My Mindful Weight Loss Journey
Five years and 100 pounds later…how can that be? That’s what ran through my brain when I was approached about writing this article.
It was January 2012, and I had just spent a very long weekend of sitting through my first class towards my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health and Counseling. On Sunday afternoon at 4:30, the instructor set a candle in the middle of the room and asked 32 of us to stare at the candle for 20 minutes. I had lists to make, groceries to pick up, and a to do list that wouldn’t quit…I refused to stare at that candle!! I chose instead to obsess over all the things I had to do before I could start my work week! That was my first introduction to mindfulness!
Eight months later, I was stressed and anxious with work, school was demanding, my aging and ill father-in-law had moved in with us, and I was mindlessly getting through the days. Worst of all, the weight I had always struggled with, was now registering well over 350lbs and closing in on 400. It was time to make some changes in my life! So, the dieting began.
A national weight loss food delivery program was going to be my answer…I was certain of it! I recall the 4th day on the meal plan. I had eaten everything I was allotted for the day by 3:30 in the afternoon. By 10:00 that night, I was starved and very emotional. I remember lying in bed that night with tears in my eyes and hunger pains gnawing in my belly. Thinking back on that night, I realize that even though I was months away from embracing mindfulness or starting a meditation practice, it was the first time I was truly present for a very long time…my hunger was holding my attention.
After that night, I went on to lose about 35 or so pounds over 6 months and then I hit a plateau. The food was not satisfying at all. I was starting to “sneak” food not on the plan and the weight was creeping back on. So, I decided to join a weight loss support group. I felt motivated and inspired when the meetings occurred, but found myself “cheating” until Sunday morning and then fasting until Wednesday night weigh in just to see the scales move…even 2 ounces was a loss, right?! All I could focus on was the size I wanted to be and the number that was on the scale.
As this weight loss journey was unfolding, I was going through a life altering series of events that would shake everything I knew about life. Not only would my work, school and life balance be upside down, but my anxiety and some amount of depression would have a total grip on my life. The more stress I had, the more I ate and the worse I ate. It was a never-ending cycle of the scales going up and then down…up and then down. The more I ate, the more I threw myself into work and an intense internship working with families of at-risk juvenile offenders. It was the excuse and justification as to why I had to get fast food because I “didn’t have time”. In reality, I was drowning my problems and numbing myself with food—essentially, I was addicted to food instead of alcohol or heroin.
I was introduced to breathing exercises to help with my anxiety. The therapist I saw at the time, didn’t call it mindfulness or talk about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), she simply taught me to breathe. This was the beginning of what has changed my life. Once I learned and embraced breathing, I no longer stood at the snack cupboard and ate a half a bag of Oreos in 5 minutes flat in response to a stressor. I learned to utilize my breath to reduce stress, anger, anxiety, sadness and instead of yelling at people or eating that half bag of Oreos. I went on to learn to eat mindfully by being present while eating versus sitting at the table and watching T.V. or scrolling through Facebook or even carrying on a conversation with someone else. In the early days of learning, I would eat about half my plate, grab my phone and log my food consumption. This helped me to stop eating and to check in with whether I was hungry or not. Today, I no longer need that external tool, but I still continually check in with myself while eating.
The life altering events came and went, my family and I weathered them. Eventually, I was introduced to meditation. Learning to breath, reduce my anxiety, and stay mindfully in the present opened the door to learning to meditate and ultimately inspired me to leave a career in traditional therapy to opening a mindfulness and meditation studio. Because of my personal experiences, I have lost nearly 100 pounds with more to go, but what I have gained means infinitely more and my goal now is to show other people how mindfulness and meditation can help them make significant changes in their lives as well!
MJ Allen is here to help inspire both you and your practice. MJ holds a B.A. in Forensic Psychology, a M.S. in Clinical Mental Health and Counseling from Southern New Hampshire University and a Certificate in Meditation Instruction from the University of Holistic Theology. She is the owner of Presence of Mind Studio, offering in-person, donation only group meditation classes as well Mindful Live, a live stream mediation you can join from anywhere! For more information, visit: www.presenceofmindstudio.com.