*I have some great contributions from health & wellness folks as part of this feature series for Well and the City; where they could share their own personal experiences in the health and wellness world. Below is Feature Part 4: from Deb who is currently in training for Integrative Nutrition and has contributed a piece about Mindfulness & Eating, a topic well deserving of such great information. Thank you Deb!
Food is many things: delicious, powerful, has the ability to cause and prevent disease, and can make us simultaneously feel in and out of control. It’s unfortunate that, for the most part, humans have cultivated such dysfunctional relationships with food. While there will always be struggles, approaching the act of eating with mindfulness in tow is the first step to successfully cultivating happy eating!
Incorporating mindful practices into your eating provides you with opportunities to learn, grow, and ultimately, love the way that you eat on a daily basis! Eating mindfully can help you find what truly works for you as an individual and encourage you to embrace a sustainable lifestyle. Finding a space that is yours through experimentation and creating awareness within this space is the key to mindful eating.
Mindfulness, in the context of eating, simply means: exposure and awareness. You expose yourself to uncomfortable foods and situations see what happens, then reflect on the process of eating and how it makes you feel. Your experiences with eating occur while you eat and after you eat, both short-term (energy, cravings, hunger throughout the day and week) and long-term (changes to your health, bloodwork, medical conditions). Eating mindfully means asking yourself the following, from both physical and emotional perspectives:
- How do I feel WHILE I’m eating? (Each food item, each meal)
- How do I feel IMMEDIATELY after I’m done eating?
- How do I feel for the rest of the day after eating?
- How do I feel LONG-TERM after eating specific foods?
- Is the way I’m eating SUSTAINABLE long term?
By asking these questions consistently, you allow yourself to obtain direct feedback through introspection, a process that is much more valuable in evaluating eating behaviors than approaches employing deprivation or guilt.
Here are six key ways to stay as connected as possible to your daily food consumption:
- Pay attention to your hunger, energy and craving levels throughout the day
- Ask: Am I actually hungry right now? Or, am I bored, irritated, annoyed, or doing something tedious? Do I want to distract myself with food?
- Observe and reflect upon the relationship between your eating and the patterns in your energy levels throughout the day. Create awareness through reflection!
- Reflect on your eating process
- Ask: Am I enjoying the PROCESS of eating? Do I have to eat lunch in ten minutes? How does this make me feel? How does this affect my opportunity to be mindful? Create awareness in the present moment!
- Eat when you are hungry; Stop eating when you feel full
- Don’t allow the clock to dictate when you eat. This may go against everything you have been taught: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” and “Lunchtime is at 12PM!” Perhaps these rules work with your lifestyle, but that’s up to you to decide.
- Outside of medical reasons that require you to time your meals, it’s important to teach yourself how to differentiate between actual hunger and the desire to eat. Observe the effects of eating on your body and let yourself feel hunger!
- Identify your “ideal” foods
- Identify key foods that taste good, make you feel great, and keep your energy and hunger levels in a good space throughout the day, then try to incorporate them daily. Keep them on hand for situations where you are out of your comfort zone or feel that you may go off routine. Use these foods to build sustainable habits.
- Expose yourself to your “triggers”
Many times, we think that avoiding certain “trouble” foods gives us control over our reaction them. For example, if you have a problem controlling your consumption of a particular food, you may not be inclined to keep it in the house. Exposure is initially uncomfortable, but allows you to reflect on why you have triggers in the first place, and to find ways to build healthy relationships with them.
- Work to Remove Guilt from Your Eating Process
This takes a lot of patience and the right mindset, but as you incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily eating habits, you will find that you will start thinking about food-based guilt more deeply. This is an entire topic on its own, though, which we will address in another post.
If you are new to eating mindfully, it may seem really overwhelming, and like any new strategy, takes time and patience to effortlessly weave into your mindset. The key is to start building awareness around what works for your mind and body. Initially, you may want to refer to these steps daily, but as you practice them consistently, eating mindfully will become more natural. The best part about building awareness is that you will gradually begin to feel more confident with your eating habits and hopefully, will start to build a wonderful relationship with food. You’ve got this!