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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 19, 2017

4 Ways to Harness Mindfulness for Health Goals—and a CONTEST

By Mark Sisson
49 Comments

Inline_MIndfulnessIt’s hard to believe we’re already midway through the 21-Day Challenge. How is everyone faring? What effects are you noticing? Where have you found your successes and your stumbling blocks?

What’s motivating you right now? How do you feel yourself settling into the practices you’ve adopted since the first day? Even if you’ve experienced some wavering (that’s no reason to abandon the venture, you know), what brings you back to the center of your intention? How do you reclaim the moment?

Reclaim the moment…. A rather powerful concept. It reminds us that—at any time—we can realign ourselves with the now. Moving our attention from the past (regret) or the future (pessimism, anxiety), we claim the potential of the present. We apply ourselves mindfully. In possessing the moment, we achieve self-possession.

But let me be clear. This isn’t some mental game. This is how success happens. Now…and now. Applying mindful observation to our sensations, to the environment’s feedback, to our own string of thoughts—without getting sucked into side stories about what we should think about them—this is where self-empowerment resides. Health research concurs.

Mindfulness targets binge eating.

We all have those moments where our basic (or skewed) survival instincts override conscious reason. A binge at the neighbor’s playoff party or an evening raid on the chocolate stash can leave your kick-start challenge or health aspirations in the dust, setting you back woefully far. It’s a common enough situation, and there’s no point dwelling in regret. But what if you could rewire your consciousness to fend off a replay?

Research suggests that the solution may be simpler than you think. One study evaluated the efficacy of mindfulness-based eating training (MB-EAT) in addressing the core issues contributing to binge eating disorders. According to the study proponents, MB-EAT “involves training in mindfulness meditation and guided mindfulness”, including controlling responses to emotional states, making conscious food choices, and developing an awareness of hunger and satiety cues. In essence, making you more consciously aware of the mechanisms behind the uncontrollable drive for certain foods.

And apparently it works. Following a review of several MB-EAT clinical studies, “evidence to date supports the value of MB-EAT in decreasing binge episodes, improving one’s sense of self-control with regard to eating, and diminishing depressive symptoms.” Another study published in the same year came to a similar conclusion, finding “initial evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to the treatment of eating disorders.”

Yet another, which evaluated the effect of mindfulness-based meditation on the binge-eating habits of obese women, found that these women were able to decrease their binge eating frequency from around 4 times per week to 1.5 times per week. Those binges were also shown to diminish in severity.

I certainly believe that if you’re serious about kicking any undesirable eating habits, you must first address all of the underlying causes…and state of mind most certainly slots into this category. Mindfulness meditation or training can help you to recognize problem areas in your eating practices and consciously overhaul any habits you’re ready to leave behind.

But beyond simple binge aversion, mindful eating can help us not only enjoy our food more, but actually can get us thinking about the quality and contribution of that food—i.e. consciously examining and critiquing the food we put in our bodies before we shovel it in.

Some Take-Home Action Items:

  • Download a mindfulness-based meditation app on your smartphone or tablet. It doesn’t need to be something fancy or expensive, just provide someone or something that can guide your mind to becoming more consciously present. Performing a meditation for 5-10 minutes in the morning or evening will provide the building blocks for your mindful eating approach.
  • Apply mindful awareness before you even bring a food home. As you stand there in the grocery aisle, really think about whether you’re buying it because you want it, or buying it because you need it. If it’s a Primal food, need will almost always align with want.
  • Before you sit down for a meal or even a snack, enter into a consciously alert state. To do this, remove any potential distractions from your immediate surroundings – TVs, radios, magazines, phones, computers, maybe even the odd person, if they’re edging into the chatterbox category.
  • Deliberately slow yourself down. Savor the flavor and consistency. You’ll find your taste will sharpen, you’ll reach satiety sooner, and you’ll be more in tune with how your body reacts to what you eat.

Not only will these practices help you avoid overeating or turning to foods you’ll regret later, it’ll elevate your enjoyment factor exponentially. What’s the point in eating if you don’t pay attention to what you eat, anyway?

Mindfulness dissolves stress.

You could resolve all other anti-health stumbling blocks and still trip over if stress has you firmly in its talons. And a proven way to target stress, anxiety and depression is to practice mindfulness.

Of course, mindfulness meditation is a great start. It allows us to become acquainted with the sensation of quieting focus, which can feel so antithetical to what drives the modern world. The key, however, is to then extend that lightness into daily living. I’ve talked previously about how dispositional mindfulness is the way to go. This takes mindfulness beyond the realm of ad-hoc meditation and plants it firmly in everyday life—moment by moment.

