Dr. Sean Cook, Mindful Eating Expert
I got the recent opportunity to sit down and do an interview with Dr. Sean Cook, a Sacramento-based psychologist who specializes in mindfullness – based wellness. We talked specifically about how mindfullness concepts can be applied to eating habits … and the interview was AWESOME. SO many great take-aways from this one … no matter what your fitness goals, this one’s a must read.
** One more thing … we’ve been in conversation about a Mindful Eating Workshop at the FVT Studio … the workshop would be a chance to come and actually get hands-on training in mindful eating, and to ask any questions you might have … I’m really excited about the prospect, and I’d love to get your feedback on it. Please leave a comment at the end of this post or shoot me a quick email and let me know if you’d be interested! **
Mindful Eating Interview with Dr. Sean Cook
1. So I have been starting to hear more and more about mindfulness lately. I know Phil Jackson, one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, used it for himself and with his players. I know you use it in your practice as a psychologist and that it’s in hospitals and pain clinics. I even read in the news the other day that Google is asking their employees to practice mindfulness as a way to boost wellbeing and increase performance. It sounds great, but I’m wondering if you can really boil it down—what is mindfulness?
Good question. Put simply, mindfulness is really about seeing things clearly. It’s about developing practices that help us to direct non-judgmental, curious attention to what’s actually happening in each moment of our lives.
2. That sounds helpful to be able to see things more clearly, but I know for me and for most of my clients, we lead such busy lives, it’s difficult to think about spending time sitting on a cushion counting breaths, when there’s so much to do.
Yes, I’m glad you asked that. Two thoughts occur to me—one is you don’t have to be sitting on a cushion in the lotus position to be mindful. You can practice mindfulness while walking the dog, picking the kids up from school, or any of the other myriad things that fill our lives. The other thought is that in recent years mindfulness training has been popping up in some surprising places with some really impressive results.
For example, they’ve begun to make mindfulness practices part of the pre-deployment training for Marines heading into combat. I imagine most of those marines initially thought similarly to what you’re saying: “Wait a minute—I’m just going to sit here and notice stuff?? I’m heading to war, I don’t have time for this.” What’s interesting is that when interviewed and tested later, most marines reported finding the mindfulness practice really valuable. And what’s perhaps even more interesting, they showed increases in working memory—something that’s really useful when you are making life-and-death decisions under fire. And that’s just one study.
There is a huge amount of research showing that people who participate in mindfulness training are more resilient in the face of chronic stress. And stress is something we are all familiar with. It’s a huge contributor to physical illness, weight gain, emotional and psychological problems…the list goes on.
I’m of the belief that even if we’re not soldiers in active combat, the stress of our fast-paced culture wears away on us. To cope with the daily onslaught of demanding work schedules, kids’ soccer games, financial headaches, and all the rest, we spend most of our lives thinking, thinking, thinking about the past or the future, thinking about what we need to do next, or what we should have done better. This is exhausting, and it distracts us from what’s actually happening in each moment of our lives. We end up in a kind of autopilot mode, and as you might expect, our ability to function in the present suffers. This is ironic since all that thinking is usually designed to help make us better people. Yet, when we step back and look at the whole picture, we can see that we are continually short-changing ourselves, our work, and those we love when we aren’t actually present in the moment-by-moment reality of our lives.
3. You know as a fitness expert, I’m always asked about nutrition. I can give my clients the best workout plan in the world, but if they’re not giving their bodies the right fuel, they’re not going to see the results they’re looking for. I’ve heard mindfulness is helpful in the area of food and eating. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Absolutely. It comes back to this idea of autopilot. Everyone can remember a time when they were planning to drive one place and suddenly realized that, out of habit, they drove somewhere else entirely. Leading our lives on autopilot keeps us from moving toward what’s most important to us because we’re not actually driving the car. How does this relate to eating? 3 ways:
1.When we eat while we’re watching tv, driving between appointments, or catching up on work at the computer, we’re not paying attention to the signals our body is sending us. One important set of signals is satiation cues—the messages that your body gives you that you’re full and don’t need any more food. In the United States, we tend to use external cues rather that internal ones to tell us when to stop eating. We eat until the plate is empty or until the bag of chips is gone. Mindfulness helps to reconnect us to the natural signals that tell us what our bodies need and how much.
2.We tend to eat for reasons other than hunger. For many of us leading busy lives, we decided at some point that we just don’t have time to feel our feelings. So if we begin to feel the edge of an unpleasant feeling—say loneliness or boredom—we do something to try to get rid of the feeling. For many of us, we turn to food. Unfortunately, when we are reaching for food as a way of changing the way that we feel, we are more likely to reach for high-sugar/high-fat foods because these foods release opioids and dopamine in the brain. If those brain chemicals sound familiar, it’s because they are the same ones that are released during use of highly addictive drugs. And the addictive cycle we become trapped in with food is just as powerful and can be just as destructive to our health. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of the emotions we are feeling so that we can respond appropriately.
3.Most of us don’t really taste our food. Have you ever been eating a favorite snack—something you’d been really looking forward to—and then suddenly “wake up” and realize that it’s almost gone and you’ve been thinking about something else the whole time? Mindfulness trains us in savoring our food. Mindful eaters tend to eat slower, eat smaller portions, and enjoy their food more. Sounds pretty good, right?
That does sound good. Thanks for spending this time with me today. Before you leave, I’d like to ask you what my readers can do if they want to learn more about mindful eating?
Well there’s certainly a wealth of information out there, which a quick Google search will show. Two authors I like on this subject of mindful eating are Jan Chozen Bays and Susan Albers. But we should also tell your readers that you and I have been in conversation about a Mindful Eating Workshop here at the FVT Studio. The workshop would be a chance to come and actually get hands-on training in mindful eating, and to ask any questions they might have.
Yes, I think that would be a really exciting opportunity for my clients. I’m looking forward to hammering out the details with you. Thanks for coming to talk with me.
Thanks for having me Forest. I’m looking forward to talking with you and your readers more about this in the future.