Is Your Monkey Mind Controlling Your Eating Habits?

June 28, 2017 - 8 minutes read

Over the past five years of working with people to improve their health, there is one theme that reigns supreme:
We have a hard time living purposefully instead of reactively, because we feel that our lives are so busy and out of balance (don’t worry this was me too!). This is particularly true when it comes to our eating habits.

Feeling and thinking this way can lead to a whole heap of health issues like stress, anxiety, sleep problems, weight gain, headaches, thyroid disease, autoimmune disorder and many others.
The Chinese actually have a word for this frantic mindset called xinyan which means ‘monkey mind’. I learned this from a TED talk. I know from experience that having a monkey mind does not lead to a peaceful, calm life. And if I knew just how much my monkey mind would wreak havoc on my health and well being, I would have sought help years ago.

The key to quieting the monkey mind, for me at least, is through mindfulness. There are lots of ways I’ve used this to help with my parenting, but I wanted to write here specifically about how It relates to managing your eating habits. My hope is that after reading this, you will have an idea about how you can live proactively instead of reactively to create healthy sustainable eating habits.

If you aren’t familiar with the term mindfulness, let me break it down for you real quick. I see it as being mentally and emotionally present (without any judgement) while being aware of and intentional about your behaviour. Basically, it means paying attention to what is happening without judging or reacting, and instead acting purposefully and intentionally.

Mindful eating means that you pay attention to the cues your body gives you – something we teach during the Sugar Shake Off program. It is so easy to become distracted by things that are happening around us, that we end up creating habits in reaction to the hiccups we have in life.

What’s great is that once you learn to pay attention to the cues from your body and make decisions intentionally, you will regain control over your eating habits AND these purposeful decisions will spill over into other aspects of your life.

In the past, I have turned to food, especially sugar, when I have felt stressed out or out of control. It’s cheap, you can buy it almost anywhere and it can totally take control of your life – if you let it. A good rule to live by is to keep away from C.A.T.S – Coffee, alcohol, tobacco and especially sugar – when you feel tired and stressed.

Let me give you a very typical example from my own life.

After a long stressful day of teaching, I came home, too tired to cook something healthy for dinner. I’d plop down in front of the TV and begin munching on a bag of ‘whatever I could find in the cupboard’. While I’d eat and watch, I’d also go through my email or the mail, worry about bills, and sometimes mull over what I was going to wear to an event that weekend that I didn’t really want to go to (mostly because I didn’t feel good about myself). When the bag was empty, or when I just felt disgusted with myself for what I’d just eaten, I’d finally stop. In an hour I’d be hungry again because I hadn’t eaten properly, however, because I’d already ‘been bad’ and eaten the wrong foods, I’d think I may as well just continue to eat all the treats that I have in the cupboard for special occasions.

Check out some of the unmindful parts of this scenario:

  • I didn’t plan ahead with what I was going to have for dinner and ate whatever was easy. Plus, I had lots of easy unhealthy fast foods in my cupboard.
  • I paid no attention to the amount of food I ate. It’s hard to control portions when you are eating directly from a bag.
  • I paid no attention to my body’s cues. When you eat from a bag while doing other things, you have very little awareness of your emotions or any other physical sensations. It’s hard to tell when you’ve had enough to eat or why you are actually doing what you’re doing.
  • I didn’t stay focused on one task – the monkey mind was in full force all night.

This was my reality. Maybe it’s yours right now.

Here are some ways to improve the mindfulness of that scenario:

  • Eat well during the day so that you’re not starving once you get home
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods (that are also fast and easy to prepare if need be)
  • Plan you weekly meals ahead of time so that you don’t have to think about what you’re going to eat for each meal. Planning sounds so boring, but it really is the key.
  • Put your food on a plate before you start eating and take an honest look at what is there. Are there vegetables? Is there protein? What are the portions like? Are there way’s to improve what is on the plate without too much hassle?
  • While you are eating: savour the tastes and textures. Chew thoroughly. Pay attention to how your body feels so that you know when you’ve had enough. (The Japanese use the term hara hachi bu, which means ‘stomach 80 percent’). In other words, stop eating when you’re 80% full.
  • Stay focused on one task at a time. While you are eating, pay attention to just that and only that (it’s hard at first, but with practice becomes easier). When you’re in a conversation with your child or partner, just focus on that. Texting or scrolling through your phone while eating is just adding to the monkey mind.

In the coming weeks, I hope to delve deeper into all of these tips and give you really practical examples of what you can do to be more proactive when it comes to your eating habits.

Here’s to better health and wellbeing! x

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