Mindfulness means many things to many people, but at its essence it’s a crucial package of concepts like self-awareness, quiet observation, and in most cases positive, reassuring (or at the very least judgment-free) self-talk, where you notice and observe things dispassionately and coach yourself through your approach in the present moment to handle those things without becoming easily stressed-out by them. At its very core is the concept of being in the present moment. You can’t spend every moment hindered by fear of making a bad decision. You can’t intentionally or subconsciously distract yourself (for example, eating while watching TV) without consequences. In this example, when you watch TV as you eat, you can’t focus on how good the food is, how much of it you’re eating, or whether you’re full. More often than not you will eat more than you intended, or won’t be given the chance to decide “hey, I’ve had enough of this.”
I haven’t specifically read any books myself on the topic, but check out this guy’s top 9 book recommendations, because I’m working my way through them and I’m certain based on his other recommendations that his “Mindfulness” recommendation is 100% solid!
For parents this is of crucial importance because your state of being “present” or not is observable to your children, even if they don’t seem to be consciously aware of it. You can’t enjoy your children as they grow and change if you’re constantly preoccupied by work. One day you will be old and will lament that you didn’t enjoy them at their sweetest and most innocent. You can’t go on a vacation to Disneyland that your kids have been looking forward to for two years and stress out the entire time about the work waiting for you when you get back, because that work exists no matter what, your family is more important no matter what, and the present moment with your family is absolutely the most important and pressing issue you should be attending to. You can’t complain and stress out because the lines are long. If you were mindful up-front, you hopefully took your trip at an off-peak time, and are using a paid, solid mobile device app to plan out which lines you’ll be standing in at which times. If not, if you “winged it,” that’s OK too, you are willing to accept the consequences and get up super-early because this is a rare opportunity and you want to make the best of it.
Because you are mindful, you can coach your kids when they complain about the lines and explain to them that Disneyland is incredibly busy because every child on Earth under a certain age who is aware that Disneyland exists dreams of going there. You can tell them how lucky they are simply to be in the atmosphere, and coach them on how to best enjoy the inevitably short time you’ll spend on each ride. If you find yourself distracted by emails or facebook while standing in line and your kids aren’t sticking their face in a mobile device, they will be aware that you’re not with them in the present moment — you’re stuck worrying about the future or past or someone else’s life, and it’s injurious to your entire experience right here, today, in the present moment, where you could literally drop dead for any number of reasons while distracted with a future that isn’t going anywhere and will be waiting for you when it becomes the present moment.
With practice you begin to realize that this isn’t a bunch of mumbo-jumbo that only works for new-age hippies and suburban bloggers, but is actually an invaluable tool that gets sharper the more you use it! I’ve never truly practiced mindfulness meditation, but once I learned what mindfulness is, I realized that the most challenging projects and tasks I’ve tackled in life involved a constant battery of self-talk. When you notice what’s going through your mind, and have something critical to focus on, you can crowd out all of the noise and distraction by talking to yourself, internally or externally. “OK, I need to fill out this tax form. I’m going to the Tax-Act website. I’m creating an account. That’s fine, that’s how it goes.” Meanwhile your mind may want to drift to all of the things you could be doing right now.
You tell yourself “the sooner I focus on this task and get through it, the sooner I can enjoy those other activities. I am an adult and this is what I need to do right now.” With time you realize that counterproductive thoughts and moods are just like passing weather, and the more you fret about them, the stronger they get. Sometimes you have to listen to those thoughts when they become unmanageable, and sometimes you need to simply observe that it’s normal to have distracting thoughts, and that the best way to get past them is to drown them out with positive thoughts and affirmations of what it is you intend to do right now, in the present moment. And all things considered, you might decide “you know what, I’m truly not in the mood to get my taxes done right now. There are more pressing issues to attend to. I can’t focus on the task at hand and I have another week to complete it. I’m not intentionally procrastinating, I feel bad that I haven’t spent any time with my children this week and I’m going to change that bad feeling by doing something about it, right now, in the present moment. I will make a calendar appointment for tomorrow at 7PM to accomplish this task, but hey, at least I created an account on the website.”
