April’s Great Mindful Eating Experiment [And P90X2 Phase II Report]

by Charlotte on April 1, 2012 · 34 comments

Tiny fingers. Shrill voices. (True story: Gym Buddy Allison asked me the other day if I’d noticed how Son #3 has a voice like a bunker-buster missile. Ah yes, the most adorable bunker buster ever but painfully piercing nonetheless.) Sticky messes. Phones ringing. E-mail pinging. And the never-ending demands. I asked my oldest son today if he could please try talking to me without asking me for something every single time and he just looked at me like he didn’t even realize that was an option. Mom = waitressing, housecleaning, cooking, driving genie with a limitless credit card.

The more chaotic my environment gets, the more intensely I narrow my focus to block it all out. Basically I put myself in time out. When I’m doing well this is a fairly infrequent occurrence but thanks to my medicine screw up (The last insurance person I talked to told me flat out, “You’re never going to get your old meds back, I can guarantee it. No matter what you do, we will find a way not to cover it.” It says a lot about my mental state that I almost started crying – out of gratitude for her honesty.) I find myself increasingly overwhelmed and unable to cope. Or rather, the way I cope is to lock myself in my closet, play word games on my phone (Scramble is so addicting!) and… eat jelly beans by the handful. After I finished an entire 14 ounce bag of my favorite SweeTart jelly beans on Friday I realized this has got to stop.

Enter mindful eating. “Mindfulness” is one of the hottest theories in psychology right now and for good reason: it’s exactly the opposite of the way most of us live our lives. (Psychologists love nothing more than to be contrary!) It’s the anti-multi-tasking approach to life. It also happens to be part of the first two guidelines of Intuitive Eating (Geneen Roth style):

1. Eat sitting down.

2. Eat without distractions.

When I first started Intuitive Eating these were the two principles I had the hardest time with because they really forced me to pay attention to what I was eating and the fact that I was eating it. Despite being in recovery (not recovered but doing light years better) from an eating disorder, I still harbor a lot of negative feelings about food and my mental dialogue, while it’s gotten a lot better, is still hard to take. So the easiest way for me to tune out the food chatter is to read/talk on the phone/surf the web/pretend I don’t really care what Kate Middleton wears to visit sick kids at the hospital (could she have any more gorgeous dresses?).

But this is a bad band-aid – as evidenced by the fact that the only way I realized I’d eaten an entire 14 oz bag of jelly beans was the empty wrapper and tummy ache. Usually at this point someone asks me “But doesn’t intuitive eating mean you can eat anything? That not even candy is “off limits”? Why are you trying to restrict it?” The point of intuitive eating is not to eat whatever you think you want but to tune into your body and eat what it wants. And our bodies are smart – they want to be healthy most of the time. So yes, eat the jelly beans if you really want them but eat them in a way that is both appreciative of the food (actually taste it and enjoy it) and is respectful of your body (no tummy aches!).

Up until now I was kind of at a loss as to how to do this. All I knew is that I really really don’t want to eat sitting down and without distractions. I fight it. I never do it. Enter mindfulness: One of the main points is that focusing on our problematic thoughts can just make them worse. Instead of thinking I shouldn’t be eating junk! But wait I shouldn’t pass judgement on my food! Why am I still so hung up on good food and bad food! It’s all food! When am I going to learn? My two year old does this and I can’t figure it out. I’m such a failure! And also my hair looks frizzy today! Aghh!  Mindfulness theory suggests I should instead keep my focus where it belongs: in the present, on what I’m doing. Which in this case is eating. Every time my mind wanders to negative thoughts of any stripe, I need to pull it back to focusing on how my food tastes, how it feels, how my body is experiencing it, how the room feels, the company I’m with etc. Less self-analysis. More appreciation.

Live in the moment. (With a pinch of Fake it Till You Make it. Or if you live like you mean it then eventually you really will.)

I hate that phrase. I have never, ever been good at living in the moment. But before I figured that was my particular character flaw. Now I’m discovering that mindfulness is a learned skill and one I can get better at. (Someday when I grow up I would like to be like MizFit, the most mindful fit blogger I know. She’s dedicated this whole year to “Living my priorities” and it’s been a beautiful thing to see how that plays out in her decision making. Very often it is simply making the choice to be present.)

So for the month of April, I’m going to be practicing mindful eating. It’s not a diet. It’s not to lose ten pounds. It’s not even to kick my jelly bean habit. It’s to be grateful for what I have and show that gratitude in my enjoyment. Not every meal is foodgasm worthy but every meal deserves appreciation. I know from past experience that at first this will be exhausting but it does get easier. (Check out this post by The Fat Nutritionist on her experience with it. Thanks Renee for the tip!) And I’m hoping that by practicing mindfulness in this one small sphere – eating – I will learn how to incorporate it into other areas of my life.