Harnessing an awareness of your thoughts and and sensations throughout the course of each day, can enable you to overhaul the physiological effects of psychological stress. In short, dispositional mindfulness buffers against real and perceived stress, improves self-esteem, and minimizes the subsequent negative hormonal responses that can lead to weight gain, disordered eating, and general health issues.

For more on a Primal perspective on dispositional mindfulness (and how to integrate it into your life), check out this post I did a while back. As I mention there, it’s more about tuning into the subtleties of your mind and body, to the point that it becomes second nature. Taking up daily conscious behaviors, performing meditative activities as much as possible, and focusing on your breathing whenever you feel your emotions getting the better of you, are easy ways to develop dispositional mindfulness.

Mindfulness promotes a “whole-body” approach to health.

I’ve written before about how our bodies actually play a role in steering our emotions. The physical act of doing something, such as dancing, singing or touching can and does impact the way we think, and the way we interact with the world. Grok worked through emotional trauma or underlying mental instabilities by partaking in dances and physical rituals that encouraged feelings of stability, safety, and belonging.

For this reason, consider extending mindfulness to encompass your whole body. It seems a little redundant, on account of the fact that you’re now treating your whole physical being as a “mind,” but if recent research into our gut (a.k.a second brain) is anything to go by, there’s more truth to that than we might initially realize.

Think of the postures you embody when preparing for your day, a good meal or an evening’s workout. Are they empowered or disempowered? Even if you’re not feeling the same degree of enthusiasm after a long day or short night’s sleep, assume stances that summon power—and you’ll feel stronger and resilient.

Another example: are you tuned into what movements your body might enjoy in a workout, or do you slog through the same routine regardless of what you’re picking up on? While a certain degree of structure keeps us aligned with our goals, performing a range of motions and exercise variants fitting to your preferences in the moment may both challenge different muscles and abilities and perhaps enhance your mood to boot. You’ll walk away feeling more energized in both regards.

This is exactly what the 21-Day Challenge advocates. Your body responds to this mindful movement by correcting imbalances and upgrading muscle and bone networks, and that’s good news for everyone.

Mindfulness supports a regular exercise regime.

We so often think that adherence to our goals necessitates pushing, manipulating even reprimanding ourselves. I’ve always believed in integrity rather than discipline. Sure enough, adopting a more mindful attitude can help us stay in that space where integrity meets intention.

A study published in the Journal of Behavior Research and Therapy  performed an interesting trial whereby they examined the relationship between exercise maintenance and mindfulness on 266 YMCA gym members. According to the study designers, “those who were successful at maintaining exercise tended to score higher on measures of mindfulness and acceptance…exercisers having greater mindfulness and acceptance are less reactive; responding with more balanced appraisals to threats to their exercise regimen which in turn promotes increased exercise maintenance.”

Another study of 62 women over 6 months found that those who applied mindfulness meditation practices to their daily or weekly routine had a much higher level of physical activity (i.e. exercise) than those who didn’t use mindfulness. And wouldn’t you know, they also showed greater reductions in BMI, most likely due to their concurrent reduction in binge eating.

Personally, I incorporate mindfulness meditation every day as does my wife, Carrie. My approach doesn’t look the same as hers, but we both reap major benefit from our practices. I even work with more active meditation styles for “rest day” workouts when I can tell my body needs some extra recovery time between more intensive days. The result? I simultaneously get to relax, enjoy some low level movement, and attune to my body’s cues with more precision. The advantages carry over, believe me.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. And now check out the contest below for a fun way to share your own experience of MINDFUL LIVING.

win9CONTEST:

Can you think of one way you practiced mindfulness during the last week? Even if you didn’t identify it as such in the moment, when did you bring a quieting focus to a choice or an hour of your day? If one doesn’t come to mind, how would you like to incorporate more mindful living in the coming week of the Challenge? Share your answer below, and I’ll give you the opportunity to share something special with family or friends. I’ll be giving away three 21-Day Total Body Transformation Essentials Packages to one lucky person who leaves a comment below. The winner will be chosen at random.

Deadline:

This contest expires today, Jan. 19, at 11:59 pm PST.

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49 Comments on "4 Ways to Harness Mindfulness for Health Goals—and a CONTEST"

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Nick
Nick
6 months 29 days ago

A few months ago I began a daily morning meditation practice and I have found the calm and focus continuing into the day and helping me to better handle stress at work and home.

