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mindfulness

How to Use Mindfulness to Break Those Bad Dieting Habits

How to Use Mindfulness to Break Those Bad Dieting Habits

Before I found my calling by helping people get well, kick serious ass and feel like rockstars in their lives, I got my start as a professional model.

The pressures that I faced every day when it came to my body was magnified tenfold -- and when a large portion of my job involved multiple people looking at my body with critical eyes and telling me what was right and what was wrong definitely took it’s toll on me.

It’s no surprise that the modeling and fashion industry is rife with eating disorders and dangerous behaviors to help them achieve these often unattainable standards, but outside of that industry things aren’t necessarily any better.

I bet any woman would be able to tell you the first diet she ever went on and far fewer would be able to say it was her last. Most of us have spent our lives following fad diets that involve cutting out different food groups while the buzz words swirl around our brain as if this would finally be the magical combination that will solve all of our problems. Then when it didn’t magically transform us into Heidi Klum (how rude!) we were left feeling totally despondent (and maybe saying screw it to the diet and heading to the nearest McDonald’s).

Through all these years of reading magazines, watching celebrities, listening to trainers and friends about what we should be eating we’ve managed to silence the one voice we should really be listening to if we actually want to be healthy: our own. All the diet advice in the world isn’t going to help us if we’re ignoring what our body is telling us about what it needs and what makes it feel good.

Knock Knock Knock… Enter…  intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is a hunger-based approach to eating that has seen a rise in popularity in recent years as a viable approach to healthy weight management, especially for people who are chronic dieters. This method focuses on nurturing the body, rather than the usual starvation-based diets that we’re used to seeing, by eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full, with the focus always being on health.  I’ve been eating like this for several years, I can’t even tell you when it began, but it’s totally worked, and it broke my obsession and bulimic ways that I had struggled with for years.  

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The basic idea is that when we listen to what our body needs we’re able to ignore the triggers that encourage unhealthy behaviours and continue on the road to being healthy. Kinda like having our own Jiminy Cricket living in our gut but instead of steering us away from partying and lies it makes us ask if we really need to eat fifteen cookies. More often than not the answer is no. I usually feel like I should probably eat one just to be sure, but maybe I’ll try having a sandwich or something first.

Unlike with traditional diets where one step outside of the strict dieting rules can send us into a tailspin and ultimately lead to us reverting back to our original bad habits (or, you know, eating an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream because if you’re going to wreck your diet you might as well do it right), there is no such thing as “bad behaviour” with intuitive eating.

Whether that means indulging in dessert because you’re craving chocolate cake or getting takeaway for dinner because you can’t be bothered cooking, the point is that you continue to listen to what your body tells you while you’re eating and continue listening with every meal afterwards.  I have to listen, otherwise I will overindulge and eat the entire basket of pomme frites that have been fried in duck fat and then want to kill myself.  After years of food hangovers and heavy depression it became clear that my eating behavior wasn’t like those who ate with me, I ate food differently.  I had to find new ways to eat.

With intuitive eating we’re not trying to starve ourselves to become skinny, but rather we encourage a mindset of health at any size, which leads to higher enjoyment of our food and meals as well as a myriad of health benefits. This method is actually more sustainable in the long term because we’re creating healthy habits that will stick with us over time and any weight loss we experience will stick with us because we’re helping our body to find and maintain its natural size.

Intuitive eating isn’t about attempting to make giant unsustainable changes that we’ll ditch in a short amount of time before reverting back to our pre-diet weight, it’s about finding what works for us and sticking to it.  I think it took me about a six months to get into a rhythm and recognize what foods worked for me while getting in touch with this inner voice, that told me when to stop eating.  

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How foods affect our mind and mood

Before we even bring the fork to our mouth our food is having an effect on our moods. We’ve all experienced being hungry, right?  When you’re so hungry you feel like you’re about to morph into the Incredible Hulk and start smashing up New York City. Alternatively we’ve felt the soothing feeling that can come with comfort food when we’re feeling a bit like crap. Heck, even just writing the words chocolate cake can turn me into the happy heart-eyed emoji, and that was just a bunch of letters on the screen.

