One of the things that sets us apart at Alchemist Eating is our embrace of mindfulness as an important part of seeing, understanding and shifting eating and lifestyle patterns.
We help people strengthen their “mindfulness muscle” rather than just handing them a set of food rules.
The reason? The powerful impact mindfulness has on treatment outcomes—not “just” in reaching health and eating goals…but also in sustaining results over the long term.
This in *mind* (sigh), we’re excited to introduce Dr. Agustin (Gus) Castellanos, a retired neurologist who now works as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction coach.
Dr. Castellanos teaches at various medical facilities throughout South Florida and is involved in research at the Mindfulness Based Attention Training program at the University of Miami Neuroscience Lab. Learn about his classes and sign up for his newsletter here.
Today, he answers our questions about mindfulness, addiction, cravings and the holidays…
Can mindfulness really help people eliminate cravings and addictions? Or change stubborn habits and patterns?
The short answer is Yes. And research supports this.
But, in reality, mindfulness does not directly eliminate cravings and addictions. What it can do is allow one to relate to the cravings, urges, and impulses differently. By doing so over time, with practice, there is an increase in self- and impulse-control.
Mindfulness, which we define as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” can be wedged between a stimulus (craving) and response (using, eating, etc.). This creates space to choose other, healthier responses, instead of reacting habitually.
This practice is associated with changes in the brain (through neuroplasticity), which will stop reinforcing the habitual tendencies to use, eat, or otherwise do something about the craving.
In other words, the habits become less practiced and less reinforced…and cravings tend to abate.
Whether this eliminates cravings or addiction altogether will depend on many other factors, but in my experience, not completely. Hence the need to continue to practice mindfulness and other useful activities if one is an addict or alcoholic.
What does “mindfulness” look like anyway? Could you share a simple practice people can try—if they’re craving ice-cream and pizza, for instance?
Mindfulness is about awareness—an awareness that arises from paying attention in the present moment non-judgmentally, in an open, receptive, non-reactive way. And to be gentle, friendly and compassionate with oneself regardless of what “happens.”
A simple exercise is to pause and bring your attention to the body, noticing where the body is making contact with the chair or floor.
Just notice the sensation of contact, touch, weight of the body. When your attention wanders or gets distracted—which it will—gently and firmly bring it back to the body, sitting or standing, making contact with the chair or floor.
Doing this for a few minutes each day can begin to bring benefits and change the brain.
But of course, the stronger the habit, craving or addiction, the greater the need for longer practice.
Is it wise to start this mindfulness stuff over the holidays? So many temptations… Is this time of year a lost cause?
We say now is the best time to start mindfulness! It’s portable, always available, and requires no equipment or facility.
It can and should be started and continued through times that are full of temptations, distractions and triggers.
Want help training your “mindfulness muscle,” working with cravings and changing your eating patterns? Go here to check out our programs.
For extra support in your inbox, you can also sign up for our free newsletter.
We’ll send you our Guide to Overcoming Sugar Addiction with subscription. (It includes more of this “mindfulness stuff”…plus practical tips to satisfy your “thinking, doing brain.”) Go here to learn more and sign up.