As far as workouts go, we’re still doing P90X 2. We just started Phase 3 – the final phase which has the slight misfortune of being named “P.A.P.” – an acronym that stands for something that I can never remember because I’m too busy wondering if my pap smear is current. BUT, gyno talk aside, I am really liking this phase. And we’ll continue Phase 3 throughout April.

P90X 2 Phase II Review

Phase I did not go spectacularly well, if you recall. It was the first Experiment in five years that a core Gym Buddy has quit. But Phase II went much better after we got past the ball-happy “chest, back and balance” workout that had us doing all kinds circus stunts. Fortunately for us, Tony has an optional “V-sculpt” workout you can sub for that day and while I’ve gone back and done CB&B on my own, with the Gym Buddies we’ve stuck to v-sculpt.

If you were a superfan of P90X the original (like me) then this phase will be most similar to what you already know. Lots of weightlifting, plyos and – of course – a plethora of pull-ups. Seriously I never knew there were so many varieties of pull-ups until I met Tony Horton! It’s tough – and there are still some moves I can’t even attempt without a Gym Buddy holding up each butt cheek – but it was good tough. Lots of sweat. Some floor burns (thank you plyo push-ups off a medicine ball). But also new muscle. I am most definitely stronger than when we started in February! My only complaint is that all the workouts are very upper-body intensive, other than some plyo jumps there’s not much for the lower body. We added in some weighted back squats and lunges to make up for this. I’m not sure if Tony did this for a reason since P90X 1 had plenty of lower-body work in it. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Advice?

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it: Just for the month of April, try sitting down and eating undistracted for every meal. Heck, just try it for a week and let me know what you think! Who’s in for this month’s experiment?? If any of you have any experience with mindfulness training or P90X 2 phase 3, I’d love any tips you can give me! Anyone else have a hard time eating undistracted? What do you do when you need a “time out”?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz April 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I definitely agree.Stress, some people just can’t handle it.Thanks for the mindful eating experiment.

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Carrie April 1, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I really like this. I don’t practice mindful eating AT ALL. What a great idea for a challenge!

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Alyssa (azusmom) April 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm

I am TOTALLY in! For the mindfulness, not P90X2.
(I have tennis elbow. I don’t play tennis, and was the worst player EVER back when I did attempt to play [as in, being force-marched every Saturday, for YEARS, to group, private, and semi-private tennis lessons, along with 1-2 weeks of tennis camp...yes, tennis CAMP! every summer, despite my pleas, my utter ineptitude, and my absolute hatred for playing the game.] So it’s sort of ironic that I now have Tennis Elbow, dontcha think?)
This is also the hardest part of IE for me, eating without distractions. It’s too easy to turn on my Kindle or the TV and turn OFF my brain.

And I love that picture! It’s amazing how we tie ourselves in knots over the silliest things, lol!

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Kylie April 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm

This is a topic I can definitely relate with! I rarely ever eat without surfing the internet or watching TV at the same time, but I’m still painfully aware of every bite I take regardless, I tend to worry to much about overeating to find myself scraping the bottom of a box of candy without realizing it, but I still never simply focus on the moment when I am eating, it gets too boring! I’ll try to do this during April as well! Good luck with this new challenge!
Kylie

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M. Lindsay April 2, 2012 at 12:12 am

Agreed on the mindful eating, I’ll put it on the agenda!

I think my goal will be for 2 of 3 meals to be eaten sans distractions. I think that it would be so hard for me to have every meal eaten without distractions, just because I have a lot of lunch meetings.

I’ve been doing a lot of yoga recently, which I think has been helping with my stress levels, and generally trying to be more mindful, so this fits in easily with my goals of being more “in the moment”.

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T. April 2, 2012 at 3:50 am

Thank you. This is precisely the challenge I needed. I can’t remember the last time I ate without distractions; with them I just eat and eat and eat and hate myself for not fitting into my clothes. I’ve been aware of this for a while now but haven’t wanted/been able to do anything about it. No eating while I’m reading? No reading while I’m eating? It sounds like a) there won’t be enough time in the world to do each of these separately, b) someone just told me that I’ll never feel safe again and c) all the pleasure has been sucked out of both activities (and much of my life). Eating issues – who, me? So yes, challenge accepted. A month seems like eternity but a week? I’m going to give it my best shot. Please keep reminding me to do so. :)

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Morgan April 2, 2012 at 3:58 am

Oh man, the whole time i was reading this i was chowing down on a bowl of oatmeal, thinking that i should push the screen away and start focusing on this bite…but didnt. Sigh.

There’s no blame to be placed here, no reason to fault yourself for your struggle to live in the moment, do one thing at a time. Part of the reason it’s so difficult to appreciate the one thing that is happening in this moment is because we live in an age in which we are constantly bombarded with information, so our brains have learned how to process that information faster by only experiencing it partially. So it’s not you!

Using the phrase “not useful” to banish thoughts and behaviors that take me out of the moment has helped me live more in the present. Remembering to use that phrase is the hard part.

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Miz April 2, 2012 at 5:00 am

mindful eating not only changed my outsides—but my insides.
and caused me to be mindful in ALL facets of my life.

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Jazmine April 2, 2012 at 6:16 am

The only thing I can tell you is to take is slow. Do not gotge yourself. Eat what you can and reward yourself every time you successfully eat and keep it down. So if going to the movies makes you happy or buying something new makes you happy, that will be a reward.
Please seek counseling though so someone can be your cheerleader and help you through your ups and downs.

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Joshua April 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

I know, it’s been forever since I’ve been around. Long story.

Anyway, I just borrowed a co-worker’s P90X discs. So far I’ve only watched the “How to Bring It” DVD–ironically, while I was eating homemade, real butter, seven-cheese mac & cheese–but he’s a motivator. Had me all excited.

Anyway, I haven’t started it yet until I can figure out when the heck I’m going to do it all. Regardless, I have done just some random chair dips here and there, testing out the shoulder from the crash. To be honest, my shoulder feels great for a few hours after doing just 10 chair dips. When it starts to ache, I do another set, and it stretches it out. Getting longer and longer between “needing to do” sets to stretch it, which is great, even after just a week. Now to work on the gut.

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Sara April 2, 2012 at 8:02 am

This post is incredibly fortuitous as I’ve been reading one of Geneen’s books and have had an index card on my cupboard door saying “eat without distractions–this will be hard. Try and keep trying.” Needless to say, I tried it once. Failed. And haven’t tried again. I binge eat and am trying so desperately to become an intuitive eater (and lose excess weight). This challenge motivates me to actually REALLY try this time. Thank you. I look forward to the accountability.

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Sara April 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Lunch Mindful Eating: Fail. Ate my actually lunch without distractions but as soon as I popped open my laptop I grabbed a bag of trail mix and went to town. This experiment will really challenge me and my eating habits. I’m happy I have another chance with dinner!

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Sarah April 2, 2012 at 8:08 am

I am SO happy to hear that you are getting stronger with P90X2!! I lost strength :-( I have finished P90X2 and I am now back to my favourite form of weightlifting moderate to heavy weights, no gimmicks. I have to tell you, I was SO sore going back to my regular routine. And I had to reduce my weights from where I was prior to P90X2. My legs in particular were so sore that one week my soreness lasted for 5 days. That’s because P90X2, as you mentioned, does not adequately work the legs. So yeah. I give at least 1 thumb down to P90X2. The other is part way up. I thought the Phase 3 workouts were alright. Nothing special, and certainly not special enough to be given the name Post Activation Potentiation. The magic is supposed to be in the sequence, but it wasn’t for me!

My only tip on Phase 3 probably doesn’t apply to you because you aren’t using the videos. It would be to sub some of the workouts because you essentially do the same two workouts, twice per week for 3-4 weeks. Can you imagine hearing the same jokes that many times? It killed me.

Sorry to be so negative, but I don’t know anyone else who’s doing P90X2 so I’m just venting!!!

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Nicole April 2, 2012 at 8:58 am

I am up for mindful eating! I am very guilty of not paying attention when I am eating. Have you read the book/listened to the audio tape “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansik? It is very interesting. It talks about all the subconscious clues that get us when we eat mindlessly

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Renée April 2, 2012 at 9:16 am

Definitely up for the mindful challenge…especially since I started last week ;-)
My trick for my own timeout has always been working out in my garden…tending plants, getting dirt under my fingernails, and watching the birds has always been calming. When we lived up in the frigid north, I always had tons of houseplants and started all my garden plants from seed…gave me relief during the cold dark of winter.

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Crabby McSlacker April 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

Good timing! I’m really working on the mindfulness thing, as part of my “rewiring Crabby’s brain” project. Talk about an uphill battle! But consciously choosing to tune in to the present, and what’s often quite lovely about it (especially when I catch myself feeling stressed about stuff that’s no big deal in the scheme of things), is really helping a lot.

