteem and use mindfulness skills to train your brain to regard food as sustenance, not a reward.
THE DIET JUNKIE
Atkins, Dukan, cabbage soup — you try every new diet going. Not bothered by nutritional content, you view food (or the lack of it) as the only vehicle to weight loss so you’re constantly diet-hopping.
THE PROBLEM: The lack of nutrients in your diet puts your body in ‘protective mode’ holding on to every last ounce of fat, and leaving you feeling dissatisfied and guilty.
THE SOLUTION: Stop thinking extreme dieting will help you achieve physical perfection — it won’t. Switch to a balanced diet and smaller portions.
You have steely willpower and follow strict diet rules, eating healthily 90 per cent of the time, but can swing from extreme control to a moment of madness with self-destructive high-sugar binges.
TAKE TIME TO TAKE A BREATHER
Calm your mind. Get into the habit of setting aside ten minutes every day for a short mind-clearing exercise: sit quietly and breathe deeply, concentrating on your breathing.
Let your mind scan your body for tension and your brain for mood — be aware of everything that comes up, but don’t make any judgments.
Focus on your breathing, allowing your mind to be free and clear. This is your treat, your chance to relax and unwind — and you’ll get better at it with practise.
With time, this has been shown to increase emotional stability (so you’re less likely to comfort eat), increase body awareness (so you’ll be quicker to notice when you’re full or not really hungry), reduce stress, cravings and boost the self-regulating and decision-making areas of the brain — making your new healthy-eating plan much more likely to work.
THE PROBLEM: Binges derail all your good intentions and can have an addictive effect. This style of eating comes with emotional baggage, often including strong feelings of guilt and shame.
THE SOLUTION: Relax your strict rules and allow yourself regular treats of ‘forbidden’ foods to stop the desire for massive binges.
You eat out of habit and routine, barely conscious of what goes in to your mouth. Your diet is likely to be monotonous.
THE PROBLEM: You’re likely to eat highly processed, refined foods that lack nutritional value, but give you a quick fix.
THE SOLUTION: Stop eating in front of the TV or at your desk and take the time to think about what you’re putting in your mouth. Eat good food and savour every mouthful.
THE COMFORT EATER
You eat for emotional reasons, using food to fill an emotional void and distract you from painful or difficult feelings. Food makes you feel better — but only for a while.
THE PROBLEM: You’re out of touch with your hunger signals. You deny yourself good, healthy balanced meals at the expense of processed —and calorific — foods.
THE SOLUTION: Mindfulness exercises (such as pausing for ten seconds before you eat anything to allow your mind to settle) will help you to ignore the brain chatter urging you to eat when you’re not really hungry.
NOW TRY THE CHOCOLATE MEDITATION
Switch off your phone, the radio or TV — this is your opportunity to get back in touch with the food you eat rather than feeling distracted, stressed or overwhelmed.
Concentrate on the textures, smells and even the sounds as you chop, boil and sizzle. Sit at a table, take a couple of deep breaths and appreciate the food you are eating.
Eat slowly, chew every mouthful fully and make sure you take note of how your mind responds to the food. When you finish, instead of jumping up, stay seated for a minute or two. It’s important to do this even when you’re having a snack, so you can apply mindfulness to everything you put in your mouth.
When eating your favourite food, enjoy it with focus.If there’s a type of food (let’s say chocolate) that you really love, but struggle to eat in moderation, try this: sit quietly without distractions and think about the chocolate in front of you.
Notice how you’re feeling, pause, then slowly unwrap it and take a minute to explore it with your eyes, nose and hands and notice whether your emotions change. Put a small piece in your mouth — don’t chew! Notice the temperature and texture and savour it. This way you’ll derive more satisfaction from smaller quantities — and you may find that one piece is enough.
MAKE A LIST TO RESIST CRAVINGS
Clear your cupboards of anything that may conflict with your goals. Then write a list of healthy foods you enjoy. Before you walk into a shop, be clear you are going to buy only from the list — so no impulse purchases.
Every time you pick up something, ask yourself: ‘Is this going to help me achieve my ideal size, shape, and weight?’ If you get distracted by a craving, chose a neutral place of focus (your feet, your palms resting on the shopping trolley) and breathe deeply.
Before leaving the store, pause briefly and pat yourself on the back for making good food choices — this affirmation will seal the new neural pathways you have created by making these different decisions.
THE HEADSPACE DIET: 10 Days To Finding Your Ideal Weight by Andy Puddicombe (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99).