We all know that change is not an easy path (at first). But whether you realize it or not, you are working at staying where you are. The question to ask is: Are your current habits – eating, working, sleeping – really working for you?
What if I told you that the ability to connect your body to your mind (and emotions and choices) is ten times more effective than sheer willpower when it comes to changing a habit, especially those related to food? What if I told you that developing this ability begins with simple awareness?
Furthermore, what if I told you that in the midst of this awareness and slowing down, your energy, productivity and satisfaction actually increase?!
Awareness takes persistence, consistency and patience, yet it is perhaps the most effective tool for change. Only from awareness can you truly develop the capacity to feel your body's cues and choose an appropriate response to them. Unlike mints that claim to curb sugar cravings, or a pill your doctor might prescribe to prevent binge eating, awareness is a skill that stays with you forever (for free!), and that with practice can become a new habit that works for you instead of against you.
THREE TOOLS TO DEVELOP AWARENESS
Right now – pause to breathe in deeply – and exhale. It’s a piece of cake, yet its effect is underestimated. The moment you pause, you build awareness.
Have you found yourself holding your breath (maybe while in traffic or watching the evening news)? Tightening your neck and shoulders (while in a meeting with your boss)?
I have found that pausing and using Tara Brach's RAIN approach helps me release tension and even provide greater understanding of what is behind a negative state of being (usually fear!). Inevitably, coming face-to-face with what I’m feeling diminishes its intensity. The RAIN approach can be used in a moment of stress or even just to address that “scattered” feeling we get sometimes. (It also can be good to recognize and appreciate positive states of being!)
Awareness and meditation for healthy living
Recognize: The first step is to recognize what is happening (physical sensations, thoughts or emotions). Simply ask yourself, “What is happening internally at this moment?” Is your body tense? Do you crave a snack?
Allow: Once you recognize and can articulate what is happening, practice accepting it and allowing it to be. You can even say it aloud. For example, “I accept that I feel discouraged about the presentation I just gave,” or “I accept that my body is tired today.” Try it. Does the intensity of the feeling dissipate, even a little?
Investigate: As you begin to feel more present, you can investigate what's going on at a deeper level by asking, “What story am I telling myself right now?” or “What am I believing?” Answering these questions can reveal what is behind the stress. It may be uncomfortable to face a fear of loneliness or anger at an injustice. But press on with kindness toward yourself and those involved. See what lies beneath the surface.
Non-identification: The last step in this approach is non-identification, which is the result of the first three steps. By understanding the connection between what is happening in your body (tension, stress, fatigue) and accepting and investigating related thoughts, feelings and choices, we can begin to release the negativity that binds us.
We can be, as Dr. Beth Cuje states, “conscious observers,” able to remain in our healthy best selves. We can “see both sides of reality and choose which we prefer to focus on.” We are no longer operating on autopilot, where our subconscious mind and past are controlling our choices in the present.
The benefits of meditation are well known, but it wasn't until I actually tried it several years ago that I understood that it precedes any successful effort to eat healthily and live well. Back then, I started practicing meditation consistently, and after a couple of months I saw how – without even trying – I became more aware of my body and how I felt when I ate specific food items. Suddenly, the "space" between the moment I felt a craving and the actual movement of my hand to grab the cookie or slice of bread became wider. With meditation, my actions played out in slow motion, giving me more time to make a decision that I could feel good about both in the short-term and the long-term.
Meditation slows us down and allows us to perceive physical sensations, thoughts and emotions that we might otherwise ignore. Give it a try. Here's a list of the best meditation apps available. If you're starting and need some guidance, try a meditation class offered at your local yoga or meditation studio.
If I ask you what you ate last week, or even two days ago, would you be able to tell me in detail? It's very likely that you won't. Recording what you eat sheds light on what you are putting into your body (coffee? cookies?) as well as helps you identify what is missing (water? greens?).
Recording your food consumption also helps to reveal possible food allergies, sensitivities or imbalances as you pay attention to the body sensations, thoughts and feelings that emerge with the different types of foods you eat. Using this template, try writing down (for 5-7 days) how specific food items made you feel as you ate them (or even what you felt before you decided to eat them!).
Similar to looking at a credit card statement and evaluating your spending, reviewing your food intake at the end of each day or week can help you identify the thought patterns that might be triggering emotional eating or unhealthy habits. You might be surprised at how much you discover.
Connecting your body to your mind, emotions and choices has several advantages, and the awareness to make better food choices that nourish you is one of them. I encourage giving these methods a try. Remember it takes persistence before you see results, but it works if you work it. My hope is that any or all of these approaches to building awareness will help you on your journey to wellness.
I would love to hear from you if you try these out and want to share feedback. Please email me!
This blog was originally posted on WaterstoneGLOBAL, a consulting firm based in Washington D.C. that works with nonprofit and small business. Their vision is for everyone, everywhere, to live life well.