using mindfulness to heal the habit of overeating

"The Buddha gave many teachings on what to do about distracting thoughts. Certain practices can be adapted to help us when food cravings arise. What is important to remember is that in any moment, we have options; the practice is to find the skillful means for each situation.

Intention is the key; everything else rests on this. We all have different triggers for overeating; know yours. Also keep in mind what your goals are—not to eat, not to go off your diet—and which foods are important for you to avoid. Consider which emotions make you feel the most vulnerable, and when you feel that way, turn to meditation, affirmation, or visualization for support. Then, set and hold the intention not to pick up a trigger food.

Substitute the thought of food with the thought of something more important. For example, visualize the face of someone you love, or feel gratitude for all the gifts you have in your life. Imagine yourself engaged in some pleasurable activity; see yourself on that vacation you’re looking forward to, for example. The Buddha taught, “As we think, so we become.”

Mentally follow the entire process of giving in to the desire to eat. See the whole cycle from beginning to end. If you take the first bite, where will that lead? What has happened in the past? How will you feel the next day? If, instead, you refrain from eating, how might you feel?

Ask yourself: What do I really want right now? What is the feeling behind the urge for food?

Stop whatever you are doing at the moment you feel the urge to eat, and do something entirely different: stretch, yawn, get up and walk, make a phone call. Even a simple action can break the trance.

Cultivate willingness to ask for support. In Buddhist practice, we take refuge in the sangha to support us in our practice. For support in avoiding destructive eating, we can phone a friend who understands our intention, for example, or join a support group for overeaters. On an everyday level, “support” might simply mean asking the waiter to remove the basket of rolls from the table.

Maintain nonjudgment. If you overindulge, don’t punish yourself. You will only make your suffering worse. Instead, observe your behavior with a compassionate heart. Then remember the instruction that is the foundation of meditation practice: Begin again, with wise intention."

{excerpt from the article Eating and the Wheel of Life by Sandra Weinberg, published on}