Heart Hunger Through the Holidays

Mindfulness is for hippies, you might say.  (And “you” know who “you” are).  I say, it’s one of the most profound missing links in our efforts thus far to address our country’s obesity epidemic (and a plethora of other chronic diseases for that matter). 

During the holidays, in particular, we often eat (again, my bias) due to what Jan Chozen Bays, MD refers to as “heart hunger.” Many people “eat in an attempt to fill a hole, not in the stomach but in the heart.”  It might be a subtle ache or a more pronounced stress that leads us to pop open a bottle or grab another cookie (or 3), but often times, we’re cruising on auto-pilot. 

Food and alcohol can absolutely be soothing, distracting, comforting.  But it is surely temporary, and if the intention is to ease a sense of loneliness, pain, discomfort, those feelings are likely to come ‘round again, often accompanied by guilt for trying to soothe with calorie rich foods and beverages.

To make this an even more complex conundrum, we’re evolutionarily wired (read: set up hard core) to desire holiday-esque foods.  Fat, sugar, and salt (and notably the combination of the three) are notorious for setting off neuronal fireworks in our brains.  Food companies actually pay consultants to perfect peak sensory stimulation from concocting different layers of fat, sugar, and salt in their products, that leave you satisfied, but not so satisfied that you are content to stop.  Seriously?  Seriously. 

So, we’re “set up hard core” to crave layers of fat on salt on sugar on fat.  Then the holidays come around and offer endless opportunities and constant access coupled with, for some, lots of stress and a heart in need of something other than another pig in a blanket.

Enter a few brief, practical tips.  1) For a moment (if you’re a skeptic), consider that a mindfulness-based approach has something to offer.  2) Now, consider the iFuel 3 P’s.

    *Pause. There are vital, pulsing moments before food crosses our lips, when we can stop and check in.  A simple, “Am I hungry?” is a great first step.  If the answer is no, follow up with, “What do I really need right now?”  If the answer is yes, you are hungry, consider what your body needs, and bring your mind to your mouth to savor your food.  (This is a pretty quick and dirty of the 3 P’s-trying to keep the blog short...-ish).

    *Put down the fork. Mindfulness doesn’t stop once you’ve assessed whether or not you’re going to put something in your mouth.  Throughout your meal, check back in with your hunger and satiety.  Do you know what it feels like to be sated?  Is your stomach content?  Your mouth?  Do you remember your last bite or were you more focused on your iPhone or latest episode of The Office?  “You can’t have a party in your mouth if your mind’s not invited.” -Jan Chozen Bays

    *Practice. MindLESS eating is incredibly easy, and socially supported in our culture.  We leave cookies and candy lying around the office ALL day long this time of year, and watching movies or football games without putting food or beer in our mouths is a sacrilege.  (Doesn’t mean you can’t have some beer and pizza while you watch Tom Brady do what Tom Brady does so well).  But.  Practice pausing before you eat.  Practice coming back to your mouth and your stomach while you’re eating.  Practice listening to your body, your mind, your heart and giving them what they need.  Sometimes a glass of your favorite red is the answer.  However, sometimes it’s not.  Practice, and explore learning the difference.  Your waistline, your “65-year-old you”, and your heart will thank you...  

I look forward to your thoughts...

Fuel Well.  Be Well.