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

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.


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.


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

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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