21 Micro Habits to Make Weight Loss Stick #3: Check in with your body while you eat.

We say we ‘check out’ of our bodies while we eat. It sounds like Elvis Presley, saying “Elvis is leaving the building” when he left a hotel.

Here, food psychology coach Laura Lloyd talks about how not to ‘leave the building’ at mealtimes – and you don’t have to become a master of zen mouthfuls either, you just have to check back in.

Why do I ‘go unconscious’ or ‘zone out’ while I eat?

Most of us do this. 

All sorts of reasons:

  • We focus on the social aspect (not a bad thing!).
  • We’re in a rush and don’t really have time to sit for 5 or 10 minutes, so we just eat while we’re doing other things. I know I’m guilty of that – eating dessert while cleaning the kitchen, because I just want to get to the end of the jobs.
  • We EXPECT to enjoy the meal and we’re kind of just fulfilling our expectation, rather than really discovering the meal, minute by minute.
  • Eating actually gets boring pretty quickly – You’ve maybe got 10 minutes, I don’t know maybe 20 or 30 bites? (You count them for you one day!) But we want to be able to elongate the wonderful mealtime experience, so we string ourselves along with TV or a book, or just by mechanically munching away. Ironically, our aim is to enjoy the meal for longer, but we have to take our mind off it to keep at it.
  • Eating is also a very familiar activity to the brain, so it’s largely controlled by the habit brain – your unconscious – you’ve known how to eat since you first fed yourself as a toddler, so there’s no real need to think about how to do it, right?

Well, yes it’s easy. It’s all too easy to eat.

So if losing weight is on your agenda for 2021, you’re going to want to check back into Hotel You, lean on the reception desk and start asking for a room with a view and a shower that doesn’t leak.

But let’s be completely clear, people – nobody HAS to lose weight.

It’s your choice, and not something to just launch into because you feel bad about all your Christmas eating or because it’s January and the ‘new you’ message is everywhere.

Especially, it’s not useful to want to lose weight so you can escape all the unwarranted and ignorant shame and judgment that society throws at fat people. It’s not useful to want to get thinner because you feel not-good-enough as it is.

(For more on getting a good reason to lose weight – check out micro habit #2).

Taking a lifestyle approach to managing your weight is an impressive and formidable undertaking, and a lifelong investment in yourself.

You need to really think about how you want to eat for the rest of your life, and go steadily about creating those habits.

The problem for most of us is that we don’t pay quite enough attention while we’re eating. We don’t really notice the sensations of our bodies while we eat.

Hence, we feel as though our ‘thermostat’ – our desire to eat, which should click ‘off’ when we’ve had enough – doesn’t work like others’ does.

Over the years, I’ve often looked enviously at my husband’s effortless leaving of food on his plate all along and wondered ‘how does he do that – just stop?’

Now I’ve learned to do it! I never thought I could! Seriously. If I can, you can too. We all can.

What are we aiming for? To get some level of awareness of what your body’s experiencing when you eat, during the meal.

Why is it a game-changer to sit down to eat?

Well, we stand to gain a lot from being conscious when we’re eating.

You stand a hope in hell of noticing when you’re satisfied, and you’ll probably eat until you’re really FULL every time, which is fine for Christmas Day but is more than you need on an everyday basis, and more than you need for weight loss for sure.

You also find your choices of what you stick on your fork change during a meal. For instance, you might have fancied a pile of something from the buffet at the start, and if you don’t check in with yourself, you just plough through it, not noticing that your intuition is directing you towards a different piece of nutrition your body’s after.

You’re also going to to take pleasure from as many bites of food as you can, since being ‘satisfied’ is as much about being ‘fully pleasured’ as having that grounded feeling of enough food in your stomach.

Mindful eating – I tried it, but I can’t seem to do it every day!

We make it into a big thing.

  • Some of us have got fed up with the pressures to ‘eat slowly’ – we want to be able to tuck in with gusto.
  • Maybe you’ve been on regimes before that even told you to chew your food a lot – counting your chews is a drag. Not the way to go. (I checked out one programme recently that kept telling me to ‘chew my food until only liquid remained’ – I almost gagged just writing it, it’s really quite vividly repulsive.)
  • Or maybe you’ve done ‘mindful eating’ in the past, and eaten your food with chopsticks for a week to cultivate your ability to pay attention.

What if I don’t have time to eat mindfully, or consciously?

I love my mindful eating practices – setting the table, putting music on – but they are learning tools rather than an everyday methodology – it can be onerous, and just not realistic to take the time, all the time.

You have a busy life, I’m guessing you’re not a monk.

We need to take the learning from mindful eating exercises and run with it.

I say this because having taught mindful eating in my coaching over the years, I have had a couple of people take the practice literally.

One person, much to their spouse’s unease, eats all their meals with tweezers.

Another feels obliged to sit and listen to relaxing music every time she eats, and her work colleagues worry they are disturbing her in the staff room.

Mindful eating is a skillset, not necessarily a way to eat every meal, so let’s not overcomplicate this.

Ultimately – not to scare you – but where we’re aiming is to get satisfied with less food. 

Put our fork down, or leave our plate alone, when we’ve had enough. Isn’t that a skill you want for yourself?

I know for most of my life, I habitually overate at every meal. I just grew up eating that way, with bulky carbs to fill us up and keep us growing, and it became my ‘normal’.

Stopping when you’re satisfied, or being willing to leave just a couple of bites – literally, a couple of bites people – on your plate is an absolute game changer when you’re looking for a weight loss without dieting.

But that’s later. You have to build your micro habits one at a time. To be ready and willing to leave a couple of bites, you need to notice and revel in the bites you are having.

So how do we learn to be more conscious as eaters? Zone out less?

Honestly, I think it’s as simple as just checking in with your body a couple of times during your meal.

Just turn the searchlight of your attention inside your body, and notice what your body is experiencing. 

This isn’t going to happen by accident. You have to direct that searchlight.

Your attention will be outside you, always – on the others, on your plans, on the things you want to do today. Bring it in from time to time. Step back into Hotel You.

There are plenty of tips and tools for doing that. You can think them up yourself, but try any of these: 

  • Pause a couple of times during your meal.
  • Put your fork down once during your meal.
  • Eat a slow bite. 
  • Notice if you’re putting food in your mouth when you already have food in your mouth. 
  • Notice if you’re putting more food on your plate when you already have food on your plate.
  • Sit down to eat. Your bum. On a chair.
  • Take a bathroom break.
  • This one’s good for a buffet – choose the food item you really want first, and enjoy that. 
  • Listen rather than talk while you eat. If you’re a talker, don’t keep taking bites while you talk, wait till the convo switches.

I feel like this list is patronising – like I said, you can think of more yourself. 

None of these tiny alterations is a magic wand or  – whoa there lady-o – a new stupid (diet) rule for how you have to eat. 

They are just ways of reminding yourself to check in with your body a couple of times during a meal. 

That’s it. Your main aim, your micro-habit, is just to consult with yourself. Check in with yourself a couple of times, every time you eat. Be curious about what you find when you do.  

Bon appetit!

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Just a little side note from me:

Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.

It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.

I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.

As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.

Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.

Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.

But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!

It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:

Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?

Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?

Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?

Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?

Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.

Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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