The Power of Your Breath: How to Become a Mindful Eater and Wake Up in Your Life

Kate walked into the house after a long day at work. She dropped her handbag on the kitchen counter and went straight to the food cabinet. She was tired, frustrated and so eager to relax. She grabbed the bag of chips and salsa, poured herself a glass of wine and then parked herself in front of the TV.

Less than an hour later, ¾ of the bag of chips had disappeared. Without noticing, Kate just stuffed herself. And now, instead of slipping into the easy part of her day, her belly was bloated and all she could do was watch yet another episode of Homeland.  

Sadly, the promise of Kate’s low key and relaxing evening was just stolen from her. She quickly forgot about her plans to catch up with a friend and go to the gym.  In her desperation for a well deserved break, she checked out of her body and lost all awareness of what she was doing while eating chip after chip. After chip.

Kate had a very easy tool that could have made her evening go exactly as she planned. A tool that she carries with her 24 hours a day and doesn’t cost her a penny. It’s the power of her breath.

Asleep at the wheel:

So many of us are mindlessly walking through most of our lives. And when it comes to meals and snacks, this results in eating more than our bodies need or want. Mindlessly overeating is like being on autopilot, or in a trance. We don’t taste what we are eating. We don’t notice when we are full. During these times, we are often paying attention to something else. A TV show, Facebook, email.

When using the power of your breath, the exact opposite will occur.

The power of breath:

Your breath puts you in your body. After a few intentional inhales and exhales, you can become aware of sensations in your chest , belly, fingers and ankles. Your breath allows you to notice your body.

Your breath grounds you. Instead of flitting around like a butterfly, you can be steady and still. You can sit down, stay and not seek out distraction.

Your breath makes you feel calm and peaceful. Your breath can melt away any frantic edge and allow you to experience what’s underneath. Calm. Peace. You have it in you, and your breath is the bridge to take you there.

Why breath works:

When you use the power of your breath, you create space between your thoughts and your actions.

In this space, you have an opportunity to be intentional about your choices. You have an opportunity to set the course of your actions instead of mindlessly going through the motions. 

After a quick breathing practice, you feel more calm and centered in your body. When you are more calm and centered, it’s easier to make better choices in your life.

Using her breath, instead of stuffing herself, Kate could have eaten the exact right amount, given herself the break she needed and then moved off the couch and onto something else.

How to:

A 3 count breath and can be done very subtly anywhere. Breathe in to a count of 3, hold your breath full for a moment, breathe out to a count of 3, hold your breath out for a moment. Do 3-5 rounds of this breath.

Consider the power of your breath to be a miraculous gift. One that you have with you all of the time. Use it often throughout the day and you will wake up, make intentional choices, become a more mindful eater and shift the course of your life.  

Stressed Out About Stress Eating? Don't Do These Three Things

Do you have your stash of snacks hidden in the top left-hand drawer of your desk? Do you know that the code in the vending machine for pretzels and Peanut M&M’s are B6 and A4? Or, if you are lucky enough to have a home office, do you find yourself in front of the food pantry every day at 3pm?

Why you are stress eating at work.

More and more Americans are experiencing significant stress in the workplace. The Huffington Post published “Work Stress On The Rise: 8 In 10 Americans Are Stressed About Their Jobs, Survey Finds” in April 2013.  According to the Harvard Health Publication “Why Stress Causes People to Overeat”, when someone is under high levels of stress for long periods of time, their body produces a hormone called Cortisol. Cortisol is known to increase your appetite and your motivation to eat.

One way to look at stress in the body is to consider what happens when a seltzer bottle is shaken. Fizz and bubbles build and the cap is difficult to twist off without seltzer spraying out. Similarly, stress often feels like that same tension and pressure. In the human body, this is very uncomfortable. The natural response to relieve discomfort is to want to let out that tension. Depending on the food chosen, eating can relieve this tension by creating a distraction, a relaxation response and/or a short term increase of energy.

