Maybe you can’t lose weight without exercising, but sometimes slowing down, and even sitting, help more than you might think. Last week my Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thin-within) blog explored research on how the very presence of fast food in our world promotes bad choices. In fact, purposeful slowing down for reflection, stress management, or better self-care sometimes makes all the difference in achieving dietary changes. Here I’ll address a related phenomena—that is, the role of sitting in weight loss. (This article appeared in a slightly different form in the July 2008 Diet Coach’s Letter.)
We usually talk—a lot—about moving when we talk about staying fit. Sitting can actually help us, though, too, when we’re trying to improve our fitness, particularly our eating habits. How? To understand, we need to think about how habits change. In other words, how do we ditch habits we don’t like and build the ones we want?
Change usually does not happen instantly or all at once. And many people find changing how they eat hardest of all….some will say harder than quitting smoking or drinking, even. “At least with drinking, you don’t have to face it every day” is what I often hear. This is true— with food, you have to get used to eating less, or differently, while the same “triggers”, or eating cues, surround you. For some, a good deal of mental or emotional preparation must come first.
Regardless of what your own change process involves, though, at some point making a change means doing something new when your mind—or body or brain—screams out for the old thing. This is not comfortable. But how we deal with the discomfort can spell the difference between really changing and feeling bad about not changing. It’s not simply about “willpower”, either—urges to do what’s known and familiar, and what’s brought pleasure in the past, do indeed live in both your body and brain, in your emotions and in the chemistry of your cells.
Fortunately, the calls from your body and brain do change, if you do the new thing often enough. But there’s the dilemma: you’ve got to cope with the discomfort, “ride it out” in other words, over and over again, until the new takes over, without knowing exactly how long that’s going to take or when it will all feel easier. Sitting can help in at least three ways.
First, there’s sitting as in “sitting it out”. Weight loss books sometimes prescribe “urge surfing”; that is, finding a way to tolerate the discomfort until it passes each time. Urges do pass. Whether it takes a minute or an hour or more, they eventually calm down. You might try to distract yourself during this time. You might do something calming or soothing. You might call a supportive friend or take a walk. If you “sit out” an urge several times, it should start to visit you less often or less intensely.
Next, you can literally just “sit”. Sitting mindfully, and non-judgmentally observing what occurs in your thoughts and in your body, without necessarily doing anything, may help you through an uncomfortable time. If done repeatedly, this practice can also help you, as in mindfulness meditation, become less and less reactive to upsetting events. You’ll cope better with all of what life serves up.
Sitting also becomes important if you’re not sure what blocks your doing the “something new” you want to do. You’ve tried distracting yourself; you know you’re not hungry. But over and over again you’re back doing the same thing. Often an eating habit masks a painful emotion or keeps you unaware of something you feel conflicted about. To stop the eating, then, it helps to know what purpose that eating serves. You can then try to care for that emotion or deal with that conflict in some better way, or get help.
In these situations, sitting for even a few moments, instead of immediately taking the food, can help you identify what’s going on. Simply sit; delay the food. Notice what you feel. Notice what thoughts come to you. Write in a journal if you like. Often insights emerge just this simply. Then you can take the next steps, whatever they may be.
Changing how you eat for good, not just for a week or two, can turn out to be more complicated than any simple diet prescription suggests. Sitting can help you uncomplicate the process.