You can’t live in the past, terrified of previous experiences, or in the future, terrified of what might happen, but you can certainly evaluate a situation in the present moment without blindly “playing a tape” of your past reactions, and still carefully consult your past self for advice, and ask yourself how this decision may affect your future self. Protecting the future self is something we all spend a lot of time fretting about, but we often don’t make the connection that the best way to do this is not to lament all of the things you do that seem to work against you, but to spend more time in the present moment being aware that you can make new choices and new decisions without mindlessly acting out. You can tell yourself that the advice that automatically pops into your head might not be applicable to the present moment, or that it’s worth taking a risk or trying something different this time. To me, mindfulness is basically “know thyself and observe what does and doesn’t work for you, notice the world around you, be kind to yourself and don’t spend time needlessly attacking your character, try to always be aware of the present moment rather than constantly distracting yourself, and accept the things you absolutely cannot change.” It gets far more involved if you choose to dig deeper and it’s absolutely worth delving into.
It’s absolutely key to me for solving hard problems (I literally talk out loud if nobody’s around to get annoyed) and dealing with challenges like food cravings. When it’s late at night and you want to binge eat and attack whatever food is in your fridge (sometimes I’ll wake up at 3AM with this urge!), mindfulness is the friend that helps you decide — “how hungry am I? What sort of choices should I make? Did I engage in weight training or other demanding activities today which may require nourishment to properly feed myself? Is this an impulse out of habit, or a genuine need to top off my body? Which foods are going to feed me and nourish me, and which foods are going to exacerbate the binge that I’m embarking on? Will I be able to sleep if I don’t eat something? Is it a good idea to ignore this craving?”
If you worked out that day and really put your muscles to work, even if you had some adequate post-workout nutrition there’s a good chance you’ll benefit from something simple like string cheese — a very lean source of casein, which happens to have some remarkable benefits specifically when eaten at night. But personally, I do eat pretty late at night whether or not I worked out. Just about every single night unless I’m making a “hard push” to burn some fat, but I’m sufficiently active at this point in my journey (about 11 months in) that I can literally eat every single night at 12-3AM and will still continue to slowly lose fat. I am mindful that I won’t see any movement on the scale if I eat a bunch of my kids’ goldfish crackers. I’m also mindful that movement on the scale ebbs and flows, up and down, with a normal existence not spent obsessing about food. I am mindful that my weight can swing upwards by up to five pounds in a week (typically over the weekend) if I choose to do things like drink beer and eat pizza over the weekend. I am mindful that I can make better choices most of the time and still continue to gradually lose weight. I am mindful that by gradually losing weight and increasing my physical activity, I am losing the right kind of weight: fat. And I am keeping the good kind of weight: muscle.
Back to the cheese! I recommend lean casein in the case where you exercised that day not because fat is bad (sharp cheddar is quite fatty and not a terrible choice), and sometimes fat is also what you need for the sense of satiety to truly knock yourself out, but hours after a workout, it’s really the protein you need most to encourage your body to build those muscles up, and the fat can be counterproductive simply for being “calories you don’t need.” But I won’t knock fat in principle and use lots and lots of olive oil and butter almost daily and I eat chicken thighs with the skin on 95% of the time and love every minute of it — I just choose to keep it out of my post-workout meals because it’s easier to quickly mobilize carbs and protein into your muscles with less fat-storage occurring if there isn’t a lot of fat in your stomach. I am mindful that there’s a time and a place for everything.
I like to start my midnight snacking with string cheese, personally, and I might easily eat two without guilt, among other things on many nights that I might be more guilty about, but I don’t feel bad when I’m mindful that I’m still seeing gradual results improving my lean body mass, losing the right kind of weight (fat!). I still see progress with weight loss, it’s just much slower now, which is also a good indicator that some lean bulking is happening. I keep two different types of string cheese around to keep things “interesting” — a jalepeño style, and a “twist” of fake cheddar and mozzarella which really just tastes like mozzarella entirely but is fun to untangle. I’ve accepted that I’m not a fan of calorie counting, and that when I get voraciously hungry, it’s because my body is genuinely hungry because I try to make good choices most of the day and am more likely to undershoot my calorie requirements if I decide to skip out on a late night snack. If I fight the late night snacking day by day, I’ll see more movement on the scale, but I’m not necessarily looking for the sort of movement that is visible on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis anymore.
