The Four A’s to Successful Change and Eating Mindfully

By Laura Dawn

Part of Mindful Eating For Dummies Cheat Sheet

What does it take to make long-lasting, effective change in the direction of a healthier, more mindful you? Four essential steps to changing habits are key — the four A’s to successful change.

Awareness

The first of the four A’s, awareness is an essential element in establishing an intentional change of habits. You can’t make change happen without first becoming aware of what it is you want to change! Mindfulness is an indispensable tool in helping to cultivate awareness around your relationship with food.

How can you become aware of your unawareness? Awareness is when you catch yourself doing something, like the moment that you snapped back into reality after you caught yourself daydreaming.

Catching yourself acting in a mindless way means that you have just brought awareness to the situation. Way to go! Awareness is the first step towards change. Falling into the trap of putting yourself down when you do something you’re not proud of or something you’re feeling bad about is easy. But remember; at least now you’re bringing awareness to the situation rather than letting your feelings continue to reside in the realm of the unconscious. Remind yourself that being aware is a very important and necessary step towards starting to eat more mindfully. This thought helps prevent you from feeling bad, which can trigger turning to more food to help you feel better, perpetuating an unhealthy eating cycle. Be patient with yourself, give yourself some credit and even congratulate yourself for shining the light of awareness on eating habits that are no longer serving you.

The path towards mindful eating takes time. Don’t expect to be 100 percent aware of everything you eat from now on — this expectation is not realistic. You’re sure to find yourself in many more mindless eating situations somewhere along the road. This behavior is normal and to be expected.

When you do notice yourself eating mindlessly, open up your mindful eating journal and ask yourself the following questions with a self-compassionate and non-judgmental attitude:

  1. Why did I just eat mindlessly?
  2. Can I think of a particular trigger that was involved?
  3. Can I remember what I was feeling while I was eating?
  4. Who else was involved? Was I alone or with other people?
  5. What time of day was it?
  6. Was I feeling tired, stressed or emotional beforehand?
  7. How can I go about the situation differently next time to help me to eat more mindfully?

Acceptance

Acceptance is the second of the four A’s. After you become aware of what you want to change, the next step is practicing acceptance. Acceptance is about acknowledging responsibility in a loving, self-compassionate way. It’s recognizing that you’ve been reinforcing a mindless habit for perhaps a very long time and accepting where you are in the present moment. Through acceptance you acknowledge that the habits you’ve been strengthening are not contributing to your happiness, and you consciously choose to make a change. This also means that if you want to make change happen, you need to accept what you have to do to make that change.

Acceptance is not resignation or giving up. It’s quite the opposite. Acceptance is an inherent part of mindfulness that allows you to recognize habitual patterns with kindness and become self-aware, allowing you to make new choices for yourself.

Alignment

Alignment, number three of the four A’s, kicks in after you’ve become aware of what you want to change and have fully accepted and embraced yourself and the situation in the present moment. You can then determine in which direction you’d rather be heading. Think of it as aligning your compass to match your desired destination.

In your mindful eating journal, consciously explore your vision of a healthy, mindful relationship with food. What does your mindful eating destination look like? What does it feel like for you to be eating more mindfully? Use as many feeling descriptors as possible. For example, ‘I feel at peace, calm, nourished, grounded, grateful,’ and so on.

Try to stay grounded, centered, and rooted in the present moment during this visioning process so that you’re not swept up by your thoughts of chasing or longing for a more desirable time in the future.

Action

When you’ve become aware, accepted, and aligned with your new direction, the fourth A comes into play; it’s time to take action to get there! Consider how committed you are to change and what specific actions you need to take to become a more mindful eater. You have to set goals, have realistic expectations and positive intentions.

In order to successfully implement change, you need to be willing to take all four steps. Many people struggle with or get stuck at one or two (or even all!) of these steps.

In your mindful eating journal, write down which of these four steps you think you may struggle with. Which ones do you think you need support with? Are you aware that you struggle with mindless eating in front of the TV, but need an action plan to help you change this habit to become more mindful? Are you having a hard time with number two, accepting that mindless eating is not benefiting you, but is actually causing you a lot of pain and suffering?