Eating habits and emotions are linked, with our mood affecting our eating choices and vice versa. That’s why it is easier to commit to a healthier meal when we’re already feeling good and why pigging out on saturated fats can make us irritable afterwards.

Our bodies thrive when they’re getting the right combination of nutrients and a poor diet with high levels of saturated fats, sodium and higher calories can lead to negative moods for days afterwards. Basically getting a case of the grumps after pigging out on unhealthy foods is your bodies way of yelling, “Hey! Maybe eat some vegetables next time!”

One of the biggest obstacles we face when trying to change our mindset around food is dealing with cravings. Generally it can feel as though we’re craving chocolate like crack when we’re on a diet because we’re thinking about the fact that we’re restricting it - and if that’s the case then having a small amount of chocolate can squash that craving right down.  Our minds are powerful and once a neural pathway is set, it will fire at the site of a tiny M&M! BEWARE!  

If you’re still feeling like you’re about to go all Cookie Monster on that chocolate bar then you need to look at the root of your cravings. Studies have shown that people who experience intense cravings often have feelings of boredom and anxiety throughout the day. To be able to truly change our mindset we need to look at the root of our feelings around food.

What foods help us

Your brain and your stomach are connected through your vagus nerve which runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen, which means that our diet can affect the release of different hormones in the brain and can be linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety and poor concentration.

Eating a balanced diet is the ultimate way to help regulate your moods and also helps to avoid the dreaded 3pm energy drop (and unhealthy candybar break) by regulating bodily functions such as the release of energy stores.

By eating the right foods for our body every day we’re helping to keep it functioning at its highest level, from the physical reactions to our emotional state. Eating foods with high levels of protein such as organic eggs, cheese or almonds can help to keep our blood sugar levels steady which leads to enhanced energy and moods, while avocados are not only full of important vitamins, but also help boost the levels of dopamine in your body which is that feel-good chemical released in your brain and I don’t know about you, but I NEED more of that one! 

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Eating foods high in antioxidants such as blueberries and blackberries can help your brain to create dopamine, which is also important for things like coordination and memory. For those of us who can’t live without our morning cup of coffee then we’re in luck because coffee has been shown to trigger a number of positive reactions in your body that leaves you with a general sense of wellbeing and helps to fight depression.

While we might talk about wanting to avoid chocolate, if you’re reaching for good quality dark chocolate then it actually helps to produce a compound known as anandamide, a neurotransmitter in the brain that blocks feelings of pain and anxiety. The trick is not eating all the chocolate every time.

We can’t talk about how food affects our mood without looking at some of the negative triggers such as sugar, gluten and processed foods. These three things are known to block the production of serotonin and force fluctuations in your blood sugar levels with has a detrimental effect on your mood. So avoid as much as humanly possible!  I’m actually go one step further and beg you to take them out of your daily plan, seriously, they’re simply made to wreak havoc on your life!  Toss it out, all of it.  

How to be more mindful

While making note of what we’re eating as well as the reasons why can be helpful when we’re trying to break away from our bad dieting habits, being mindful about how and what we eat doesn’t necessarily have to involve writing down every calorie we consume and beating ourselves up about it.

Instead we just need to start paying attention to our eating habits and making small sustainable changes as necessary. If you notice that you feel slow, sluggish and bloated after having a burger and fries for lunch then that’s a sign from your body that you probably shouldn’t be eating that. I’m not saying we can never have a burger again, just maybe not every day.

Here’s the deal, if you’re feeling stressed throughout the day and come home craving all the chocolate in the world, then you might need to look into alternative methods for dealing with stress and anxiety such as yoga or meditation.  Don’t think that this is a death sentence, I’m just here politely guiding and directing you to feeling better.  I know how it feels to be a slave to my tastebuds and crave a bag of salty chips and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I also know that when I’m in the middle of a food coma I’m simply useless.  I don’t wish that upon anyone!  

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These little tips can help us to become more mindful about our eating habits:

  1. Distraction-free meals
    I’ve been known to eat my lunch at my desk with one hand on the mouse and my mind on my work and often I’ll finish my lunch without even realizing it, not good! Take the time to eat your meal without any (other) distractions. Not only will you be able to actually enjoy the tastes and textures (which is what makes eating so great afterall!) but you’ll be more aware of when you become full and will be able to stop eating.
     

  2. Slow down
    Often we’ll shovel our food into our mouth so quickly by the time we realize we’re full we’ve already eaten too much. Slow down, savour your meal and listen to what your body is telling you.
     

  3. Be prepared
    If you know that you always get hungry at around 3pm no matter what you eat then prepare for that rather than running to the vending machine. I like to make up a bunch of little snack packs at the start of the week with nuts, seeds and dried fruits and pop them in my bag, car and desk so that I can get a healthy little snack whenever hunger strikes.
     

  4. Reflect
    Mindful eating is all about listening to our body, so after we eat we should take a moment to reflect on how we feel (emotionally and physically) and why we ate in the first place. Reflection was how I was able to see all my own health issues and find a way to work through them, it works!
     

  5. Don’t beat yourself up
    Being healthy isn’t a competition or an “all-or-nothing” situation. Indulging isn’t the worst thing in the world and as long as we keep reflecting on how these jumps off the wagon make us feel, then we’ll still be able to cement our healthy habits going forward.  

You’ve got this!

 


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Will Meditation Get Me What I Want In Life?

Will Meditation Get Me What I Want In Life?

My life ended up taking quite the different turn to the one I expected. As a model I was travelling the world, meeting new and exciting people and working crazy hours. I loved my life but before I had even stepped away from the camera and clothes I had my hands in a number of businesses like a kid mixing colors while finger painting and it soon became obvious that being a model wasn’t the end of the road for me - it was a launching pad.

What Can Meditation Really Do For You?

What Can Meditation Really Do For You?

When I say the word “meditation” what’s the first image that pops into your head?

Be honest. Chances are you’re thinking of either a Ghandi-esque spiritualist or that substitute yoga teacher you had that one time who kept talking about their third eye when you were trying to get your downward dog on. You probably didn’t think of high ranking CEOs - or even me.

Most likely the image was followed by a second thought: I don’t have hours to spend sitting still trying to find inner peace. I’ve got a business to run, a house to clean, meals to cook and a family to wrangle. I’m lucky if I can find the time to go to the bathroom, let alone the time it takes to clear your head out.

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You know what? There was a time when I probably would have been right there with you. It’s hard to get past the idea of meditation as a hokey form of spiritualism that you need to devote your whole life to, but taking a vow of silence isn’t the only way to start living a meditative lifestyle (and let’s be honest - you all know there’d be no way in hell I was going to stop talking!).

 

WHAT IS MEDITATION?

There are lots of different ways to meditate that all require different intentions and time put aside, but two of the most common types you’ll come across are transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation. If I’m already starting to lose you, then make the effort to pull yourself back into this article and devote your whole brain power to what’s currently in front of you - without scanning through social media on your phone or drafting a shopping list in your head. Congratulations, you’ve just been introduced to mindfulness.

That’s right, mindfulness meditation is all about being in the moment and concentrating on your breath going into your body without chasing those thoughts that are always racing through your head. You can practice mindfulness in small doses - such as really being present while you eat your dinner and appreciating every mouthful, instead of shovelling it into your mouth over the sink and barely chewing (guilty!).

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Transcendental meditation on the other hand is the type of meditation we’re all more familiar with and involves concentrating on a mantra that you repeat in your head. This can be an intention for something you want to concentrate on in your life or, in the case of pretty much all the meditations you’ve seen on TV, a sound such as the traditional “om”.

