Just curious, what percentage of your day do you find yourself thinking about food as a way to deal with your busy mind? Do you use food as a way to cope with stress or distract your busy mind? Or, are you the type of person that gets busy and forgets to eat until you’re ravenous?
Mind control is a critical component of weight management, something we refer to as “mindset” when working with clients. This is especially important for those of us who use food and eating to regulate our emotions.
Mindset doesn’t place as much emphasis on “what” you are eating, but rather “why” you are eating. If you find yourself stress eating in response to mental-emotional discomfort, racing thoughts, or daily life stressors, then mind control may be just the skill you need to practice right now. And it’s not hard, but it does require intention and consistent practice (like most things). Basically, it’s about staying present, slowing down, and nourishing yourself if you are truly hungry. A big part of this new skill is learning to identify physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts, and their connections to your current eating behaviors.
Given the strong connection between eating behaviors and our thoughts & emotions, you may not believe that you have the power to take control of your busy mind. You truly do though! You have the power to separate urges from eating behaviors and to find alternative coping mechanisms. Think of all of the ways you’ve trained your brain to learn new skills. Even easy tasks that we now take for granted, like tying our shoes or riding a bike, required learning new skills at some point. Practice through repetition leads to new behaviors and eventually, new habits that seem effortless. Over time, it will become easier, and you’ll do these things on autopilot. You actually can train your brain to do the same for racing thoughts and a busy mind.
As Dr. Cynthia Ackirll, a stress and performance expert, once said, “Your brain learns by repeated attention to intention. Pairing actions with a calming technique like breathwork can increase those synaptic connections, helping you to reduce stress more easily and effectively.”
Why do I share this information after opening this blog post with a question pertaining to the amount of time you spend thinking about food? The more you commit to staying present, the easier it becomes to turn high-volume thoughts into more of a whisper. You can begin to rewire your brain so that when your busy mind begins to take over, you can take back control.
Better mind control leads to more mindful food choices and staying present as you sit down to eat or have a snack. Presence leads to greater enjoyment and can prevent overeating.
If you suspect that your busy mind is going to take over during periods of stress, overwhelm, or even uncomfortable stillness, develop an action plan ahead of time. Let’s go through the steps together.
Here’s a 3 step process for taking control of a busy mind, tuning into the present moment, and practicing mindful eating:
- Prepare: When I speak of preparation here, I’m not referring to meal planning; however, that can certainly be part of the process of mindful eating. In this context, I’m referring to the mental process of preparing yourself for potential challenges even if life seems to be somewhat stable and predictable right now.
If turning to food has been your go-to coping mechanism for a busy mind, you aren’t alone; however, this way of coping may be preventing you from achieving your bodyweight goals. If you have a plan of action for taking control of your busy mind, you may find yourself eating less in times of stress. And that’s because you’ve identified other coping mechanisms. On that topic…
What are some ways that you like to decompress when life gets chaotic and crazy? Are there some strategies you can use to help free up your busy mind (even if only for a few minutes) to help manage difficult thoughts? Essentially, how can we free up some mental bandwidth? Besides food, what else can give you the relief you are looking for? Maybe it’s calling a friend, or taking a walk.
- Plan: By having a back-up plan that helps prepare you for potential triggers, you’ll be better prepared to handle mindless eating. If you want to avoid eating when you are not physically hunger, and instead practicing mindful eating when you’re truly hungry, then planning ahead with alternate ways to settle a busy mind is critical.
What are some ways you can slow down and quiet your busy mind? How will you remember to check in with yourself before taking that first bite of food in the presence of heightened emotions? Come up with your own personal plan for ways to stay present before you make the choice to eat. Check in with your body to gauge what your level of physical hunger is. Give it a score from 1 (no hunger) to 10 (worst hunger ever). When you’re truly physically hungry, eat.
- Practice: Learn to clear your mind of mental distractions when you sit down to eat. If you can’t completely clear your mind, try to rid yourself of as much mental clutter as possible before you take your first bite of food. It will be challenging, and some days may be easier than others. As a suggestion, try a “brain dump”. Simply write/type out everything on your mind before you eat. This works well for racing thoughts that keep you from falling asleep at night too.
Think of it this way – practice makes progress.
I’m not necessarily a fan of the statement “practice makes perfect” because what is “perfect” when it comes to managing your busy mind? This isn’t like sitting down to take an algebra quiz and scoring 100%. Even the most skilled individuals who practice mindfulness every day will tell you that it is a constant practice of noticing, acknowledging, and staying in a place of non-judgment.
If you are still uncertain as to how to stay mindful when you sit down to a meal, there are lots of great resources on mindful eating. This blog post from Harvard Health is a great introduction to the concept and outlines 8 simple steps you can begin to practice today.
With some preparation, planning, and practice, you can take control of your busy mind. Quieting your mind before you sit down to eat can actually lead to enhanced enjoyment of your meal, the ability to notice hunger and fullness cues, and greater overall satisfaction with your meals, which also helps to reduce cravings. We hope you feel ready to develop your own plan of action.
Just remember, practice makes progress!