Shary
Shary
6 months 29 days ago

Meditation is good. I find that simply staying in the moment works for me. If I’m peeling potatoes, for example, that’s what I try to stay focused on instead of switching to autopilot and letting my mind wander. Staying in the present versus reliving the past or contemplating the future is mindfulness as well as a form of meditation.

Cody Milihram
Cody Milihram
6 months 29 days ago

A fast always seems to bring me into the now of my body, my environment pretty reliably. I just wrapped up a 36 or so hour fast and each time I decide to incorporate that into my agenda I find myself becoming aware of my thoughts, my feelings and what have you in such a clear way. It’s a sound reset for me, I clear away the bullshit ad get to just sit (sometimes in the literal sense) with myself and feel things out.

Luke Cafferty
6 months 29 days ago

Great timing on this article. This is an area id like to work on more in 2017, but somehow always ends up at the end of my list 🙂

Thanks,

Paul
Paul
6 months 29 days ago

Walking to and from work allows me to be mindful each day, focusing on the air, the weather, the people and things around me. Going on a meditative walk daily (or better yet, twice daily) helps reset me for what comes next: both setting up a good day at work, and a nice evening with my family.

Suji
6 months 29 days ago

Oh boy, one of my favorite subjects Mark! A couple of ways I practiced mindfulness in the past week: rowing – with each stroke I meditate on a thought and the movement itself becomes extremely meditative and baking; just this morning I baked an almond flour chocolate cake for a dinner party with friends this evening. Focusing on the precision of each ingredient as well as sending some good ‘ol love to my friends has put me in a great mood 🙂

paleofam321
paleofam321
6 months 29 days ago

I’m a teacher and I begin every class by leading a guided meditation with my students. It amounts to about six minutes a day, but they are better prepared to give everything they have in class, and I am refreshed after leading the group as well.

Elizabeth Resnick
6 months 29 days ago

Wow, what a great gift for your students!

Jules
Jules
6 months 29 days ago

I recently started to use the rest time between sets of reps while working on weight machines for a quick, simple mindful meditation. Working, resting and mindfulness is really a great combination and improves my day.

Alessandra Abdala
Alessandra Abdala
6 months 29 days ago
I practice mindfulness every day. At night, before going to sleep I take between 5 and 10 minutes to clear my mind and relax for the night. But this past week I have been trying to apply it to taking care of the dishes. If washing it or loading the dishwasher, I focus on what I am doing, as opposed to focusing on the fact that no one else in the house bothers to do it. That has immensely decreased the stress level, needless to say. When it gets to a point where I will do it anyway because it… Read more »
Phil Tobin
Phil Tobin
6 months 29 days ago

Every morning I try to use the Headspace app to do some mindfulness first thing. I also try to practice some of the Headspace exercises during the day. If I do this, it helps me be present during the day.

Susanne
Susanne
6 months 29 days ago

An example from this week. I am knitting a fine-gauge sweater, which requires lots and lots of very small stitches. I usually watch TV, but I spent at least a little time most days this week knitting with the TV (and all other tech) off. The cats were off, too, as they were on nap time, so it was very calming.

Melanie
Melanie
6 months 29 days ago

In the afternoon at work before tea break I head out into the sun, sit down, close my eyes and focus on the feeling of the sun on my skin and I hear the birds in the trees. Then I head back up to my desk feeling refreshed for the last part of my work day, and leave those on tea break usually sitting inside missing out on the peace outside on the deck.

Geranium
Geranium
6 months 29 days ago

I was trudging through the snow to feed the chickens. It came to me: this is my life right now. Not when the chickens are fed or I get back to the house. Right now, as I walked on the icy path, the cold on my cheeks. Right now.

Elizabeth Resnick
6 months 29 days ago

Love this!

Eric
Eric
6 months 29 days ago

I just took the quiz. My average was 2.73. That was certainly an eye opener.

Ryan Ransom
6 months 29 days ago

Slowing down and enjoying food – so easy to not do, especially when you’ve already proportioned it so can eat the whole thing. I’m going to try and slow down while I eat. I was literally scarfing down lunch while I read this.

Madeleine
Madeleine
6 months 29 days ago

I’ve started combining my mindfulness with gratitude. Last night when I was lying awake in the middle of the night, I slowed my breathing and started to think of everything I was grateful for, from the person who farmed the cotton for my sheets to my partner alongside me.