I tend to plateau for weeks at a time in the gym and on the scale, and then suddenly see progress either on my average, day-to-day weight, or see muscle ridges in places I haven’t seen them before due to a body fat reduction that is visibly permanent (i.e. not triggered by activity or dehydration). I’m not aggressive about seeing my lifts go up all that fast, but I push myself a bit by a few pounds per lift at around the same rate that I see new progress being held permanently on the scale. I was looking for dramatic scale movement in the past, and it worked for me very early on for eight weeks while I still enjoy big cheat days, but I know it’s not sustainable to expect the scale to move downward nearly every day just because you were super-aggressive about losing weight that day. You don’t want to piss off your metabolism starving yourself all of the time, especially if you’re at the stage in your transformation where you’re lifting weights and focusing more on being fit and active and slowly “leaning out” rather than constantly burning loads of fat. It took me awhile to become mindful of all of these things about myself but I luckily ran into enough information this time around to avoid burning myself out.
Some people will say “you’re using mindfulness in these examples to procrastinate or justify eating food at night!” But I’ve already decided in my life that my family and our quality of life is more important than everything else and that everything else only takes precedence when it hinders my ability to care for myself and my ability to provide love and support to my family. I am continuing to get leaner and leaner regardless of my nighttime eating, and I totally enjoy the fact that I don’t religious track my food intake, and noticing that downshift into gradual progress and becoming mindful of the degree of control I had was a monumental shift in thinking. So in my situation, that “procrastination” is choosing to enjoy life at its fullest knowing I can deal with the consequences (doing my taxes the next day) and I know that nighttime snacking works for me, and is becoming increasingly popular as a “lean-out” strategy. I say “lean-out” because after your first few months of weight loss, your goal should no longer be “lose weight” but “increase activity and slowly gain muscle mass while slowing losing fat.” “Leaner” is a manageable goal that you can strive towards for many months, through the cold of winter, year-by-year, once you’ve gone through your initial weight-loss-for-the-sake-of-weight-loss phase and decided to face the real challenge, not gaining weight back and keeping your muscle mass.
I began the first several months of my journey with the help of juicing, which brings me to the topic of “meta-mindfulness.” Many people call it “green juicing” because greens tend to be involved, but one thing I was mindful of was that after drinking a good 12-16 ounces of juice, my food cravings subsided dramatically. When restricting calories early in the morning, rather than true intermittent fasting during the first month, I’d attack the juice immediately, and maybe throw down a protein shake an hour later. Most days I had two real and sensible meals, but some days, perhaps once a week, I’d juice and consume different types of protein shakes (vegetable or whey/casein based) for two meals a day. Every other day or so I’d make a new batch of juice, and have continued to enjoy many benefits of juicing to this day. But because I’m mindful of my activity level and the requirements of my muscles, most nights I still indulge in string cheese, like clockwork. Or leftover chicken. Or lunch meat. I eat plenty of other things I’m not proud of, but I still maintain my weight loss and muscle mass due to my activity level.
But when I truly want to burn fat in a significant way, I’ve found that at night when cravings strike, the juice will satisfy me if I don’t putz around for hours and I’ll simply drink a sufficient amount of juice and then water in order to feel full. I am meta-mindful of the fact that when I’m really eating crappy or carb-heavy food night after night, and can’t stay out of the goldfish crackers or chips, it’s time to get more consistent about consuming juice because I’m convinced it satisfies something deep in me that otherwise wants to pursue empty calories, and I can make the best bang-for-your-buck juice with the lowest amount of sugar by doing it myself.
I suspect it’s because the juice is so chock-full of micronutrients and phytochemicals that it “hyper-nourishes” my body and kills hunger. Juice fasting for as long as 30-60 days is a common rapid-weight-loss approach, but I never took it that far, and never really juice-fasted for an entire day. I used and still use juice as a tool, and as a reassuring companion that tells me “you just consumed a ton of goodness.” I realize that fiber is important and that eating vegetables is better in many ways than juicing them, but it’s a powerful shortcut and it absolutely slaughters my desire to eat late at night.
And guess what, indulging in pure carbohydrates (like the fructose in juice) so long as you don’t pile a bunch of fat isn’t as bad at night as it’s been presented in the past and nighttime is the best time of day to take them in. That doesn’t mean “eat whatever carbs you want all night long” but I will say from experience that during my rapid weight loss phase, I consumed plenty of juice every night. The amount of carbs from fructose in fresh juice is a red herring, so long as your juice is mostly vegetable-based. It’s so insanely nutrient-dense and good for you that within reason, you can completely ignore the carbs in your juice when consuming it as a nighttime appetite-killer.
Exactly what kind of “juice” are we talking about? This recipe makes about 3 servings. Everything here is scrubbed but the skin is left intact while juicing and I use almost 100% organic produce to ensure the skin isn’t contaminated with pesticides including xeno-estrogens (which are neither beneficial to men or the clear majority of women — anyone who needs extra estrogen after menopause, for example, should be getting it intentionally a specific dosage).
- 2 beets (I’m a total true-believer about the benefits of beets — keep the greens and sautee them with garlic and olive oil!)
- 2-3 tomatoes
- 2 huge carrots, or 4-6 smaller ones
- 1 Apple (I often skip it if I don’t have them around)
- As much celery as you can tolerate (for many reasons), perhaps half a pound
- 1 thumb-size knob of ginger
- 1 lemon or lime
- A good size handful of cilantro, parsley, or basil if you can stand it
- 1 Cucumber (not essential, adds a lot of volume and freshness to the taste)
- Not essential if you’re eating this in cooked form, which is superior, but: 1 bunch of washed spinach or kale, or a couple handfuls from a pre-washed bag
- Whatever random fruit you want to put in, but your combined fruit shouldn’t add up to more “volume” in the mix than your tomatoes. Fruit is much more satisfying and nourishing when you eat it whole, and I don’t recommend getting most of your greens through juicing (best to sautee them with butter, garlic, salt and pepper), but I like them in the juice in moderation to balance out the acidity of the lemon or lime.
I put this into glass Ball jars and squirt maybe 1-3 teaspoons of MCT Oil in each one to increase micronutrient absorption from the juice and for its thermogenic effect. Then I drink one right away, ask myself why I put it into a jar instead of a glass, and then drink water from that glass for awhile to feel better about getting it dirty.
I arrived at this formula with the help of resources like Fit-Juice.com and I use a $100 Jack LaLanne model my wife received over a decade ago as a gift. There are much better juicers now for close to the same price and up, and I recommend checking out Breville, but my LaLanne keeps going strong. I did have to use a strong CLR solution to de-scale (dissolve minerals from) the shredding blade after several months of accumulated minerals — these veggies are loaded with essential minerals like zinc, calcium, and magnesium, and they will accumulate on the shredding blade even if you clean it promptly.
Yes, drinking this took some getting used to, but it’s been a crucial ally on this journey and I love it now and make increasingly “aggressive” cocktails. As I write this, I’m drinking that exact formula, minus the apple, with “volcano” garlic cloves — spicy, sweet, raw-ass garlic. The little tiny cloves that are a pain in the ass to cook with? In the juice they go.
So I’m rambling on at this point and it’s time to wrap it up and back to mindfulness — the juice is a tool that I am mindful of, and I use it to control appetite and nourish my body, and sometimes as a pre- or post-workout supplement. I’m also mindful that it’s best to get most of your fruits and vegetables in whole form, and don’t consistently juice tons of produce as often as I used to. I definitely broke the habit of using nice fruits like pitted cherries and blueberries early on, because it’s not efficient and with sweeter things, it’s much more beneficial to consume them whole with their accompanying fiber. I am mindful now that many vegetables are better for you when cooked, and others are better raw. I try to eat a significant amount of vegetables in two meals a day, what would amount to three servings with each meal based on this definition. That doesn’t always happen, but juice is far better than nothing, and I’ve seen it work in too many capacities to deny its power. I could go on and on about the benefits of its various components but that’s a topic for another day.
I use all of this knowledge about the power of produce in all of its forms to add dimension, satisfaction, and a feeling of true depth to my dietary choices. Literally within the past week I developed an appreciation for onions (cooked thoroughly!) that I never had before. I couldn’t stand shallots at all, and then found myself using them in a stir-fry last night with garlic, chile peppers, ginger, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms, and it was an amazing combination. I truly believe that juicing works especially well at the beginning, when making your transition into actually trying to enjoy eating a lot of vegetables and fruit each day. Part of the transformation process is realizing that while you need to eat less terrible food and that negation-based process is important, your more important goal is positive and affirmative. Your affirmative goal is to eat a lot of good food and learn to appreciate it as your “default” especially to help crowd out your opportunities and reasons for eating sub-optimal foods, and to use vegetables as a major component in your meals for the specific purpose of satisfying you much longer after the meal. To me I would suggest to myself mindfully, even if it’s not something that can be falsified or proven scientifically, but I believe that deep down your body “knows” just how awesome your diet has become with each good meal you put into it, and has been putting “non-essential” functions on the back burner during your long stretches of processed food in the past.
Your body has all sorts of ambitious plans to use up the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and countless other micronutrients absorbed from the juice to fight off the effects of aging through oxidative stress, feed your most fundamental energy level within your cellular mitochondria, make an abundance of the proper proportion of metabolic-regulating hormones, sex hormones, and stress-response hormones (even cortisol), and more. A reasonable amount of cortisol is necessary in everyone and your knee and hip joints will grind to dust and your skin will peel off and die without it; you just need a good balance of the other hormones and in a typical western diet situation, we have an abundance of cortisol but a deficiency or imblance in the rest. Because I’ve finally developed a healthy relationship with fruits and vegetables, because I enjoyed so much success with juicing early on, in the summer of 2015 while trying to rapidly shed my first 40 pounds which I’ll never forget, because I found that it partially revitalized me during the winter when my energy level would slump and kept me going to the gym, because I learned to enjoy the washing, chopping, and juicing while listening to audiobooks or podcasts, I’ve internalized the idea of “you must eat lots of produce for quality of life” in a way that never resonated before, no matter how many testimonials and late-night informercials I saw crowing about how “losing weight means eating more! More of the right foods!” I had to experience it firsthand.
I recommend becoming mindful of the power of vegetables, the power of eating a wide diversity of them, and the power of telling yourself no matter how veggie-averse you’ve been up to this point (guilty as charged) you will absolutely enjoy a better quality of life and will align yourself with my path to success if you slowly change your mind when it protests and complains about how complicated and obnoxious vegetables are.
You must slowly introduce yourself to more and more vegetables, and pleasant ways to prepare them, and use mindfulness to convince your most fundamental functioning adult self to consume them, and you will almost always prepare them with something like olive oil, or drizzle it over steamed vegetables, and season them with at least salt and pepper or lemon pepper or what have you, to make them appealing and to ensure you absorb every bit of goodness you can. If you’ve struggled with weight loss for your whole life, get used to the idea that you want to train yourself to look forward to eating half a bunch of asparagus with dinner if that doesn’t sound good right now. Asparagus is cemented into my life at this point and I literally have the sort of association with it where it almost forces me to go to the gym after dinner. I chose to make that a habit somehow, almost unconsciously, and if I forget this habit, I will experience “Asparagus Pee” at home and suddenly I’m off to the gym. “Eww, gross, stinky pee.” So what, get over it, life is short and we’re all going to die one day. Eat your damned asparagus. Seems weird to have that sort of cause-effect relationship — smell pee, go to gym, but it’s like magic at this point, and that’s just a total tangent that I’m throwing in because at some point I became mindful of the fact that asparagus made me feel so good that it made me want to go and put my body to use in the gym two hours later.
I will cover the universe of vegetables and their preparation much more on the blog. If you have children, you definitely want them to get used to the idea that nearly every single home-cooked breakfast (fruit), lunch (veg and fruit) and dinner (veg) involves healthy produce that varies from meal to meal but perhaps not all that much from week to week, because consistency leads to simplicity and mastery of the preparations you enjoy most. Find your favorites that are nutrient-dense and rotate them through the week — your family will thank you for generations if they pick up and continue this simple habit. My go-to-veggies for big filling side dishes are spinach / kale / beet greens / chard (once a day at breakfast or lunch if I can help it), broccoli (once or twice a week), asparagus (2-3 times a week) and I mix it up a bit with brussels sprouts, cooked carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and salads that typically involve the same sort of produce I might otherwise juice. I cook with seemingly outrageous amounts of garlic when preparing something like a dish of greens. Plenty of other vegetables come and go, but those are the ones I rely on most. Many of those foods are incredibly nutrient dense and have been selected for that reason in addition to the fact that I’ve come to enjoy them. Most of them would seem intimidating to me years ago, especially cramming it so often into the meals I make, or the meals I eat out. Juice helps me fill the gap when I eat junk most of the day and just want a kick-start towards a healthier day.
I struggled with eating veggies (and fruit, but moreso veggies) every day as a consistent mindful choice for most of my adult life but now I will be forever mindful that they’ve been a massive part of my success for the past 11 months. More to come.