Feel Better with Good Nutrition and Mindfulness

In this article, featured in Psychology Today, learn how to match nutrition and mindfulness for a healthier and happier you.

Mindful Eating

A timely interview with psychologist Susan Albers for the holidays.

Fellow Psychology Today blogger, Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in mindfulness and eating. Her new book is Hanger Management: Master Your Hunger and Improve Your Mood, Mind, and Relationships.

Marty Nemko: Why does someone need a whole book on this? Doesn’t it come down to just eating modest amounts of (usually) healthy food when slightly hungry so it doesn’t build into emotional overeating when ravenous, and then forgive yourself for the occasional mindless eating?

Susan Albers: It would be nice if it were that easy! But we all know that it’s so much more complicated than wanting to change our eating habits. I use a lot of psychology to easily change habits. For example, research shows that people tend to struggle less with creating new habits rather than trying to stop troublesome old habits. For instance, instead of trying to stop eating fast food, focusing on building a new habit of daily eating a new healthy snack will crowd out the old behavior with less struggle. Also, we are more likely to act if we’re exposed to examples and research—head and heart, especially regarding something as abstract as mindful eating.

Hanger Management is a book filled with personal and client stories. For example, readers find motivating this true story: I recall the embarrassment of being kicked out of church because my daughter was hangry and, let’s just say, wouldn’t be quiet! Parents and significant others know the power of hunger to turn your loved one into a not so pleasant version of themselves.

On the research side, the book summarizes a wealth of studies that demonstrate that when we’re well fed, we concentrate better, make wiser decisions, are nicer to our spouse, and perform better at work. It can even make judges nicer: They appear to give harsher sentences before lunch!

Also, people are more motivated to act when they learn a clear explanation of the problem. So the book discusses what I call The 3 B’s. We are Blue, Busy or Bothered by our hunger. People get overly busy and eating well gets pushed down to the bottom of the priority list. Or they feel that deciding what to eat is too much of a bother. Or they’re blue and don’t feel like they are worth it. I designed tips in Hanger Management to combat the three B’s.

MN: What is an example of a tip to help?

SA: Here are two easy tips!

Make a fist. New research on “embodied cognition,” found that you can use your body's position to help shape the way you think and act. You're more likely to stop talking and to slow down if you make a “stop” gesture. When you don’t want to mindlessly overeat, think “no” and make a fist. Fist + thinking no = no to mindless eating.

Use a red plate. In a study on red, blue and white plates, participants ate least off of red plates. That's because when we see the color red, we automatically slow down. That enables you to slow down with minimal effort.

MN: Any advice for people who think about food too much?

SA: Mindfulness is training your mind to notice and be aware without obsessing. Not an easy task but possible. I discuss how to change your mindset, and part of that is changing your self-talk. For example, instead of focusing on all the "what if's" your brain sends you, we need to focus on what is—taking control of the moment instead of future unknowns.


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