Raise your hand if you think about food too much, if you get stressed over deciding what to eat, or if you feel like you can’t eat certain foods you love to eat. That has definitely been me, and in the past couple months or so, I have been using my mindfulness practice to change that.
Part of recognizing my unhealthy relationship with food comes from talking it out with a trusted friend. The other part comes from a desire to help others and to teach others. I like to call it walking my talk.
We all should, by now, recognize the role media has played in our relationship with food. From depicting the “perfect” body in advertisements to fat shaming in movies (remember Bridget Jones Diary?), we have been bombarded with images of how we’re supposed to look. Thankfully that seems to be changing some as companies are beginning to see the benefits of marketing to a wide-range of body types.
Disclaimer: The topics of body image and eating disorders are very deep and ones that I’m not qualified to address. If you feel either of those disorders apply to you, I urge you get professional help.
I understand healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and my mindfulness practice helped me get there. Admittedly, I held biases, albeit unconscious biases, against fat people and mindfulness allowed me to recognize that. When we practice mindfulness, we put judgments aside.
My hope for each one of you is that you experience the greatest health possible no matter your weight. That can be difficult, given the mixed messages we get from the medical community. Is meat healthy or unhealthy? Are eggs the perfect food or will they make your cholesterol skyrocket? What about dairy? Is butter good or bad? How about other oils like canola, olive and coconut? How much protein do you really need and are carbs the enemy? Whew, it’s enough to make your head spin!
In my quest to get off the diet rollercoaster for good, I recently made two simple changes that I find has been helpful: I put away my scale and I cancelled my WW subscription. I feel good at my present weight and, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I have a closet too full of clothes and a commitment to not buying anything else during 2022, so I also want to be able to fit in what I have. I just want to be sure my focus is on feeling my best self, and I don’t think that the scale allows that.
Now, on to mindful eating. There’s recently been a new movement called “intuitive eating.” I prefer the term mindful eating – I believe our habits can disguise themselves as intuition, thinking we’re hungry when we’re not – so I’m going to stick to that term. That said, a part of mindful eating means being able to tune in to your body’s signals of hunger. It means creating new habits that will take the place of old ones. It means selecting foods that both feed your body what it needs and are enjoyable. After all, your body is an amazing machine that tells you when, what and how much to eat, if you only listen.
This can be a challenging process. In our evolutionary history, our bodies told us to eat when there was food, because the next time may be days off. Not only that, but you may have a lifetime of creating habits around food, from the time you were a child. If you’re sad, or bored, or anxious or otherwise emotional, your first impulse may have always been to reach for food.
But remember, that’s something that you were taught. You were born with an innate sense of what your body needs. So it may be hard to break those patterns that are so ingrained in us, not impossible. Mindfulness is just a way of being that helps you notice and relate differently to your eating habits. It can help you, give you tools, to recognize and cope with physical sensations, emotions and automatic behaviors. Mindful eating is about using compassionate awareness to develop a balanced relationship with food.
With mindful eating you learn how to:
- Read your physical cues of hunger and fullness
- Recognize cravings
- Eat intentionally
- Slow down and be present while eating
- Distinguish between actual hunger and non-hunger triggers for eating
- Savor, engage all your senses, and otherwise enjoy your food
- Learn about eating distractions
- Learn to identify and shift feeling of guilt and anxiety around food, to a place of ease
- Notice the effects food has on how you feel physically and emotionally
- Appreciate your food and everything that went in to bringing it to your table
- Connect food with enjoyment, as well as fuel for your body
- Eat to maintain long term well-being
Mindful eating, like all mindful practices, helps you to replace automatic thoughts and reactions about food and eating with more conscious choices. Rather than being restrictive, mindful eating allows us to reconnect with eating instinctively without over eating. That means you get to enjoy your food again. And eat the chocolate!
If you think this is something you want to dig into more deeply, join me for an in-depth workshop on Mindful Eating. This workshop will take place over two Saturdays, January 22 and 29 at Metta Yosemite. For more information click here.