Whatever type of meditation you choose to practice, the goal is to be present in the moment and experience the sensations in your body as well as your thoughts and emotions without following them. It’s like standing on a busy train platform. You see the trains pull in and can acknowledge where they’re going, but you don’t get on any of them.

 

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION ON YOUR BODY

The most obvious benefit of meditation that we’re all aware of - and one of the main reasons meditation is so often recommended to people leading a busy life - is related to stress reduction. Studies have shown that meditation can help ease symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, especially when the main source of stress comes from the workplace.

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Mindfulness meditation in particular, which encourages you to focus on your breath and body and disregard all unrelated thoughts, can have a significant impact on your stress levels because it helps you to focus on the present and not get carried away worrying about all those emails you’ll have to respond to first thing in the morning or that message you got from an annoyed client that’s eating you up inside.

But that’s not where the benefits stop. Meditation can also help your body in a more physical way by helping to ease blood pressure, which is one of the biggest risk factors of heart attacks. Regular meditation has also been linked to decreased mortality with older patients, as well as a decrease in blood pressure related symptoms in high-risk groups. It can also help with inflammation that can contribute to those feelings of depression.

Importantly - and unsurprisingly for anyone who has tried to meditate and found themselves snoring - meditation can also help with your sleep. Whether you’re a bit of an insomniac or just struggle with sleeping through the night when you’re stressed out, meditation can help you get a good night’s rest and in some cases can be as effective as sleeping medications. If you’re stressed out and unable to sleep it just continues the cycle of stress that makes you feel frazzled and look like you just stuck your finger into an electrical socket.

 

MEDITATION AND YOUR BRAIN

The most exciting benefit that we’re discovering about meditation is how it can affect your brain. Sure, reducing stress and anxiety is one of the mental benefits that should have you getting excited about embracing a life in the slow lane, but there is growing evidence that meditation can actually help you to re-wire your brain.

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On a basic level, even a short course of regular meditation can improve cognitive function - that means you’re better at focusing, have better control over your emotions and even improved memory. In a recent Harvard study, researchers used regular MRIs to assess the changes made to the brain through regular meditation and found an increase in grey-matter density in the hippocampus. This part of the brain is associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

 

So how can this actually help us?

 

Well improving brain function is always a good thing. Especially if you’re anything like me and occasionally find yourself staring at your computer screen for what feels like hours trying to figure out if “that” is actually a word. These changes to the grey matter can also help you train your brain to become more focused and productive during the day.

This isn’t a change that only occurs immediately following a meditation session either - they’re alterations to the make-up of your brain that you can build upon every day. With each meditation session you’re training your brain to focus on the here and now - whether that’s a physical sensation, an emotion or a memory. This is a skill that your body automatically transfers to your day to day life and helps you to become more productive and generally better.

 

 

MEDITATION FOR BEGINNERS

So now I’ve got you all excited about meditation and ready to jump on in but you have no idea where to start? Well, as I mentioned earlier, starting a meditation practice doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking or involve finding a spare couple of hours in your day when the kids aren’t screaming your name (good luck with that!). You can start practicing meditation any time you have a spare second or minute and progress from there.

Mindfulness meditation is a great way to start dipping your toes into the world of meditation because it is all about experiencing the moment that you’re in. You can be mindful while eating dinner, exercising or even while lying in bed before you go to sleep. The key is to focus on your breathing and the effect that it has on your body, acknowledge distracting thoughts and intentionally bring yourself back to your breathing. Set yourself a timer and you’ll be surprised how quickly time can pass while you’re meditating.

Whether you need to download an app to guide you or take a few classes to get a feel for it you’ll find that the benefits will work their way into all aspects of your life. Making you a more efficient worker, a better parent and a happier person all round. And who doesn’t want that?
 


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