Fitness Magazine

Stress Eating and the Healthy Eating Meditation Practice

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Stress Eating and the Healthy Eating Meditation Practice

Breakfast of Champions by Melina Meza

Recently I had the good fortune to present an all-day workshop on Yoga for Healthy Eating at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco. The workshop was in many ways a distillation of all of the ideas and information we have presented here at YFHA over the last 2+ years. And as I prepared for the day, and while I was presenting the workshop, the stories my students and workshop attendees shared with me really brought home once again how powerful our daily modern stresses are in derailing our attempts at healthy eating.
As we have addressed here previously, the stress response, which usually is NOT to a true life-threatening emergency these days, causes an immediate impulse behavior that is essential in a true emergency, when you need to act, not mull over what to do. But because we are usually at the desk or behind the wheel and not actually fleeing or fighting and expending energy, the impulse tends to override our commitment and willpower to maintain healthy eating habits. So sometimes we grab a snack as our impulsive reaction.
On top of that, the stress reaction releases extra cortisol into our blood stream, which hangs around a lot longer than the fast acting adrenalin and CRH hormone. And cortisol tends to increase our appetite, even if it is nowhere near mealtime. So we have yet another urge to eat. And since the body releases energy-rich sugar molecules into our bloodstream in those first moments of our stress response - molecules that have been stored in the body for emergencies - we tend to be more likely to want to replace them by reaching for carbohydrates that are rich in similar sugar molecules when that post-event cortisol appetite strikes. So we make another unhealthy choice by going for the snack foods and sugar-rich soft drinks so readily available at work and at the store! What’s a determined yogi to do?
Nina has suggested that a regular stress-reduction asana practice—with an active portion (such as a few rounds of Sun Salutations to address held physical tension in the body), followed by several restorative poses or even a supported easy inversion—combined with meditation and breath awareness -- is a good option for beginning to deal with the overall stress in your life. And we have also talked about how the stress response causes that immediate impulsivity, which Kelly McGonigal, PhD says reduces your willpower in the moment of the stressful event. But she also notes that a regular meditation practice tends to build willpower, possibly offsetting the stress response impulsivity and getting you through those daily stressful bumps. According to one study, even 10 minutes a day starts to do the trick after you rack up as little as three hours of total meditation time over several weeks.
All of this made me think about the times when you return home from a stressful day, fatigued and not wanting to or having the energy to do your stress management practice. So I came up with a 20 minute practice to address the general effects of stress and to support our resolve and will power to eat more healthy, that just about anyone can do when you first get home.
Before I share this fairly simple practice, I want to reiterate our recommendations on what to do in the moment of the stress event. Consider any of the following:
  • Get up and take a short, brisk walk.
  • Try one of our short office yoga practices, which you can do at work or just about anywhere.
  • Drink a big glass of water and sit quietly, observing your breath for five minutes before acting on the impulse to eat.
  • If you really feel you need to eat something, be prepared with healthy whole-food snacks you bring to work each day, or have in your purse or backpack before you leave home for the day.
For the 20-minute practice, I’m proposing a two-part meditation. You can practice this when you get home or, honestly whenever it suits your schedule. But I suggest you do it every day (we’ve said before and I’ll say it again: your bad habits never change without work and practice!).

Part 1: 
This is your Stress Reduction practice, a 10-minute simple, reclined meditation. Before practicing, set a timer so you don’t have to worry about what time it is, because that is not relaxing. For this practice, lie in Relaxation pose for 10 minutes, and simply focus on your easy, natural breath as it enters and exits your body. That’s it. Try to stay gently awake. You can use a blanket support under your spine and head, or just a pillow to lift the head slightly. The purpose of this first meditation is to trigger the Relaxation Response that Herbert Benson first described back in the 70’s.
Part 2: This is your Willpower Boosting practice, a 10-minute seated meditation practice. Come up from your reclining position and sit with or without support on the floor, or use a chair if you prefer. Set your timer again for 10 minutes. Now, establish a nice inner lift from your sitting bones up to the crown of your head. Then pick a simple word or phrase to use as your mental focus, and repeat it to yourself mentally on each exhalation. You might use the phrase “healthy eating” as your intention, or pick something that works better for you. When you notice that you’ve become distracted, immediately return to repeating your phrase. This second meditation is not about relaxing, but about staying focused and concentrated on your intention. That does not mean you might not still feel relaxed at the end, but that’s not the purpose. Remember, studies have shown that meditations like this not only make meditating easier over time, but also improve a wide range of self-control skills, which is what we are after!
So there you have it—the 20-minute, two-part Healthy Eating Meditation practice! Give it a go for the next month. And let us know what changes you notice. No time like the present to make the change you want to see in 2014!

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog