A Prescription for Mindfulness: Healthy Weight Coach Melanie Lane, MD Shares Personal and Professional Insights

melanie lane, MD weight loss coach

As a family physician, healthy living coach, and formerly overweight person, I find myself besieged with questions about the secrets to successful weight loss.  Often people want to know if the magic pill has been invented to melt the pounds away without them doing anything to change their behavior.  To their disappointment, I tell them there is no effortless cure for the weight challenged; anyone telling you otherwise is selling a gimmick.  However, a miracle solution for the struggle with overweight and obesity does exist for those willing to open their hearts and minds to a different approach; it is mindfulness.

The biggest challenge my overweight and obese patients face is that their minds do not live within their bodies. Some of them will admit that their awareness exits shortly after awakening each morning and hangs ensnared in the stressful details of their overstuffed schedules until they collapse in exhaustion at the end of the day.  No energy remains for exercise or preparation of a nutritious meal.  With consciousness floating about elsewhere, these unfortunate people are left dangerously unaware of their own basic needs. Not surprisingly, they lose contact with their normal bodily rhythms, and for this, they suffer inadequate rest, non-nutritious food, and insufficient physical activity.  These poor choices result in excess weight, mood disturbances, chronic pain, and ultimately life threatening consequences.

Lost and stressed out, these people find they don’t feel well, so they do what our culture tells us will alleviate discomfort.  They drug those unpleasant feelings with distractions of every kind:  calorie laden food, cigarettes, alcohol, television, video games, shopping - anything to keep the awareness of pain away.  With time, their magnificently designed bodies can no longer cope, and the downward spiral descends. 

When your mind lives away from your body, you become ignorant of:

  • when you are hungry and what you are hungry for.
  • what foods will best nourish your body.
  • how the quality of your food affects the way you feel.
  • the impact of your eating habits on others and the environment.
  • what it feels like to live inside your body.
  • where pain originates inside your body.
  • when to rest, how much to rest, even how to rest.        

My prescription for these maladies of body, heart, and mind is a healthy dose of mindfulness administered as many times a day as is tolerable. 

Mindfulness has served as a powerful antidote to all sorts of unhappiness and unease in my life since I first read Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Peace Is Every Step.  His teachings spoke to me when I was struggling with intolerable anxiety and depression and a very unhealthy lifestyle involving excess alcohol and food.  I hoped to learn how to break free from the intense mental afflictions that characterized my life at that time; as a major bonus, I found that integrating Thay’s teachings on mindfulness into my daily routine gently revolutionized my entire outlook and lifestyle. 

This daily practice of mindful awareness has transformed my perspective to one of deep abiding gratitude for my body, my consciousness, my place in the world, my fellow world inhabitants, and my planet.  The healthy changes in my behavior, which resulted in a sustained 40 pounds weight loss, naturally evolved from the way I felt inside.

Mindfulness saved my life.

When you eat mindfully, you naturally begin to:

  • choose carefully.
  • notice your food’s impact on your body.
  • notice your food’s impact on other people, animals, plants, and our environment.
  • truly savor the sight, smell, taste, and texture of your meal.
  • enjoy satisfaction with reasonable portions, easily aware of when you are full.
  • enjoy real food & no longer crave engineered foods, which ignite addictive eating behaviors.
  • remember that a lot of work and perhaps suffering, brought that food to your table.
  • ask what your body needs, listen deeply, and respond appropriately  to its answer.
  • support your body with plenty of rest.
  • acknowledge discomfort and look intently to understand its source.
  • enjoy just breathing and moving around in your body.
  • feel intense gratitude for your life.

When you live in your body mindfully, you naturally begin to see what an amazing physiological masterpiece it is and let it do what it was designed to do:  work, move, and play.

Obviously, the applications for Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness to the challenge of achieving a healthier weight abound.  I wholeheartedly recommend the daily practice of frequently returning your awareness home to the present moment as a fundamental guiding principle when designing your healthier lifestyle.  With regular mindfulness practice, words like simple, natural, joyful, inspiring, and sustainable begin to make sense.

 The weight “struggle” dissolves, leaving the “journey” to unfold.   

Guest blog by Melanie Lane, MD

Comments

Dear Melanie

This is an amazing article, thank you. Last year I lost 12kg = 26 pounds through mindful eating. I truly savoured my food, ate slowly and chewed every mouthful. I put my fork down between mouthfuls and drank water in-between. I did not change what I ate, just ate mindful. It is amazing how powerful it is.

Currently I am running up a storm. I am exercising between 6 and 7 times a week and so I am always hungry. I am now struggling to eat mindful as the hunger feesl so real. When I do eat then mindfulness goes out the window and I also indulge. I definitely seem to have a sweet tooth and justify my treats intake by how much I run. Yesterday I ate a pudding at lunch, 3 chocolates before dinner and a milkshake with dinner - OUCH.

So a combination of feeling so hungry, eating quickly, eating poorly justified by my exercise regime (possibly a sweet tooth saboteur here) has seen me pick up 9 pounds. I am not sure if it is muscle from running or fat and I am not enjoying it. My struggle is consistency and would love your insight into that.

Thank you for such an enlightening article.

God Bless
Stephen Light

I appreciate your reply, Stephen.

So you learned about the power of mindful eating, benefitted immensely, and then somehow lost it. Clearly you see that a lack of mindfulness is leading you to indulge in food that is sabotaging all of your hard work. What is so important about exercising that you will run until you feel starved for nourishment and the time to appreciate your food? I wonder if you might be running to punish yourself rather than to promote your well-being. What is going on inside you when you run like that? I'd love to know what you figure out.

