By Sasha Loring
It is a typical day at work, and perhaps you are bored with your assignment so you start drifting toward the snack room to see what is there. Or, the boss has handed you yet another project you don’t have time to do, and you head directly to the vending machines for a crunchy antidote to the distress you feel. The administrator has brought in donuts to reward everyone and later that same day a cake appears to celebrate someone’s birthday. These scenarios are typical in today’s workplace and they all are opportunities for mindless eating – eating without conscious consideration of whether you are hungry or whether consuming the food you are faced with is in your best interest.
Applying mindfulness is one way to make profound changes in your eating behaviors at work. Mindfulness in general has several qualities: paying attention, on purpose, with a present moment focus. There is also an attitude of open, friendly inquisitiveness about your experience. Regarding eating, this would be the opposite of eating while in the “automatic pilot” mode. If you are ready to make some changes in your food consumption at work it would be helpful to first take a more focused look at what you are presently doing. To begin your mindful eating journey, commit to keeping track of all food eaten while you are at work for one week, noting time of day, what you ate, and how you felt. This can give you valuable information about the psychological and behavioral patterns that you may be unaware of. It can also provide clues about what time of day you are most vulnerable to eating for non-hunger reasons and with these new insights you will be more able to strategize in order to eat in a healthier pattern.
After charting your eating and deciding where you may need some changes, practicing a few simple mindful eating skills can provide an antidote to the unnecessary calories you may be consuming. Or, these skills can enhance the healthy patterns you are already engaged in, providing more pleasure and satisfaction from the food you eat.
To begin practicing mindful eating you could experiment with the following suggestions:
- Consciously slow your breath and relax your abdomen before starting to eat
- Begin a meal or snack with an expression of gratitude
- Eat slowly enough to actually taste your food, putting your utensil down after each bite
- Notice the thoughts and sensations you experience while eating, releasing the critical voice if it appears and generating a sense of kind interest toward yourself
- Attend to body signals indicating a reduction of hunger and feelings of fullness
- Take a break at regular intervals and sit back, noticing your surroundings.
- Make conscious decisions about how much to eat rather than mindlessly finishing everything on your plate.
- Adopt a code word or phrase that reminds you of your healthy intentions to use as an antidote to mindlessly consuming whatever shows up in the workplace.
This way of attending to eating makes it more likely you will be able to put into practice new and healthier ways of approaching food and regulating the amount of food you consume according to what your body needs. It will also add to your satisfaction and enjoyment of eating.
Sasha Loring is a meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and author of Eating with Fierce Kindness: a Mindful and Compassionate Guide to Losing Weight. She has developed and taught mindful eating programs for Duke Medical Center, Durham, N.C., and leads retreats nationwide.