THE BLOG
07/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secret First Step to Mindful Eating

Acceptance is one of the seven skills of a mindful eater. It sounds counterintuitive that accepting yourself just as you are is a necessary step to mindful eating and losing weight. If you have struggled with disordered eating or dieting, you know first hand the emotional tug-of-war that comes with accepting your natural body shape as it is. Too often, disliking your body or refusing to accept your size leads to repetitive fad dieting, self-hate and a harsh inner critic. You can easily get caught in punishing yourself by depriving yourself of food, wearing uncomfortable clothes, or you might rob yourself of good times because you are afraid to be in a bathing suit around friends. The path to mindful eating begins with looking at your situation threw a new lens.

So, what is acceptance? Acceptance is defined as experiencing a situation and having no intention of trying to change it. If acceptance is tough for you, you aren't alone; it's difficult for many people. You know what you want. However, when life doesn't match your expectations, it can be pretty disappointing, even painful. This is no surprise to anyone who has demanded that they fit into size six jeans when you've always been a size twelve.

Acceptance is a precursor to mindful eating because healthy, balanced eating comes from accurately recognizing your natural body shape and hunger. Only then can you adequately feed yourself in a healthy and balanced way. People who try fad dieting, for example, often have difficulty accepting that their body needs more calories than the diet allows. When they do accept their body's need for fuel, they learn how to mindfully meet their body's needs--feeding their stomach until they are satiated rather than stuffed. You may even find that you struggle with accepting your hunger in general. Many clients express to me their wish for their hunger to go away so they don't have to constantly deal with responding to it.

Let's be clear that when you accept a situation, you are sometimes are just OK with the way things are. You don't have to like it or agree with it, but you acknowledge and work with the situation as it is. Too often, people fight so hard against having a problem or stewing about the unfairness of it that they have trouble getting around to taking steps to doing something about it.

A situation where people learn a lot about acceptance is in a relationship or marriage. Inevitably, your partner is going to have some personality traits that drive you crazy, like leaving socks on the floor or watching sports obsessively. Unhappy spouses are often those who believe that they can change their partner--a recipe for disaster. It's ironic that you don't like when a parent or partner tries to change you, yet a picture of a supermodel or a new fad diet can seduce you into believing that there is a need to radically change your body. Healthy change and mindful eating come from encouraging yourself in a positive way rather than feeling not good enough or self-judgment.

The goal of self-acceptance is to learn how to say, "I am who I am" without trying to radically change yourself or body shape. Many therapists liken acceptance to the way someone might feel about his or her shoe size. You might think your feet are too big or too small, but you learn to work with the situation as it is because you can't change your shoe size. All you can do is accept that you are a size eight, work on taking care of your feet and dressing them up with nice shoes.

Here is an exercise from the new Eat, Drink & Be Mindful workbook to help you get started on acceptance.

Body Acceptance Affirmations

Working on self-acceptance isn't easy. After many years of dieting and disliking your body, your approach isn't going to magically change overnight. It takes practice. Hang the acceptance affirmations below on a bathroom mirror, on a door, or in another visible place. Read and reread them.

I accept that my eating and weight concerns are creating emotional distress, discomfort, and suffering in my life.

I choose to accept my body and weight as they are at this moment.

Committing to accepting myself is a choice only I can make.

I accept that body obsession clouds my awareness and thinking.

I accept that my genetic inheritance strongly influences my body shape and weight.

I accept how important it is for me to eat mindfully in order to live a healthy life.

To accept my body and weight does not mean that I am judging them to be perfect.

Acceptance only comes from within myself. I can't seek it from the outside.

I accept that my worth is not reflected in my weight and shape, but, rather, my worth is determined by who I am as a whole person.

Acceptance includes rejecting the cultural pressure to be perfect.