How often do you find yourself trying to remember what you ate for breakfast? Are there times when you scarf down your lunch and don’t even remember how it tasted? Maybe you didn’t even enjoy one bite because your mind was thinking about the ten things you needed to accomplish before you could leave work, rather than enjoying your meal. How many of us have sat on the couch with a bag of potato chips or carton of ice cream, mindlessly stuffing ourselves without even thinking about it?
Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum too. Do you restrict yourself in an attempt to lose weight, only to end up binging on the foods you’ve avoided? Do you have negative feelings about eating certain foods or punish yourself for thinking about eating “bad” foods? I have spoken with countless patients, clients, family members, and friends over the past 16 years and I’ve decided that almost every one of us has experienced these same feelings/behaviors at one time or another. These behaviors, over time, can definitely take a toll on our physical and emotional health.
The obesity rates in our country have continued to rise, for a multitude of reasons. But, at the heart of this crisis, seems to be mindfulness, or lack thereof. We’ve lost the ability to pay attention to our own body cues for hunger and satiety. I have spoken with so many parents over the years, concerned about their young children not eating enough. I think most of those youngsters were practicing mindfulness without knowing it. Kids eat when they are hungry.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to the cues your body sends you about your appetite. It seems easier to do this when we are young, assuming we have a healthy home environment. But, as we get older, outside influences and stress and depression and trauma can affect our ability to handle life situations in a healthy way. In turn, we may seek out unhealthy ways to numb or avoid any negative feelings we have. Sometimes, we choose food for comfort. When we choose food to help us feel better, we get into a cycle of weight gain, which leads to more depression, which leads to more food, which leads to more weight gain and the cycle continues. We then search for ways to lose weight, such as restricting ourselves, which will most likely lead us to binge once we can no longer handle the unnatural restriction.
Mindful eating involves rewiring the way we think about food and our bodies.
There is no need to label our foods or feel guilty about food. In reality, we all have a spectrum of choices to make in life. Food is no exception: all foods can fit into your healthy, active lifestyle. If you want to work toward improving your mindfulness, intuitive eating experts suggest the following guiding principles:
1. Avoid dieting. Diets don’t work for the long-term and can be unhealthy and harmful. Most do not teach you lifestyle strategies that are realistic. Choose instead, an overall healthy lifestyle.
2. Be aware of your hunger cues. Feed your body adequately to prevent excessive hunger, which can lead to binge eating. Trust your body to tell you what it needs.
3. Stop telling yourself to avoid certain foods. All foods fit!
4. Avoid negative self-talk about food.
5. Listen to your body. When you feel full, stop eating.
6. Be aware of the pleasure found at meal time. Be mindful of how your food tastes and smells, and allow yourself to experience satisfaction with foods you really love.
7. Do not use food to fix negative feelings. Find healthy ways to cope with your emotions. Food will not provide a long-term solution to any problem or negative feeling you may have.
8. Feel good about your body. We are all different, that’s what makes this world beautiful. We are all wonderfully made by God and being critical of yourself will never allow you to be fully mindful.
9. Exercise. Moving your body and challenging yourself can make you feel so great! Use the boost of energy you get from exercise to stay on track with mindful eating.
10. Value your health. Make choices that will help you meet your goals and improve your quality of life. Being consistent over time is the key.
It’s never easy to change the way we live our lives and it’s never easy to reverse years of unhealthy habits. But, life is a journey, and making healthy choices for ourselves will make our journey that much more enjoyable and exciting!
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..." Psalm 139:14