But eating when stressed never resolves the actual causes of the stress or it’s symptoms; it just hides them.

Ready to make a change?

Stress eating not only has an impact on your waist line, it can also erode your confidence and limit your ability to build the momentum you need for optimal health. Lori, a coaching client of mine, hated herself when she kept reaching for the bowl filled with miniature chocolates in the kitchenette in her office. Sure, her boss was driving her crazy and had incredibly high and unrealistic expectations. But more importantly, Lori was distracting herself from what the real issues were. Eating chocolate allowed her to avoid them. Her self esteem also plummeted when her belly felt so stuffed. On days like those, Lori often chose to come home from work and sit in front of the TV. Her yoga mat and walking shoes stayed in her downstairs closet.

Think about it this way.

There are two components to stress eating. The stress you are feeling at work on a day to day basis and the choices you are making around food. In order to stop stress eating, it’s important to shift the way you think and your actions in both of these areas.

Don’t work harder and faster.

When the to-do list is a mile long and deadlines are coming fast and furious, you may automatically want to put your head down and plow through it. You may be thinking that you will feel less stressed when you’ve finally finished this one project. But you know how it goes. Once you complete one milestone, the next one is there waiting for you. To stop stress eating, you must manage your stress daily. You have to take yourself off the gerbil wheel that will have you running endlessly and perpetually stressed out. I encourage all of my coaching clients to make it a habit of doing 3 core daily practices. These practices reduce stress, improve how you feel and offer a clearer connection to yourself and your purpose. My core daily practices include meditating for at least 10 minutes, practicing yoga or running, and journal writing. The practices don’t need to take much time but the key is that they are done daily. Choose your core daily practices, practice them consistently and you will be on your way to reducing stress in all areas of your life.

Don’t avoid the candy bowl.

I’m suspecting that you have tried to avoid the candy bowl in the past and it hasn’t worked. You’ve tossed out or given away your snack stash, tried to avoid the vending machine and even did your best to decline the birthday cake and bagels sitting in the kitchen. Trying to avoid something doesn’t work permanently and easily because of a simple law of energy. Energy increases where you place your attention and focus. When you spend time thinking about the candy bowl (even trying to avoiding it), you are creating more energy around it.  To be successful avoiding the candy bowl, you need to put your energy onto what you do want. Pivot your attention from the candy bowl toward other habits that will help you feel better and less stressed. Focus on drinking more water, walking outside at lunch time or taking some deep breaths throughout the day.  Do that and you will forget all about the candy bowl.

Don’t eat on the fly.

In a former office of mine, Katie, our office manager, kept a full bowl of M&M’s on her desk. She was very sweet and I know she meant well. To get to the main conference room, we had to walk by her desk (and the M&M’s). Many of my coworkers (and I included) would scoop a handful and eat these M&M’s on our way to or from a meeting. Eating mindlessly can lead to overeating. Stress eating can be significantly reduced when you pay attention to what you are eating. When you are eating, do it with all of your attention. Don’t eat and walk, eat and text or eat and work. Just sit and eat.

Life can be hectic, fast paced and even stressful. And your health and vitality doesn’t have to be compromised. Stress eating isn’t the underlying cause, it’s the symptom. Stop stress eating by taking time for yourself daily, focusing on nurturing the right habits, and bringing more mindfulness in your life. When you do, your relationship with the vending machine will be a thing of the past.

Sound simple? It is, but there is so much more. If you want to know more for yourself and incorporate these guidelines in your life, contact me to set up a free exploratory conversation.



One Simple Step to Take to Stop Overeating

I sat in the sunshine on the front steps of my house. It’s finally warm enough here in New Hampshire to be outside.  It’s lunch time and I’ve left my laptop, phone, iPad and any other reading material at my desk. It’s just me and my big-ass salad. No work. No distractions.

