Everyone knows the feeling: you’re overwhelmed by demands at the office, you’re dashing the kids off to every after-school activity at once, you’re home late again and there is nothing to eat in the house… The magical combination of emotions and hunger (real or imagined) can lead to serious food cravings and emotional eating.
“Mindfulness” is one of those ideas that sounds lovely in theory, but turns out to be a little hard for most of us to execute in the real world. However, research has found that eating mindfully really pays off, helping people enjoy their food more and eat more healthfully. The practice of mindful eating involves:
- Recognizing the actual sensations you’re experiencing without judgment — whether they are genuine hunger or, in fact, stress, exhaustion, joy, or something else.
- Paying attention to the process of selecting food and understanding the role that your food selection plays in your physical well-being.
- Eating without distractions, paying attention to the appearance, smell, texture, and taste of your food.
All of these factors combine to help us make healthier food choices, eat slowly and consciously, and enjoy our food more and feel more satisfied by it. Of course, if your normal response to workplace stressors is to scarf down the nearest chocolate bar (stat!), the slow and thoughtful process of mindful eating can seem unattainable.
That’s why we loved this GIF that’s going viral across the Internet. The image, which shows a line expanding into a triangle, then a square, and so on until it becomes an octagon, is heralded as a tool for handling anxiety. You can match your breath to the cycle of 5-second expansions and 5-second contractions, slowing your breathing and focusing your mind on the slowly, regularly moving image. While anxiety can be a serious psychological condition requiring treatment, for many of us it can be a temporary state of mind — one that sometimes leads to rash and unhealthy food choices.
So why does the GIF work so well? Though we may not notice it, when we’re feeling anxious, we tend to breathe in quick, short breaths, explains AnxietyBC. This type of breathing actually contributes to your overall feeling of being ill-at-ease, as it can make your heart race and cause you to feel dizzy. By breathing deeply into the diaphragm, you can slow that racing heart, and rebalance the oxygen you’re breathing in and carbon dioxide you’re breathing out.
The next time you feel triggered to emotionally eat, try watching the GIF for 5-10 cycles, inhaling as the shape expands, and exhaling as it contracts. Once you’ve calmed your mind and body, you’ll be better able to make mindful eating decisions.
Here are a couple other practices you can try as well, courtesy of the American Institute of Stress:
- Smile inwardly, releasing the tension in your shoulders. As you inhale, visualize hot air coming in through the soles of your feet, filling your legs, abdomen, and chest. As you exhale, picture the air reversing its path.
- Lay down with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. As you breathe in slowly, your belly should rise, but your chest should remain still. Let your belly fall as you exhale.