Elizabeth Resnick
6 months 29 days ago
There are a few ways that I fit mindfulness into my day around my health and fitness. When I eat, I try to be very aware of what I am eating…to take a moment to think about where it came from, and how it’s nourishing my body. I also think about how I am thankful to be surrounded by such amazing food choices. I am by no means consistent with this, it’s a work in progress. I walk my little dog several times a day. The first walk of the morning is somewhat spiritual/mindful. Sometimes I listen to a music… Read more »
Christine Whitcomb
Christine Whitcomb
6 months 29 days ago

I’d like to incorporate more mindfulness while eating, and break the habit of sitting in front of the TV while I eat.

TGJ
TGJ
6 months 29 days ago

I find the most mindfulness I practice is when I’m staring into my baby’s eyes. Nothing brings me more into the moment than that.
I would like to incorporate more intentional mindfulness though, especially while eating as I’m normally speed eating and almost always standing to eat (with a baby on me).

Paul
Paul
6 months 29 days ago
I meditate for a half hour every morning as part of my Zen practice, but during the past week or so, I have also been trying to be more aware of my body in terms of feeling full or hungry. I realized I come from a family that eats because a) there is nothing going on at the moment or b) Something is going on and food would be a good accompaniment. It’s a major revelation to realize that you are eating because you actually experience hunger, or you are full, and there is really no need to walk around… Read more »
Pam
Pam
6 months 29 days ago

I downloaded an app called Headspace and have recently begun learning to meditate. I am up to day 12. I do it every morning before the rest of the family gets up when the house is completely peaceful. It feels good to start each day with a sense of calm.

Debbie
6 months 29 days ago
The way I’ve been attempting to harness mindfulness is through mindlessness. Let me explain… I read a post earlier in the year from you (Encode Better Choices) about how it is important to reduce our options (you said it a little more eloquently) but when I feel out of control and on the verge of doing something self-destructive, I have an automatic response now. The unquestioning response is to sit on my comfy chair, set the egg timer for 5 minutes, close my eyes and try to tap into what’s going on. Nothing else is an option (at least that’s… Read more »
Jen
Jen
6 months 29 days ago

Yoga!

wildgrok
wildgrok
6 months 29 days ago

🙂

Tom B-D
Tom B-D
6 months 29 days ago

I improvised (guitar) with my son (drums). We’ve been playing together for about 4 years so it’s a kind of mind meld as the music spontaneously flows along. You just can’t be thinking of something else. To quote Zappa, “music is the best.” (Joe’s Garage)

Greg
6 months 29 days ago

I need to be more mindful when eating. With an infant and a toddler at home, dinner time has become a race. I need to try to slow it down, and actually taste the food I’m eating!

Clay
Clay
6 months 29 days ago

Mindfulness keeps me from messing up the kitchen too much so I can avoid being scolded.

wildgrok
wildgrok
6 months 29 days ago

Headspace worked for me big time – thanks Andy

Merry
Merry
6 months 29 days ago

Mindfulness….NeedGod dot com

HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
6 months 29 days ago

“The winner will be chosen at random.”

Excellent, cause I got nothing.

Merry
Merry
6 months 29 days ago

Where did my comment go? Weird. Did I add something that was taboo?

heideth
heideth
6 months 29 days ago
Something I learned after reading “French Women Don’t Get Fat” was to make every meal special, even the simplest of meals. For me, that means a place setting, a pretty arrangement on my plate, and time to savor. Recently, I started to linger at the table for another 10 minutes, particularly for those small meals (like a bowl of yogurt) when I eat a little too fast. It’s the perfect way to mindfully observe my satiety. After 10 minutes, I usually find that I am no longer hungry and can more easily focus on the next task rather than obsessing… Read more »
Jordan
Jordan
6 months 29 days ago

Everyday! I am a martial arts instructor and am always talking, (and practicing) breathing and relaxing techniques. Especially at the end of class during a very brief meditation to calm yourself and your mind before going back into the “Real world” and all the responsibilities outside of the dojo. When people are here all they need to worry about is themselves and their growth, not work, bills or other stresses.

Andrew Schwartz
Andrew Schwartz
6 months 28 days ago

Headspace. Such a great app for mindfulness, morning, day, or night. Pick the length, subject, etc. and you have a personalized session.