For years, I would work through lunch. I would eat quickly at my desk, prioritizing a project deadline or catching up on emails ahead of anything else. I firmly believed that I didn’t have the time, not 5 minutes or  20 minutes, to take the time to just eat. Work was too busy and I had to keep checking things off my “to do” list.  Taking the time to eat was simply a  waste of time. I could be more efficient and effective by multi-tasking.

During that same time, my relationship with food was all about:

·       limits and restriction,

·       numbing and overeating,

·       shame and defeat, and

·       disconnection and discomfort.

I was desperate to lose that last 5,10, or 15 pounds and I was trying every diet I could to do it. What I didn't realize at the time was that my painful relationship with food was in large part due to not listening to my body. 

How can anyone tune in to hunger cues, fullness signals or how certain foods made their body feel if they don't listen?

When you don’t eat with your full attention, you are missing an opportunity to notice feedback that your body desperately wants you to have.   

Now that I eat my meals with all of my attention, I leave food on my plate. After decades of overeating and binge eating, this simple habit is a small miracle. I notice when I’m no longer hungry. I no longer rush through my meals. I enjoy the taste of what I’m eating and feel much more satisfied. Eating has become a nurturing act of connection.

If you are reading this while eating your breakfast, lunch or dinner, put your fork down and push your meal away, even for a few moments.  

Practice eating at least one meal a day without any distraction.  Start with the meal that’s the easiest to focus completely on.

When I first started not working through lunch, it only it took me 12 minutes to eat. I quickly realized that taking this small amount of time allowed me to return to work with fresh eyes and renewed energy. I increased my productivity by giving myself this break.

Whether or not you struggle with overeating and binge eating,  doing one thing at a time and being mindful is the key to fully experiencing life. Consider that taking time to simply eat a meal is a way for you to slow yourself down and enjoy a few moments in the day. Practice eating with all of your attention. It will become practice for how you want to live: fully awake, connected, and present to the warm sunshine on your face.


Create Your Focus, Create Your Life

Years ago when I was dieting and feeling desperate to shed some extra weight, unconsciously I was choosing to disconnect from my body. I chose to follow a meal plan or to eat a predetermined number of calories instead of asking my body what it needed.

For years I floated around without any intention of what I wanted my relationship with food and my body to be. Consciously or unconsciously, our focus is on something that results in us living a certain way.

When we aren’t aware of how we are living, it is as if we are a small boat in the middle of the ocean being tossed around by each smashing wave and pulled along by the current. The small boat may stay in the middle of the ocean or it may ultimately arrive on shore. Without awareness or purpose, the boat’s destination would be haphazard and accidental. The other option is creating where we want to go, how we want to be. This is like giving that same small boat a GPS and ultimately a guide to whatever destination we choose.

Now, I create guidance for myself daily. Sometimes my intention is for my whole day and sometimes just for certain areas of my life. I keep my language simple- one or two words.  I create ease and peace around food and compassion and healing around my body. If you ask me tomorrow, my intention may change. I can recreate how I want to be based on what intuitively feels right. This guidance helps me navigate through food choices and also whether I choose to go for a run, take a bath, or go to bed early. My intentions are the foundation of all my actions.

Creating an intention is the starting point for creating the life you choose. When it comes to shifting your relationship with food and your body, you are also in the driver’s seat. Changing your relationship starts with choosing what you really want and keeping that top of mind moment to moment. This isn’t hard, but it does require effort and awareness. The beautiful thing about this process is that you can create a loving relationship with your body, peace around food, and a life you love.

Right now, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself: What kind of relationship do I want to have with food? How do I want to view and treat my body?

Chances are, you’ve been trying to restrict what and how much you eat, and you berate yourself when you fall off the wagon. You are scared you will gain weight and worry you will never lose the weight you want. When it comes to your body, the criticism doesn’t stop. It’s now time to replace the criticism, restriction, fear and worry with how you really want to live around food and your body. You get to pick. Choose what comes to mind first. And if nothing comes to mind, love and compassion are always great places to start.  Put your energy in the right place and your actions will follow. It starts with you.