3 Steps to A Better Relationship With Food
Mindful Eating: A Practice
It’s time for a new relationship with food.
Have you ever noticed how complicated your relationship with food has become? On some days it’s a burdensome adversary and on others, it’s your closest friend.
Next to money, food is the one thing people struggle with the most in life. We need it to survive, but yet we end up feeling conflicted about it – especially if we’re trying to lose weight, manage food allergies, or worse yet – battle with chronic illnesses that are impacted with food.
We long for the days when eating felt simple and we didn’t give food more than a passing thought (especially if your days now are filled with counting calories, looking at food labels, or avoiding ingredients like gluten, sugar, soy, and so on).
Yet, most of us don’t really know how to get back to center.
We don’t know how to get back to having a healthy relationship with food or what that really means!
So, instead, we shame ourselves, strive for unrealistic perfection, and even use food to punish ourselves.
If this sounds familiar – the first thing you should know is that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that at least 30 million people in the United States have struggled with an eating disorder at some point in their life. 30 Million.!!
And even though most of those people don’t need medical intervention, any unhealthy obsession with food can impact your life – and health – and should be addressed.
So, how do you shift something that feels like such a big problem – especially during a pandemic where sometimes food feels like the only comfort that temporarily quiets the anxiety and stress.
Well, you have to do three things.
- Redefine what a healthy relationship with food looks like
- Adopt the tool of mindful or intuitive eating
- Find greater compassion for yourself and self-love
Let’s take a closer look.
Redefine Your Relationship With Food
If you’ve forgotten what it really means to have a healthy relationship with food, it’s time for a refresher.
To have a healthy relationship with food means that you eat for the reasons of physiological rather than emotional hunger and to stop eating at a point when the body and mind are truly satisfied.
To really remember what this looks like, all you have to do is watch a baby sitting in her high chair and watch how when she’s satiated, she’ll simply stop – refuse food and maybe strongly shake her head back and forth to signal “no more”. It can be a little humorous picturing that, but the baby just knows and trusts that she’s had enough.
Now think over your last few meals.
Did you do the same? Or were you simply eating, caught up in conversation, or mindlessly watching TV.
Do you even remember what was on the plate?
Eating has become a pastime we do with something else – so much so, it’s almost hard to remember anything about the act itself (you simply need to head out today to a cafe or restaurant and watch others to know this is true – simply count how many people are on their phone or simply grazing because there is food in front of them.
It’s almost as if we’re eating on autopilot.
It’s only when we’ve eaten too much or recognize our emotional response halfway through the brownie, hot fudge sundae that we wake up and realize we’re doing something that doesn’t feel right. And then, the only thing we do is beat ourselves up.
And while certainly, life can be busy, this kind of automatic eating inevitably leads to habits and patterns that can be self-defeating. So, the first thing we need to do is change the relationship with food.
Now, this doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen just by saying so.
The first thing you have to do is really become aware of your patterns and habits. Recognize whether you’re eating out of hunger or whether you’re actually thirsty or eating to fill a void or some emotional need.
You have to set an intention to eat in response to your hunger cues and then watch and pay attention. Think of this as gathering data points to see what’s really driving your habits.
You don’t want to judge or punish yourself.
Simply notice your own personal patterns and relationship with food. It might even help to have a journal and notice how you feel each time you eat.
What are the feelings you’re having right before you eat?
What are you feeling right after you eat?
Do this for a few days, all the while reminding yourself that food is meant to nourish, support and help you feel strong.
Begin Using Mindful Eating
Maybe you’ve heard about mindful eating before, but you’ve never tried it or really sure that something like this could work for you – but it’s a technique that we use with many of our weight loss clients in order to shift their patterns and get results.
Mindful eating is a method that can help you gain control of your eating habits. It can help promote weight loss, reduce binge eating and – more importantly – shift the way you look at food.
It’s about using mindfulness to focus and put your full attention on your experience, cravings, feelings and physical cues while you’re eating. As I suggested above, mindful eating requires that you accept the feelings as you observe them and return yourself to the present activity of eating and how you feel.
Essentially, mindful eating involves:
- Eating slowly and intentionally
- Listening to your body’s hunger cues
- Eating only until you’re satisfied.
- Engaging all of your senses by paying attention to color, texture, taste, feel
- Recognizing emotional triggers and patterns
- Noticing how you feel after you’ve finished eating
- Appreciating and feeling grateful
Now before you dismiss this as nonsense – here’s the science behind why mindful eating works. Physically, mindful eating helps you slow down and allows the body’s cues to catch up. It can take 20 minutes for us to fully appreciate our body’s cues that we’re full – so being mindful allows the gut to respond to what’s happening.
Chewing our food slowly also allows for the absorption of more nutrients and helps the body process and digest the food better.
When it comes to your brain, mindful eating practices help you really filter out some of the subconscious drivers that cause you to eat – anxiety, stress, pain, hurt, etc. and instead remain present to what’s before you.
The impact? It allows you to stay present and enjoy your experience – while reshaping your relationship with food for good.
Now, when it comes to implementing these new habits here are the steps you can take to adopt mindfulness to your next meal:
- As you sit down to your next meal, take a few deep breaths, and consider the health value of each thing on your plate.
- Employ all your senses – whether your shopping, cooking, serving, or eating your foods. How do they look, taste, smell, feel? Can you hear the crispness? What do you notice as you taste your first bite?
- Make observations. Notice your thoughts, notice things about your food, or what you’re really eating. Where are you eating and how is your posture even? What is in the way that might be distracting?
- Tune into your hunger cues. Are you hungry, thirsty, tired, angry, or feeling drained? Look at all of the things that might be pointing you toward food (boredom during these past months has been big).
- Appreciate your food. Before you sit down to eat, appreciate your food. Appreciate how it looks, smells, and simply notice your own reactions and how they make you feel.
- Keep it going. How does your experience shift from moment to moment? Do you notice when you’re getting full or satisfied? Take your time and don’t rush the meal.
- Put your utensils down between bites. This will give you time to cue into how you’re feeling. Listen to your body – don’t be fooled by the “clean plate club” voice in your head.
- If you want, give gratitude for where this food came from – whether it is plant or animal. Think of all the people who might be involved in getting this food to you.
- Continue to eat slowly – whether you’re out to dinner with friends, eating alone, or with your partner.
Try this today and simply notice – what’s different?
Give Yourself More Compassion & Self Love
Instead of always beating yourself up for your food choices and habits, what might it look like to give yourself the compassion you might have for a child or a friend?
This is an opportunity to really forgive yourself and get back up and try something new.
When you beat yourself up, the tendency is to resist any new efforts and believe that you don’t have what it takes. Not true.
As you’re noticing all of the emotions and cues around eating, also notice the language of your self-talk. Notice if you’re being harsh or whether you’re supportive and compassionate.
Take the time this week to talk to yourself like you might a friend. Be supportive and firm. The idea is to remember this is a process, but to keep giving it a chance for these new practices to become a habit!
The key is that you learn to really take it slow!
Try this all out this week and see how it goes. And feel free to reach out and share. I’d love to hear about your experience.
We’re also going to be sharing with you a brand new challenge in the upcoming weeks that I know will further support you – especially if you’re looking to lose weight and feel better after months of quarantine habits.
In good health,