Mindfulness is an effective tool against compulsive habits like binge eating because it interrupts automatic behaviors. It enables you to see and understand your actions without judging them to short-circuit the process that connects stress with comfort eating. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers tracked the eating patterns of 140 binge eaters and found that using mindfulness based interventions reduced bingeing episodes from four times to only once per week.
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Practicing mindfulness also can help you become better at another key stress buster: self-compassion. What often happens when you eat an extra slice of chocolate cake or you notice a roll of fat bulging out of your shirt as you pass by a mirror? Many women default to judging themselves harshly and criticizing themselves. It’s a self-inflicted attack that becomes a real threat. The body automatically acts to defend itself against the attack by releasing excess cortisol. Researchers studying these processes have concluded that criticism and shame are among the most powerful triggers of the cortisol stress response. And as you already know, cortisol can upset your body clock. This is the very reason why you need to be kind to yourself.
My dear friend and colleague Adrienne Glasser is an experiential psychotherapist in New York City who founded Experience Wellness Group. The group combines experiential methods, the creative arts, and meditation in a therapy called Active Mindfulness. She shares some effective techniques to help increase body awareness in the simple beginner meditation below. Find a quiet space and give it a try.
• Find a comfortable seat that allows you to feel strong but also has a sense of softness or gentleness.
• If you’re on the floor, make sure your hips are above your knees. If you’re in a chair, make sure you’re in an upright position that isn’t stiff.
• Allow your shoulders to drop and softly let your arms fall to your sides.
• Gently place your hands on your midthighs or in your lap.
• You can choose to close your eyes, keep them open and gaze about 3 to 4 feet in front of you, or look at these words on the paper as you practice.
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Check-In (a few moments)
• In these few moments, observe the quality of your mind. Is it fast? Slow? Hazy? What is the temperature of the mind in this moment? Notice these qualities as if you’re looking at the ocean, accepting any waves that come.
Intention (a few moments)
• Set an intention of observing a sensation in the body and distinguishing it from thoughts about the body. This distinction affords you greater clarity to more intimately know your body and its needs.
Notice the Breath (a few moments)
• See where you notice the breath the most in this moment. Is it in your chest, rising and falling? Your nostrils? Your belly? This point where you notice the breath can be like a lighthouse on the ocean, a beacon you can come back to anytime you become lost.
Notice Sensations around the Breath (a few minutes)
• Notice what sensations you feel in your body. These sensations are like the different qualities of water in the ocean. Notice whether the sensations make your body want to move or be still. If organic movement starts, just allow this to happen and then let it pass.
• You can label sensations as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Feel free to use your own one-word sensation labels describing the quality of sensation, such as hot, cold, tight, soft, numb, etc. Always come back to the breath as the sturdy lighthouse that accepts all without wavering.
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Observe Thoughts Passing (a few minutes)
• Envision thoughts that may come in as if they’re boats on the ocean. Notice how thoughts about the body are different from sensation felt in the body.
• Allow the boats of thought to freely float through the waves of sensations. If a boat of thought grabs your attention, perhaps see what message it wants you to hear and then allow it to pass.
• Know you can always come back to the lighthouse of the breath if you get lost at sea.
• Continue to label the sensations in the body simply, distinguishing these simple observations from thought: pleasant, unpleasant, neutral …
• Repeat this observation of sensation, thoughts floating, then back to breath.
Gratitude (a few moments)
• Honor your higher sense of knowing, which helped you throughout this practice.
• Thank yourself for your efforts, knowing that the merit of your practice will benefit your body and those you love.