Does this sound familiar?
You start off Monday morning determined to eat better. You’re going to finally lose those extra pounds. You’re going to listen to your body. You’re not going to overeat.
By the end of the day, however, things didn’t go as planned. It’s not that you decided to give up or just not bother. You just weren’t paying attention.
Despite the best of intentions, the next thing you knew, you ate too much of that overstuffed hummus and veggie sandwich, then grabbed a handful from the candy bowl of peanut m&ms each time you went to the kitchen to refill your water bottle or to get a cup of coffee.
You really wanted to do better. What went wrong?
Changing habits you’ve had for years is hard and takes time. Your brain is programmed to do what you’ve always done. That’s what a habit is.
How do you remember to stick to your resolve?
Awareness. Awareness--of your urges to eat, what you are choosing to eat and how much--is the single most important skill in losing weight and keeping it off.
Here are some things you can incorporate into your daily routine to make you more aware of your eating.
1. Eat sitting down. If you commit to doing this for every bite (except maybe a small taste for seasoning while cooking), it requires you to stop and notice what you’re doing before you’ve tossed down a handful of chocolate-covered almonds while walking out the door.
2. Don’t eat out of the package. Put a serving of whatever you’re planning to eat on a plate or in a bowl. Do this whether you’re eating some snack food, leftovers or even fruit or vegetables. When you eat out of the package, you don’t know how much you’re consuming, and can easily munch through three servings before you realize that 2/3 of the bag is now empty. When you put food in a bowl, you can measure out one serving and see how much food you’ve given yourself. You’ll be more aware of how much you’re eating and will have to make an affirmative decision whether to eat more when the bowl is empty.
3. Keep a food journal. This is the one tool used by almost everyone who succeeds with permanent weight loss. It is POWERFUL. Write down everything you eat. You can do this on an old-fashioned note pad, or use a free app like RiseUp. It doesn’t have to be very detailed, but writing down what you eat is useful as a tool for greater awareness both immediately and longer term. It helps you notice not only how much you’re eating, but also whether you lose more weight when eating certain foods and whether particular foods cause digestive distress.
4. Put your fork down between bites. This will not only help you eat more mindfully, but you will slow down so that you enjoy your food more and notice when you’ve had enough before you’ve overeaten. Eating more slowly is also better for your digestion.
5. Practice meditation. The documented physical and mental health benefits of a daily meditation practice are extensive. Meditating helps us develop a higher level of awareness, which in turn helps us to lose weight. We notice our thoughts, including even some of our unconscious thinking. This allows us to make more deliberate decisions about what to eat and have fewer of those, “Wow, I didn’t even notice what I was doing until after the food was in my mouth” moments.
Choose one or two of these, and commit to practicing it consistently for a week. Every day that you stick with it is a win on your path to permanent weight loss. Notice how you feel. Then keep doing it until it becomes second nature. Repetition is what forms new habits, and new habits will allow you to eat less, lose weight and keep it off without feeling deprived.
Focus more on the changes you are making than on the number on the scale. As you learn to be more aware of what you’re eating, you’ll lose weight because you’ll be eating less. With consistent effort over time, you’ll achieve success at losing the weight for good.
You can do this! Small steps add up!