Mindfulness In Mind And Body
By Laura Little, PsyD
A patient said to me recently: “I think there is something seriously wrong with me. Even though my weight continues to come down and I’m eating right and walking further each day. But, I still feel sad a lot of the time and so cranky and moody! I know I shouldn’t be feeling this way because I think I’m looking better and I am not so achy anymore. I have more energy and people tell me every day how great I’m doing. It’s just stupid of me to feel so down and irritable when I’m achieving all the goals I set out to achieve. I guess I’m never going to be happy. Can you please fix me?”
If this sounds familiar to you then know that you are not alone. These are the types of thoughts and feelings that many weight loss patients present in therapy as they progress through their journey. What I tell my patients is that they do not need to be fixed as they are not broken. However, I can teach them a new way of experiencing their thoughts and feelings which may reduce their suffering. I try to teach all of my patients about mindfulness and acceptance. Many of you may have already learned about the necessity of mindful eating. Mindfulness is also a crucial tool for our thoughts and emotions as well.
When we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling something, or we are “stupid” for feeling that way, we are judging our feelings and ourselves. This is like adding fuel to the fire of the emotion. The emotion is likely to last longer and be more intense than it needs to be. Over time and with practice, we can begin to mindfully observe and accept our thoughts and emotions exactly as they are without judging them. When we can just observe our sadness, observe our irritability without judging it, and just accept it as it is, it tends to pass quicker and gentler. I remind patients that all emotions, no matter how strong, have a beginning, a peak and an end. Our job is to let the emotion run its course and to step out of the way.
Also, when we find ourselves worrying about the future (“I’ll never be happy”) or ruminating about the past (“I can’t believe I said that”), mindfulness is a very effective tool to bring us back into the current moment. Take a few minutes to be aware of the sounds around you. Use your sense of touch to mindfully observe the sensation of a few objects around you. Slowly breathe and notice the sensation of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Take just a few moments throughout the day to ground yourself back into the here and now. With frequent practice of mindfulness in other areas of your life, in addition to mindful eating, you may find in time a more peaceful acceptance of your weight loss and your life journey.