Mindfulness and Craving Food
When I was about to attend my first 8 week course in mindfulness, I read about a woman who had lost quite a bit of weight following a mindfulness course. She attributed this to being more aware of how she felt when she was eating and when she had had enough. I hoped to experience something similar.
My experience however was not similar. In fact, for the first two or three years of practising mindfulness I put on a significant amount of weight. As I have continued to practice I have started to understand why.
One of the most wonderful things that I find about practising mindfulness is that it I learn about myself. Often the things that I learn seem to be so obvious that I can hardly believe I didn't see them earlier. One such insight which provided an early inroad into my problems with overeating was the realisation that when I felt desperately, urgently hungry, this feeling was located not in my tummy but my throat. I came to understand that this signal, which I had always interpreted as hunger, was not hunger at all. Rather it was a craving, a desperate urge to feed an addiction. This was made more obvious to me by the knowledge that only certain foods, high in fat, sugar or salt, could satisfy this addiction and by the fact that the urge to eat more would often return far sooner than would be expected by any genuine need of the body for food.
I tend to be quite a reserved person emotionally. I didn't connect with the idea of comfort eating because I didn't feel that I experienced strong emotions from which I needed comfort. With continued mindfulness practice however I came to understand that the craving tended to be triggered by situations in which you might expect certain emotions, although I was not aware of these emotions myself. Particularly they were triggered by situations or thoughts when I seemed to be dismissed, misunderstood or undervalued and when I felt unable to speak out and be assertive.
Initially my mindfulness practice had increased my awareness of feelings associated with these themes, which in turn triggered the urge to eat more. It wasn't so much emotional eating as eating to avoid experiencing certain emotions entirely.
Once I understood this craving, the urgency to respond by eating was less compelling. I have gradually been able to sit with my awareness of the situations and feelings that have emerged and to find other ways of responding to them. I no longer hold a belief that I 'will not be OK' if I don't feed the craving, nor do I think that it is genuinely about food or can be soothed by food.
Finally, after 5 years my weight is starting to reduce. It's not the quick fix that I once hoped for and certainly remains a work in progress. However, hard as it has been it just might be that one of the lasting benefits of mindfulness for me will be the ability to naturally move towards and maintain a healthy weight.