Stephen
Stephen
6 months 28 days ago

When I lift weights, I practice mindfulness. The weights and my muscles are the only things I focus on. I don’t listen to music or watch the gym TV. I think Schwarzenegger advocated such a practice, like being ‘inside’ the muscle. It means I truly enjoy the workout

cathLabMike
cathLabMike
6 months 28 days ago

This is my 5th 21 day transformation. Each one has pointed the way to health. As I finish the Primal Health Coach Course so much is getting clearer,this one was being the best person I can be and the best husband to my fantastic wife. Cut out all alcohol , especially that Organic wine, to see how clear life can be. Coupled with some quality fasts it is just easier to be in the present and being mindful of this moment, feeling the joy, Thanks Mark .

Sam du Toit
Sam du Toit
6 months 28 days ago

I started the year off with this in mind. To be present for everything. Not to rush or get frazzled by what happens around me but to go slow and stop the rushing. So far so good. The challenge has been a great help for me too. Enjoy the moment;-)

Gabriel
Gabriel
6 months 28 days ago

We suffered several internet outages at work lately. As we had to wait for either a fix or decision for a home office, I spent an extended time to stand at my desk or squat and just quiet in and focus on this silence, quietness and cell vibration within me. Then only joined my colleagues who went for coffee, discussions, for a socialization moment. It feels great to be still while everything around is buzzing, overwhelmed, hectic. It gives a sense of wholeness and freedom.

Sara Stopek
Sara Stopek
6 months 28 days ago
I’ve switched my nightly “please turn off the light/your phone/etc.” chanting to my sweet husband… now when I go upstairs first, I turn off the lights and light a candle. He can see enough to find his PJs (or plug in a device), but it has changed the color, flavor, vibe – everything about the downshift. He feels welcomed to bed instead of ‘reminded’ (you weren’t thinking, ‘nagged’ – were you?) – and I feel loving and welcoming and relaxed, instead of wound up to relax better/sooner. There was no one moment of mindfulness – I had to be mindful… Read more »
Starmice
Starmice
6 months 28 days ago

I just started daily meditation/mindfulness training on my birthday in late Nov – even if it’s just a few breaths or a longer guided one. I’m already starting to see the benefits – I’d always struggled to make this a regular practice but was inspired after reading Full Catastrophe Living – it does a great job of explaining why meditation works and the benefits of it, which spurred me to make it a habit.

Audra Skaryd
6 months 28 days ago

I started doing yoga about 2 years ago, didn’t really stick, but for some reason about 6 months ago, it did start to stick and I find myself wanting to do some yoga everyday whether in a full class at my gym or on my own with the app “down dog.” I started mediating almost everyday to the app “insight” since October. I find I not only have better posture, but I’ve started to do everything more mindfully and purposefully…which is nice and relaxing.

Danielle S
Danielle S
6 months 26 days ago
Mindfulness – this week I’ve had quite a few opportunities for mindfulness. One was sorting beads – they had gotten mixed all together so sitting on the floor (in front of the heater), I sifted through them for over an hour – mindful of each bead and the toasty warmth emanating from the heater. Another was being woken up at 4am by bright flashes of lightning, so sitting up to enjoy the light show out the window until that bit of storm had passed – mindful of the power of nature. And of course often throughout the day, I work… Read more »
Eeka42
Eeka42
6 months 23 days ago

I downloaded an app. Stop, Breathe, and Think. I use it to help relax at the end of the day. I’ve found since starting that I make less impulsive decisions. I can take a step back and see what I’m doing and if it’s really getting me where I want to go much easier. It’s kinda like logic wins more than my emotions 🙂

Anna
Anna
6 months 23 days ago

I know personally mindfulness has a profound impact. Our brains function in relation to where we put our mind and our bodies follow our brains! And vice verse. Love it

Nanette
6 months 23 days ago

Hi, I spend a few minutes in the morning doing deep breathing exercises before I get up and sending out positive affirmations for the day. I also spend 30-40 minutes in an infrared sauna a couple of times a week. While in, I meditate while listening to meditation tracks. Always makes my day better!

Todd
Todd
6 months 23 days ago

Headspace app is my go-to for mindfulness meditation, or I simply use the Insight Timer app for an unguided 5 minute meditation. My favorite time to use Headspace is in the dry sauna after my workout.

Mansal Denton
6 months 18 days ago

Love the bit about mindfulness and binge eating. It’s amazing how many healthy people (myself included) have tendencies to eat loads and loads of unhealthy foods.

Interestingly, in my research with nootropics and smart drugs, I found N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) can really help with OCD and binge eating-type behaviors. I still believe mindfulness is the best and most long-term way to go, but I’ve found success with NAC as well oddly enough.

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