Happy mindful eating!

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Abby April 2, 2012 at 10:34 am

Yeah, eating without something distracting me sounds really scary in terms of the ED voices. BUT I know I need to be better about it. Maybe this weekend while the fiance is out of town I will try and eat without any distractions. (Normally dinner time is the only time I get to spend with him, he’s so busy and lunch at work is definitely not a good time for focusing.)

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Dr. J April 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I live in the moment! Trust me there are distinct downsides to this!

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geosomin April 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

I will try this as much as I can. I struggle with mindfulness, not just with food but in a lot of things in life. To get everything done with school and workI tend to zone in and focus…but I end up missing out on a lot too. I eat too quickly, treating meals like “just another thing”. I preportion my plate and just eat until it’s done and move on. Often, to unwind after work before I dive into hours of my thesis we will watch something while we eat. It helps the brain unwind, but really detracts from the food we eat. I’m glad this takes my focus off overthinking about food but, if I’m honest with myself, I’m not pleased with how I’ve applied this to other things and people in my life. It’s been my challenge lately – I’ve started a gratitude journal. To force myself to take the time to be grateful for things and try and live in the moment more to notice the little things. There is so much going on, and I won’t be this busy forever (knock on wood). I don’t want to miss my life as it goes by…

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Maria @ The Fitness Girl Kitchen April 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hello! I am visiting for the first time and have reading your posts. Eating undistracted is something that have to get better at simply because usually by the time I get home, and hungry, I have to multi-task, feeding the puppies, preping stuff… you name it. I have gotten better but not all there yet.

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Laura April 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I’m in :) I just got my Geneen Roth books in the mail and have been reading them. It sounds so simple I almost want to smack her but it is definitely hard to put in to practice. Great idea for an experiment! *love you much, miss you more!*

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Abby Anderson April 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I have always been a “grazer”. Totally not paying attention to what I am eating, just picking up whatever’s convenient and eating while cooking. I should make more of an effort. Tomorrow.

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Jody - Fit at 54 April 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm

You are so spot on about Carla – MizFit – to be able to get to the present like she does! I do try but it often is a not so great attempt!

I do try to do mindful eating BUT I tend to like to watch my recorded shows & eat – so I doubt I am going to be good at your experiment since that is the time I have to watch…

I o try to pay attention to how I feel & not keep eating if I am full & things like that but I doubt I would last a week of true spot on mindful eating! ;-) Good thing I have the willingness, as Carla says, to do what I need to do to be the way I want to be.. ;-)

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HEAB April 2, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Count me in. There are so many areas of my life where I want to be more present, and eating is definitely one of them! Bfast and lunch usually involve catching up on emails, and I often eat so fast I hardly even taste my food.

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Meg in NYC April 3, 2012 at 8:18 am

I find it these posts so helpful. Thank you!

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Alyssa April 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Thank you so much for this post about mindful eating. It was finally the nudge that made me want to do something about it. We fill our lives with so much and I am in a constant mult-tasking mode. I have heard about intuitive eating and have always thought “wouldn’t that be a good idea”. Well, I read your post this morning and decided I’m up for the challenge. Who would have thought what a challenge it would be – just for breakfast by myself this morning! I had to flip over my 2 to-do lists, hide my phone and the tv remote and focus VERY hard on not getting distracted! I made it through my first meal! I did notice, however, that I just devoured a snack bar while typing this post…dang it! I am excited for this challenge, and am going to aim for as many meals as possible! Thanks for the motivation!

~FoodGirl

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Joan April 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I think this is just what I need to do. Right now I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk. I have been thinking about starting to meditate daily, so I think I’ll make this part of my practice.
Good luck to everyone!

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Jennifer April 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

I agree with Sarah (and Krista) regarding P90X2. I finished last week and I feel I am not as strong as I was. I have a stronger core, but all other muscles are lacking. I too can’t wait to get back to my lifting. I thought x2 was very gimmicky and felt that I had to modify too much. What is the point of doing the workout if you have to modify that much. You are essentially not doing it then in my mind.

I completed 2 full rounds of P90X and “enjoyed” that more. Maybe a hybrid of the two programs next for me.

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Abby Anderson April 9, 2012 at 2:56 am

Ugg, I thought it was just me. 7 weeks in and I thought I’d see a much bigger (any?) difference by now. I feel stronger, but I want to SEE results. Hoping the next few weeks redeem this program. Maybe I just need to push harder. Here’s hoping ;)

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