It’s no secret that the mind and body are connected, and by now you’ve probably heard about mindful eating and meditation for weight loss. If you haven’t, mindful eating can be best described as the practice of bringing conscious awareness to one’s eating habits in an effort to establish a healthier relationship with food. I’m not going to lie, when I started on my own weight-loss journey many years ago, I found it a little hard to believe that simply thinking about food was going to change anything. I liked the idea of having tangible rules to abide by — but because I was so frustrated and disheartened by all the work I was putting in without seeing any improvement, I decided it was time to try something new.
It all started when I read a book called The Gabriel Method ($9.95, Amazon) by author Jon Gabriel. Due to stress and poor habits, Gabriel's weight soared to its highest at 409 pounds in 2001. He was even a client of the real Dr. Atkins, who put him on the famous Atkins diet. When that route didn't work, Gabriel says he spent thousands of dollars on treatment and specialists, yet no one was able to help him. Since he was a researcher with a scientific background, he dedicated himself to finding out why the body wants to hold on to fat in the first place, and then attempted to hack his programming to promote weight loss. To my surprise, this method actually worked.
Through Gabriel's book, I learned how he came to lose over 200 pounds despite the odds that were against him. Remarkably, he also showed none of the visible signs of significant weight loss (such as saggy, loose skin), which astounded professionals in the industry. His secret? Mindful eating and visualization.
This all seemed too good to be true, but after reading his story I became inspired and started a mindful eating practice. The results have really astounded me. I felt healthier, happier, more energetic, and the weight just started falling off with what felt like very little effort on my part. And the best part is, I kept it all off. Here’s exactly what I did.
1. I practiced visualization.
A big part of Gabriel's method was a daily meditation practice in which you visualize your healthiest, happiest body and imagine a warm, golden light bathing every cell in healing energy. Every morning, I’d wake up and listen to his guided visualizations.
This was a really weird practice to me at first. I felt as though I was lying to myself by creating a picture that wasn’t the reality, and to imagine an intangible healing energy coming over me was strange, to say the least. The urge to punish and mock myself in these visualizations was strong. But the thing about visualization is that when the mind can perceive a specific end product, it becomes rewired and starts to align with that end. Through this practice, we start to actually believe that what we want can be real, we now have a picture to reference, and this is a game changer. If we are caught in negative thought patterns about how we look and feel, it’s very hard to break the habits that keep us stuck where we are. Think about it: If we never truly believe that things could be different, how can we expect them to change?
2. I gave thanks for my food.
We take food for granted nowadays, there’s no way around admitting that. We live in a modern culture with delicious foods all around us in abundance, so it’s harder than ever to have a balanced relationship with eating. Remember, though, that the purpose of our food is to nourish our bodies.
I believe it was the same for me as it is for many women. We use food to shame ourselves. We micromanage and we binge and we overthink to no end. When I was struggling with my weight, the darkest days were those when every bite of food I took felt like a cause for punishment. I was hungry all the time and angry at myself. And yet, I never put it together that it was this very mentality that was keeping me from achieving a healthy body.
When I started to practice mindful eating, I’d give thanks for the food on my plate at each meal with a short verbal or mental dialogue, thanking the food for giving me what I needed to survive. Mindful eating also meant that I took my time eating, and dedicated myself to just eating when I sat down for a meal; no TV, no eating at the desk, no distractions. This simple practice of gratitude changed the way I felt about food and what it did for me. I allowed myself to be connected to my food instead of viewing it as my enemy. Maybe this was something that came more inherently to people in the past who cultivated their food from nature to the dinner table. I built a relationship with food that helped me realize how lucky I was to be nurtured by nature, and I came to enjoy food so much more. I no longer felt like a victim to it.
Soon enough, my new perspective helped me kick stubborn habits like junk food cravings. As someone who struggled for years with sweet cravings and late-night snacking, this was major milestone. After some time, I finally started to appreciate food for what it really was: nourishment. And the better I felt about that, the more eager I was to learn about what was good for me and keep giving my body more of it!
3. I made friends with my body.
This one was probably one of the most emotionally draining and transformative things that I’ve ever done. Aside from just imagining my ideal healthiest body in the daily visualizations, I decided to add an additional exercise. I wanted to establish a relationship with my body where I not only looked ahead, but I accepted where I was in my body at the moment. I wanted to establish kinship with it, the same way as I did with food. So, each day before I went into the shower, I stood naked in the mirror and forced myself to observe my body, and I talked to it.
Through this practice, I realized a lot about myself, some things that had nothing to do with my weight, but more to do with the way I felt about myself and my womanhood overall. Initially, standing there and looking at myself was extremely uncomfortable. I listened to the dialogues that went on in my head, criticizing every little thing that I didn’t like. I cried a lot, but I stuck to my practice with a mantra that I came up with which I’d recite at least 10 times: I am your ally. I am your friend.
Journaling about my experience helped me understand that this was so hard for me initially because I really didn’t feel like my body was my friend. For too long, I battled and punished my body without ever acknowledging or respecting it as an ally. I found out through this process that there was yet another thing separating me from a healthy life: I didn’t think I deserved one.
While we allow so many forces in our environments to dictate which parts of ourselves we hate, we forget to be grateful for having this amazing permanent home: arms that can lift, legs that can walk, lungs that can breathe, organs that rid us of toxins to keep us safe from disease, a stomach that digests and assimilates the nutrients that keep us alive. This all occurs on its own through no real effort on our part. Our bodies are amazing. Our bodies are tough. Our bodies fight for us every day, and they deserve love and respect. This is something I’ve come to feel very strongly about, and it’s been integral in helping me continue to make healthy choices over time. My hope is that all women can come to this place of radical acceptance in her own, beautiful skin.
Today, I’ve been able to sustain my weight loss for over two years. I give my body what it needs now, not because I want to punish it into being something that it isn’t, but because I am here to support it as it supports me in being the strong and radiant woman that I aspire to be each day. I believe that I’m able to sustain this practice because I feel rewarded every day, not in the way I look, but in the way I feel: abundant, vital, energized, and happy. So, if you’re at the end of your rope, I hope you will give these practices a chance, and acknowledge how powerful the mind can be in making any goal into a reality. Honoring the healthiest, happiest version of you gives her a chance to exist.
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