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Overeating? Mindfulness exercises may help

April 2022

We all go through moments of indulgence that lead to overeating. If it does happen occasionally, don’t worry. If this happens frequently, you may be wondering if you have an overeating problem or a “food addiction.” Before you worry, know that neither of these two are considered an official medical diagnosis. In fact, there is a heated debate about the existence of food addiction.

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“If it was present, the cause of the food addiction would be an actual physiological process, and you would experience withdrawal symptoms if you didn’t have certain foods, such as those that contain sugar. But that is very different from saying you like sugar and it is hard not to eat them,” notes Helen Burton Murray, MD, a psychologist and director of the Gastrointestinal Behavioral Health Program at the Center for Gastrointestinal Neurological Health at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Many people unconsciously overeat and don’t realize it until after they have finished a meal. This is where mindfulness exercises can help you stick to reasonable portion sizes.

But she does encourage you to seek professional help if your thoughts about eating interfere with your ability to function every day. Your primary care doctor is a good place to start.

What is mindful eating?

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment, observing the input that overwhelms your senses. At meal time: “Think about what food looks like, how it tastes and smells. What is its texture? What memories does it bring? How do you feel?” Burton Murray asks.

By being careful with meals, you will slow down your eating process, pay more attention to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness, and possibly avoid overeating.

“It makes you take a step back and make decisions about what you eat, rather than just going through the automatic process of seeing food, eating, and eating,” says Burton Murray.

Prepare yourself for success in being vigilant when eating by:

  • Remove distractions. Turn off phones, TVs, and computers. Eat in a quiet and tidy place.
  • Prepare yourself for a 20-minute meal. Chew your food slowly and leave the fork down between each bite

More Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try

Practicing mindfulness when you’re not eating intensifies the “muscles” of alertness. Here are exercises to do just that.

  • Center breathing. Burton Murray explains, “Inhale and exhale slowly. With each breath, allow your belly to come out. With each exhale, allow your belly to come in.” “This engages the diaphragm, which connects to the nerves between the brain and the gut and promotes relaxation.”
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. In this exercise, you tighten and relax one major muscle group at a time for 20 seconds. As the contraction is released, notice how the muscles feel relaxed.
  • Take a mindful walk, even if it’s only for five minutes. Burton Murray suggests: “Use your senses to enjoy your surroundings.” “What are the colors of the leaves on the trees? Are there cracks on the ground, and where are they? What is the smell of the air? Do you feel the breeze on your skin?”
  • Do yoga or tai chi. Each of these ancient martial arts practices involve deep breathing and focusing on the sensations of the body.
  • Keep a journal. Write down the details of your day. Try to include what your senses take in – the sights, sounds, and smells you’ve experienced, and the textures you’ve touched.

Don’t worry about trying to stay alert all day. Start with a moment here and there and build gradually. The more vigilant you become throughout the day, the more aware you will become when eating. And you may find that you are better able to make decisions about the food you eat.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of the last revision or update of all articles. No content on this website, regardless of date, should be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your physician or other qualified physician.


Also read : 11 'Bad' Eating Habits You Can Break for Good

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