by Guest
Blogger, Peggy Farah, Founder of Deeper Cravings

Most of us have been there. 

We find ourselves standing
in front of an open refrigerator, late at night in search of the next snack to
fill the void…only we aren’t physically hungry. We are hungry however, but it
is a different sort of hunger. We are hungry for validation, procrastination,
approval, excitement, companionship and knowledge of our worth. Pediatrician
and Buddhist mindfulness expert Jan Chozen Bays refers to this as “heart hunger”,
an emotional longing that can bring us straight into the arms of food and
marching in that repetitive parade to the kitchen cupboard late at night.

In my own history with food I always rebuked the label
of ‘emotional eater’. I didn’t view myself as someone who relied on food to
help me with my problems.  After all, I
was resourceful, I was self-aware, I was trained in psychotherapy for Pete’s sake!…and
yet when I really entered in to a period of observing myself and my patterns
with food I recognized that it wasn’t necessarily the big emotions; the devastating
heartbreaks or the major losses that had me eating past the point of full. It was
a much more subtle and therefore more insidious type of void I was filling. It
was often a very low grade anxiety, a quiet ‘dis-ease’ that left me feeling
stressed, tired, bored or underappreciated…all of which seemed to be soothed by
food.

Enter
mindfulness.  Mindfulness is an ancient
practice born of Eastern Tradition that is seeing increasing popularity in
Western Medicine and Psychology. Quite simply, it is the act of focusing your
complete and total attention on the present moment experience in a non-judgmental
way. You don’t have to be a master meditator or a yogi sitting on a hill to
engage in mindfulness, all of us have the capacity to be mindful in any given
moment. It is a matter of directing our attention. When you bring mindfulness
to your experience of eating it means engaging all your senses and bringing
your full attention to the experience of the food in your mouth.

While the
definition of mindfulness is quite simple, bringing it into our lives as a
daily practice is anything but easy. Most of the time, we are anywhere BUT in
the present moment. We are usually thinking about our ‘to do’ list, replaying a
conversation in our mind, planning for a future event, judging, analyzing or
problem solving. Eating while fully present? Not a chance. We live in a fast
food era, we eat while on the run, in front of the television or while checking
our text messages or sending an e-mail. We rarely truly taste and savor our
food. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our thoughts that our entire plate can
be gone without ever tasting a bite.

As such mindful
eating can be an incredibly powerful practice to combat overeating. Here are 5
gifts that mindfulness offers.

  1. Awareness: Mindfulness allows us
    to feel our emotions and brings clarity in terms of what we are truly feeling when
    we reach for food when we are not hungry. We learn that we often use food to
    check out, to distract ourselves from whatever is happening in our life, to
    give ourselves a little breather from our mental noise or to procrastinate. Awareness
    is the first step to changing the patterns.
  2. Compassion: By becoming mindful
    while overeating we begin to develop a practice of non-judgment. We can then
    develop what I call ‘compassionate curiosity’ about what was happening for us
    in the moment.  So often overeating is
    associated with shame and feeling disappointed in our actions. By practicing
    non-judgment we are able to observe our behavior with enough detachment and
    kindness that we can begin to make sense of why the eating is ‘serving’ us in
    that moment. Gaining this understanding allows us to begin to find more
    adaptive ways of coping.
  3. Communication: Something I teach to
    clients who take The Deeper Cravings Path™ is how to differentiate
    the very subtle shifts in their body when they go from slightly hungry to feeling
    satisfied so that they can then choose to stop eating at that point. In our
    culture most of us decide to stop by the cue of an empty plate…period (perhaps
    a fall out of the ‘clean your plate’ generation). We have fallen out of communication
    with our body’s natural language that directs us (quite efficiently, I might
    add) on how to feed it. Our body is wise and it is always whispering to us but
    when we are so distracted and disconnected from the moment we cannot hear it. Mindfulness
    opens up the lines of communication.
  4. Appreciation: Non-judgmental
    awareness translates to beginning to appreciate the body, maybe not always for
    its form but most certainly for its functions. When we begin to actually like
    our body, regardless of its shape and size, we can develop a true motivation to
    take care of it. We learn to move when it asks us to move, eat when it needs us
    to and stop when we have had enough. This sense of appreciation also translates
    to our relationship with food. We so commonly tend to look at food as either
    ‘good’ or ‘evil’. We think of our food in terms of numbers; calories, fat grams
    etc. Mindful eating connects us back to the joy in food. Rather than eat out of
    guilt, fear or rebellion we eat for pleasure and nourishment and truly enjoy eating
    once again.
  5. Empowerment: As we begin to notice
    ourselves stopping when we’ve had enough, choosing foods that really feed us,
    listening to our bodies and treating ourselves with increased kindness we begin
    to feel empowered in our relationship with food. We learn that our bodies can
    be trusted; and that if we let them, they will teach us how they need to be
    nourished. Our bodies are geared towards optimal health and they can take us
    there without the need for fancy diet plans, pills or expensive products. By
    understanding the emotional hungers that are causing us to overeat and by
    learning how to employ a regular practice of mindful and intuitive eating we
    tap in to our body’s natural wisdom.

And if you do find yourself ‘feeding’ a difficult emotion try this
experiment borrowed from The Mindful Therapy Group: Promise
yourself that for one minute you will pause from your eating and engage in the
following meditation (after that minute you can go back to eating whatever it
was you were about to eat if you like). Say to yourself in time with your
breath “Breathing in, I feel this feeling, breathing out, I let it be” You can
even shorten it to saying silently in your mind “feel” on the in-breath and
“let be” on the out-breath.

As you begin on the path of trying to bring mindfulness to your eating
experiences remember to be gentle with yourself. You may find yourself fully
aware (more aware than you’d like to be) that you are eating out of emotions
and yet you choose to keep on eating anyway. Try not to see this as a failure.
What I have learned is that it is just as important to bring compassionate
awareness to those times we do ‘give in’ to our cravings as it is to find
strategies to avoid them. It is a huge step to simply acknowledge that it is
emotional hunger we are feeding and to not judge that. Imagine the shifts that
can emerge when we replace all of our guilt and self-loathing with acceptance,
compassion, awareness and kindness. Ahhhh…freedom with food…doesn’t it taste
sweet.

About
the Author: Peggy Farah, MPS (Masters in Psychotherapy and Spirituality), is a
spiritually oriented Life Coach and the Founder of
Deeper
Cravings
, a unique program offering an alternative to the
diet culture. Deeper Cravings is based on Peggy’s research exploring the
connection between the ‘practice of presence’ and the healing of food and body
issues. Peggy has been involved in supporting physical, emotional and spiritual
health for over 20 years in various counseling and management positions. In
addition to focusing on the many facets of Deeper Cravings, Peggy focuses most
of her time raising her two tiny spiritual teachers, her children. Peggy is
permanently based in Edmonds, Washington

Connect
with Peggy:
www.facebook.com/deepercravings (‘like’ to
join the 500+ who receive weekly inspiration)

Connect
with Mindful Therapy Group:
http://www.facebook.com/MindfulTherapy (‘like’
to join the 140+ who receive weekly inspiration)

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc