Mindfulness training: what happens in our brains

This is a link to a wonderful Lecture by Dr. Norman Farb, Associate Professor at University of Toronto, Canada.

It shows that mindfulness is not just a buzz word but it has anyone who uses mindfulness in their clinical would benefit from watching this.


What is ‘mindful eating’?

If you struggle to remember what you’ve eaten over the course of a day or feel guilty for overeating, you’re certainly not alone. Adopting some ‘mindful eating’ practices might help you change your food habits for the better.

Mindfulness is a way to raise self-awareness, and mindful eating follows the same principle. “It is about training ourselves to eat with attention and intention,” says Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi, a chartered clinical psychologist and mindful eating trainer.

‘Mindless’ eating

Most of us pay little attention to what we’re doing when we eat, says Dr Pezzolesi. “Mindless eating would be eating while doing other things such as checking your phone or sitting in front of the computer,” she says. “It is eating when you’re thinking about something else so you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing. Or you’re not connecting with your body, and it means that when you’re full you do not stop – or you eat when you’re not hungry.” Dr Pezzolesi says that many of us eat out of habit, but by paying more attention we can listen to what we actually need.

How do you eat mindfully?

  1. Remove distractions
    Turn off the TV, put away your phone and don’t eat in front of the computer. Really pay attention to what you are doing. “It’s about connecting all your senses when you’re eating so that give it your full attention,” she says. “So how does the body respond to what you’re eating – how does the food make you feel?”
  2. Take time to connect with your body
    “Feel your feet on the floor and your bum on the chair,” says Dr Pezzolesi. “Use your senses to be aware of the food you’re eating.” She recommends that we smell our food, taste it, feel the textures and listen to its sounds as we eat so that we really connect with it.
  3. Think about how full you are
    And stop when you are no longer hungry or enjoying the meal. This ability to self-regulate is a vital part of mindful eating. Dr Pezzolesi says, “It’s about paying attention to the self-regulation mechanisms of the body such as satiety, hunger and fullness.”
  4. Notice how you feel after eating
    Have you got stomach ache? Are you too full? Or do you feel great? What’s happening in your body can help to inform your future eating choices.

Is this mindful eating simply a new diet?

Absolutely not, says Dr Pezzolesi. “Diets don’t work because they’re based on motivation. When we’re under stress, motivation is lost and diets usually fail after two to four weeks. Mindful eating is more sustainable because you learn to eat what feels good for you.” Weight loss can be a consequence of mindful eating however, she says – by learning how to self-regulate, you should eventually reach your optimum weight.

What if I’m at a party and I overeat?

An important part of mindful eating is to become more self-compassionate, says Dr Pezzolesi. “We make around 200 food choices a day around food, so even if we make a wrong choice, we can make a right one afterwards. This is part of being self-compassionate.” She explains when we experience disappointment or guilt as a result of our food choices, it’s important to say ‘I am doing the best I can’ rather than beating ourselves up about it. “Most people I work with are emotional eaters. They eat out of being stressed or being upset and so on. This is very normal, but for those people, eating is usually the only coping mechanism that they have, so I work with them to explore how we can express and experience emotions in other ways rather than only using food.” By taking away the guilt, we are less likely to go into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and overeating, she explains.


Mindful movement: walking your way to a better state of mind

This is an article that featured in the Telegraph newspaper website about mindfulness which quotes my views on the subject. Below is a replication of the article as it appears in the Telegraph website.

It’s no great revelation that a stroll beside a gently gurgling river or through a light-dappled forest is a great way to clear your head and to feel at peace with the world. But a new study has shown that remaining mindful while walking and moving throughout the day increases the positive effect on your mental wellbeing.

Mindfulness, which means retaining an awareness of your breathing, physical sensations and surroundings, has become a prominent method of boosting psychological health in recent years but many people think of it as a solitary activity practiced in a quiet location. The new research shows that to be a myth.

The research, carried out by Chih-Hsiang Yang at Penn State university in the US, tracked participants’ mental states as they went about their days. It found that they reported lower levels of stress when they were up and moving around, and this fell further when the exercise was combined with being mindful.

“When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have [a] extra decrease in negative affect,” Yang said. “Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified affect.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi, clinical director of The Mindfulness Project, says that integrating the mind and body can be a powerful approach to improving one’s state of mind: “Whenever we are able to connect with physical sensations in the body we activate the part of the nervous system that counteracts the fight or flight response; so it calms us down,” she says. “Some people calm down just connecting with the breath but for some others that’s hard to do when a strong emotion is present. There’s a neurological element because walking can release the adrenaline and cortisone – the hormones that maintain our stress response. And for some people it’s simply much easier to connect with a physical sensation than with other mindful practices where you connect with your breath or emotional state.”

You can always find time to mindful walkDr Cinzia Pezzolesi
One good thing about mindful movement is how easy it is to make it part of your daily life, she says.

“You can always find time to mindful walk, so it can easily be integrated into your routine – when we commute, or even when we’re in our offices and we walk from one room to another.”

Just going for a stroll at lunchtime might not be enough, she adds. It’s best to approach it the right way.

“Sometimes people naturally go for a walk when they’re stressed, but what happens is they take their thoughts for a walk. What we want to do when we go for a mindful walk is to focus on the walking, on the physical sensations that you feel when you place your feet on the floor. So you anchor your attention on the lower part of your body and the first thing you notice is your stance and your shift of balance. Then you place your foot on the ground and you feel the sensation of the sole of your foot on the floor. The mind will wander because that naturally happens every 14-16 seconds, but you notice where it goes and you bring it back to your feet. And you disengage with what you don’t need – which could be your thoughts. Whenever we focus on one thing only we give our minds a bit of a break.”

We need to switch off from worrying about the past or the future and live in the here and now, she says.

“People come to mindfulness for different reasons – perhaps they are overthinking things or they are simply not present. The issue with that is that you miss out on your life – maybe you have an important call and then you go home and you want to be with your friends or kids and your mind is still stuck. That limits our ability to enjoy the present. Mindfulness allows you to enjoy the present rather than being stuck in the past or the future.”

Mindful walks are becoming a popular method of experiencing the technique. A number of mindfulness practices organise guided walks, often in the countryside or city parks.
Debbie Johnson, a teacher with Being Mindful, points out that you can experience mindful movement just as well in an urban setting as a rural one. “The myth is that in order to practise mindfulness you need to be in a beautiful setting and a lot of media have people dressed in white looking out at the sea,” she says. “Obviously that’s more peaceful than being on Oxford Street with lots of traffic but mindfulness is being aware of whatever state your mind is in. So you don’t need to be all woo-woo and zen. It’s just about being aware of what’s happening.”


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