The Mindful Diet Week 1: Build an Awareness Foundation

Science shows us that the first step to creating a new, lasting habit is to ask yourself this crucial question: What behavior do I want to create?


Build a Foundation

Science shows us that the first step to creating a new, lasting habit is to ask yourself this crucial question: What behavior do I want to create? Notice we didn’t say, “Launch a mass attack on everything I’d like to get rid of.” Rather, it’s about naming what you want more of in your life. Here’s how to start:

Day 1: Dedicate your intention.

At the start of most yoga classes, the teacher suggests you offer up your practice to something bigger than yourself. Well, Scott Blossom, an Ayurvedic consultant, acupuncturist, and Shadow Yoga teacher in San Francisco, says that doing this when you’re trying to incorporate a new habit into your life is the ultimate key to being successful. “When your goal is tied to something bigger than you—something that feels meaningful—it helps you remember what you’re trying to bring more of into your life,” says Blossom. Not sure where to start? Ask yourself a simple question: What do I love most in life? Then make your changes for that person or thing—whether it’s your partner, your kids, a pet, or a happy you.

Day 2: Commit to a daily yoga practice.

Even if you have time for only a few minutes of Savasana or deep breathing each day, it can up the odds of making good habits stick. Researchers found that just 11 hours of meditation over the course of four weeks created structural changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region involved
in monitoring focus and self-control.

Day 3: Set smart—not more—food goals.

Here, three simple steps for setting achievable diet intentions:

  1. Be specific. Naming the steps, and
    listing an order in which you’ll complete those steps, leads to success more often than setting an ambiguous, flexible plan, a study published in the Journal
    of Consumer Research
  2. Establish milestones. Brain-imaging studies show that the release
    of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, is like a reward system that helps us reach goals. Dopamine signals in the brain get stronger as we get closer to hitting our goal, one study published in the journal Nature showed. So, instead of setting an open-ended ambition (“I will never eat bread again”), set short-term, achievable milestones that motivate you to stay on track (“I will avoid processed grains today”).
  3. Clue in your community.Write your goals in an email and send it to three close friends. People who write down their goals, share those goals with a friend, and send weekly progress updates are 33 percent more successful in accomplishing what they set out to do than those who merely formulate goals, according to research at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

Days 4–6: Practice eating mindfully.

As anyone who’s ever plowed through an entire pint of ice cream or bag of chips knows well, stress and other emotions can play a big role in causing us to overeat. Mindfulness is an antidote, according to research published in Clinical Psychology Review. It showed that the practice acts directly on brain regions that regulate our emotions, enabling us to think more clearly.

But know that, at first, practicing mindfulness when you eat can feel pretty forced—until it becomes second nature, says Annie B. Kay, lead nutritionist at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and author of Every Bite Is Divine. “Mindful eating is really about reconnecting with the sensual enjoyment of food, and there are many different ways to do this,” says Kay. Finding the practice that resonates with you will help you stick to it effortlessly. Here’s an easy guide
to discovering your fit:

If your go-to meditation or de-stress tactic is … Savasana

Try: A senses scan. As you dig in to your next meal, tap into all five senses. What does your food smell or look like? What is the taste and feel on your tongue, or the texture in your hands? What does the food sound like when you cut or chew it? Take a moment to really consider your answers. “Asking and answering these questions after each bite will inherently help you slow down and savor your food,” says Kay.

If your go-to meditation or de-stress tactic is … counting your breaths

Try: Counting your chews. “Ayurvedic practitioners recommend 30 chews per mouthful, to really break down your food before it hits the digestive system, but even if you get into the double digits, that’s great,” says Kay. “The goal is to tune in to the food you’re eating, not just shovel it in without really tasting or enjoying it.”

If your go-to meditation or de-stress tactic is … repeating a mantra

Try: Setting an intention at the meal start. You can say grace, express your gratitude for your food and the people who helped grow and prepare it, or simply remind yourself to continually tap into all of your senses after each bite.

Day 7: Cheat!

Yep, you read that right. Now that you’re working toward your goals, go ahead and
dig in to something that feels like a big splurge—whether it’s a piece of chocolate cake, penne a la vodka, or an order of fries. An occasional, purposeful cheat is the opposite of an overly restrictive diet, which is proven to backfire. Women who were asked to cut carbs for three days reported stronger food cravings and ate 44 percent more calories from carb-rich foods on day four than women who didn’t restrict themselves, according to a study in the journal Appetite.

Continue on to the next week:

Return to the whole program

See also 10-Minute Guided Meditation for Mindful Eating