Take The 21 Day Mindful Eating Challenge

(Healthcastle.com) Ready for a challenge? Ever feel like food has a hold on you? Struggle with weight despite trying all the diets and cleanses out there? The problem is likely not just what you eat- but how, when and why you eat. Taking care of when, why and how you eat is the first step to a lifelong healthy lifestyle. Read on to find out how to reset your eating style in 21 days, and why you should do it now.

Why do we eat?

Typically we eat for three reasons – in the Craving Change ™ program we call them heart, mouth and stomach hunger.

  • Heart hunger is when we eat our emotions – trying to fill a void of sadness, anger, frustration stress, or boredom.
  • Mouth hunger is when we eat because something tastes good, because we like it and its enjoyable- even if we aren’t hungry.
  • Stomach hunger is the most basic reason we eat – because we are hungry and our body needs nourishment to get on with the day. We eat for energy and fuel.

Why do YOU eat? Most days we do a mixture all three ways of eating, but many of us use food too often to try and fix matters of the heart. And in our food obsessed culture we regularly eat just because it tastes good, and we keep eating long past being full enough for the same reason. Over time mindless eating leads to a divide between food and our body’s natural, physical hunger and fullness cues. It also leads to extra weight that can be hard to get rid of without fixing the real issue. Starting to eat mindfully is an act of self-love. So take back the reins and choose when and why you eat. I promise, you’ve got the strength in you!

It all sounds pretty hard doesn’t it? We’ve learned our current eating style over years. But it can be unlearned, it takes us about 3-4 weeks to learn a new habit so this challenge is perfect for newbies to mindful eating or those who need a refresher. I know sometimes I do- especially after stressful periods in life when self-care gets lost in the shuffle.

The 21 Day Challenge

Step 1: Plan for three meals daily at somewhat regular times. Don’t fuss too much on exactly what’s in them. Think of these as times to nourish yourself- without them your body can’t produce energy, repair damage and fuel your day. Framing meals as a good thing is especially important for the chronic dieters out there- food isn’t the enemy! Viewing it that way makes it more seductive and takes the focus off of it’s true value- providing building blocks for our body.

  • Have the first meal within a couple hours of getting up, even if its just an apple, yogurt or protein shake. 
  • Have the second meal whenever you normally get a mid-day break, at least 10 minutes to sit down and eat.
  • Have the third meal sometime in the evening, whenever dinner is most convenient for you. Ignore the old rules about not eating after 8 if you work later in to the evening- it’s just a myth!
  • If you are prone to low blood sugar, pack some whole foods snacks of fruit, nuts or yogurt with you to work. Eat a small amount when you feel the first signs of hunger.

Step 2: Learn your hunger scale. Imagine a way to rate your hunger going from 1 up to 10. 1 is ravenous- tummy grumbling, cranky, can’t go another second hungry. 10 is post thanksgiving dinner, undo a button stuffed to the brim.

For the next 21 days you are going to try and stop at a 6 – satisfied but not stuffed. Keep in mind that it takes a while for our body to tell our brain we are full- so if you are consistently stopping at a 7 or 8 on the hunger scale then you’re likely overeating without realizing it. Especially if you’re a fast eater!

If you get physically hungry have more than 30 minutes to your next meal, have a small snack. This challenge is about knowing yourself – not punishing yourself!

Step 3: Choose when to eat for reasons other than physical hunger. Sometimes it’s okay to eat “just because”.

Have a work party coming up? Night out with the girls or Sunday morning breakfast with the fam? Don’t stress! Approach appetizer tables, birthday cake, restaurants and special meals the same way, knowing that you may not be physically hungry to start with. Stop eating at a 6 and be proud that you took charge of how much you ate in those tricky situations.

Step 4: Track how you feel and when it is hard to eat mindfully. Unsure of how to handle harder moments? Like that craving for ice cream that dogged you until you gave in one day? Try to figure out what that craving is about – is it heart hunger (that’s usually what ice cream cravings are about!) or mouth hunger (it is okay to just enjoy the taste of ice cream). Once you know what it’s about you can address it.

  • If it is emotional hunger, do something to take care of yourself or relax that doesn’t involve food when that craving hits. Go for a walk, call a friend and vent, convince the hubby to rub your feet or curl up on the couch and read a few chapters of a book for a little while. They don’t have to be huge gestures or take up hours. Just know that your mind is telling you that it needs some love.
  • If it is mouth hunger, hold off for a bit. If there is any physical hunger underneath take care of it with a healthy meal. If the craving follows you, allow yourself to have a small portion of whatever has been on your mind- again, stop by the time you get to a 6 on the hunger scale. Knowing that you allow yourself treats when YOU choose and that you are in control of how much you’ll eat takes much of the power out of our cravings.

Are you ready for the challenge? I know I am! Try to be mindful of every mouthful for the next 21 days and see how far you can get. Mindful eating gets easier every time you do it, and eventually should be second nature. It’s a great way to re-attune yourself to hunger and fullness and make eating about nourishing yourself. Its also more of an “un-diet”- no hard restrictions or time limits. Just you making choices that feel right for you!

If you need more help try and find a Craving Change ™ program near you- it’s a great way to build a toolkit of skills to keep you in charge of your eating and bust the habits we’ve built over the years in a supportive and fun group setting. I’ll be running a new session in January so call or email to sign up if you’re ready to go one step further. 

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