Sincerely,
Melanie

Enjoyed the article content and the way it was written. Very thought provoking. As someone who has practiced mindfullness, it made me more aware of applying the practice to eating habits. Good article.

Dear Beverly,

It's amazing how much mindfulness can bring joy to anything we do. Enjoy!

I found Dr. Lane's comments to be both interesting and helpful. Can we really expect to be balanced outwardly if we have lost touch with our bodies? She does a good job in explaining how that disconnect results in costly consequences. I also don't think anyone is going to get it right by accident. Her prescription is quite practical. You must practice to get better at being mindful. You must intentionally raise that awareness. There is nothing to lose but your bright future. I enjoyed the comments, Dr. Lane.

many people have lost contact with themselves... that's so true..

What's really gratifying is to witness them reconnecting.

Thank you for your comments, Mr Hernandez. I appreciate your point about practicing. I seem to recall Thich Nhat Hanh explaining that when you set your intention to just sit and breathe, and you follow through by sitting and breathing, you are practicing mindfulness. That is good enough. By judging yourself, you merely take your attention elsewhere. As I have learned to let go of self judgement, that has created more room for mindfulness to enter, which has allowed me to stay present more of the time. I hope you will be gentle with yourself as you continue your practice.

Dear Melanie,
Thanks for writing such a useful, inspiring post. Food is such an intricate part of our daily lives. Most of us have some form of "automatic" eating such as stuffing popcorn in our mouth while watching a movie. Most of us also have "comfort foods" that we use to sooth raged emotions or run to in times of celebration. When it comes to developing "mindfulness" it is important to realize that we are always forming our minds. Some of the keys to success in retraining our attitudes are: vigilance, detachment, and patience. Vigilance simply means to pay attention. Detachment refers to developing the habit of self observation without its often accompanying self deprecation. Patience is accepting the fact that it took us many years to become the person we are today and to accept that it takes time to reshape our thinking, attitudes, and behavior. This is where having a coach like Melanie really pays off. She has the knowledge, patience, and tools to help folks attain the health and life they want and deserve. Offered in Loving support of mindful living.
Ron Capocelli, CPCC

Thanks for your comment, Ron. Your statement about patience is right on. It puts us back into the journey perspective rather than the fix it perspective.

I appreciate your support. :)

Excellent article, Melanie! One can never underestimate the power of mindfulness. When applied to eating, something that is so easily done unconsciously, it can have really positive effects-not only for weight loss but to general health/well being. You really walk the walk and talk the talk and it's good that you are sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience!

All the best,
Liz

What i love most about the various posts here is something called a 'practice'. We have to "practice" mindfulness, just like the piano, meditation, our times tables, even our businesses are often called 'practices' because we take theory into real, everyday living! To practice mindful eating is to begin a worthy journey!..LOVE IT! I will post this site to many of my clients. I'm doing so much work on Stress and Healthy Recoveries that mindfulness comes first, then the ah-ha moments and the transformation slowly takes seed. :) (with practice)...Thanks again, Melanie

Hi Liz,

If your clients use facebook, the Savor FB community may also be a useful tool for them. We post daily mindful living reminders and tools.

http://www.facebook.com/SAVORthebook?ref=ts

Warm wishes,

Savor Sangha

Beautiful reminder that happiness may be just a fork or a 10-lb weight or a song or a hug away. The sense of being alive is deeply connected to joy and fulfillment, even when our very aliveness is sometimes accompanied by discomfort and even pain.

I commend your thought-provoking challenge to live with a tingle in our nerve endings -- feel the breeze, note the knot in our stomach, be aware of the distant dog bark. It's hard to do that from a coffin!

Let's celebrate the very act of being alive!!

Thank you for you lovely comment, Philippa.

Great writing - thanks for posting! And, just checked out the book - even the chapter names make me want to slow down and be more mindful ;-)

What's great is that mindfulness can benefit any arena of your life, not just eating. I love using it when I am frustrated in traffic. I remind myself that now is a wonderful time to notice my surroundings since I am moving so slow. (okay, this doesn't always work, but it helps a lot)

Great article, Melanie. Like Stephen, I have trouble staying out of the "bouncing ball" trap -- achieve a goal, then start to lose ground. Melanie, you have helped me learn that it is as easy to be good to myself as it is to be sloppy with my exercise, meals, rest, and recreation. My inner saboteur is no smarter or faster than my mindful self, just more accomplished. With Practice -- a zillion little steps -- I will leave that loser in the dust. Thank you for the injection of wisdom!

Lorraine

Your mindful self is always there, ready for consultation. She is much more powerful than any saboteur; those saboteurs are just louder and flashier. I love that you continue to make positive steps in spite of them.

Dear Melonie: Great blog! It makes sense. I will be purchasing the book soon. If everyone was a little more in touch with our being the world would be a better place!

Dr. Lane,

What a beautifully written, thoughtful and thought-provoking explication of applying mindfulness to eating. There are so many areas of our life that will benefit from mindfulness -- our passions in family and friends relationships, perhaps our living in and with nature, maybe the beauty of music and words, even our love of color and beautiful shapes. So why not apply these principles to our relationship with food. As I've been reading "Savor" and trying to apply mindfulness more completely to my eating practices, your words are an additional welcome focal point.

Thank you so much,
Judy

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