Learn How To Create A Better Relationship With FoodJun 04, 2022
We lead busy lives in today’s modern world; we’re always on the run. And because there are tons of fast food options available to accommodate our fast-paced lives, this means we’re usually distracted and inhaling our meals. So we wolf down a quick energy bar and drink it down with a soft drink, not even realizing that we could be causing more damage (both psychologically and physically) than we even thought possible.
As Washington Post journalist, Carrie Dennet, mentioned, there’s a Zen proverb that talks about how, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” However, modern society seems to follow this adage: “When walking, check your cellphone. When eating, check your cellphone.”
Our fast-paced lives today distract us from being genuinely intentional about our meals. It’s common for us to eat in front of the television, computer, or to have our smartphone in hand, which is the very definition of mindless eating. Let’s unpack what mindless eating is together so that by the time you are finished reading this, you are determined to become a mindful eater – because it’s vital to becoming your most vibrant, healthiest self!
WHAT IS MINDLESS EATING?
Some believe that mindless eaters are people who don’t have any willpower or self-control when it comes to eating. But actually, there are real reasons why people either overeat or mindlessly eat without having an awareness of what they’re eating. The truth is that some people eat just to cope (or not cope) with their emotions, or out of pure habit. Mindless eating means ‘eating without awareness’—as in, sometimes you may not even be hungry when you eat; instead, you’re eating to fulfill a different type of hunger instead (like your hunger to numb painful emotions, for example).
Eating mindlessly can also disturb the communication between your gut/brain axis, which in turn, can negatively impact your moods and cause many GI problems (like gas and bloating). No quick fix or fad diet can compare to learning how to mindfully eat for your health.
Mindless eating often occurs when you’re feeling bored, lonely, anxious, sad, or frustrated. You then attempt to distract yourself from uncomfortable emotions by trying to mask these feelings with food. Mindless eating means that your brain is not involved with your eating, and before you know it, you’ve eaten much more than you originally intended.
….and mindful eating?
Mindful eating, on the other hand, is when you develop a conscious awareness of your thoughts and feelings around food. It’s a non-diet approach that helps you to achieve and maintain your healthiest weight.
Mindful eating is all about choosing healthy, vibrant foods that you enjoy—foods that awaken your senses and give you pleasure in eating it. If your goal is to eat mindfully, you must learn to shift the focus from obsessing over or fearing food…..to exploring and being curious about how you eat.
Mindful eating means to eat with intention and involves developing an enjoyable relationship with food (because–yes, it IS possible to have a good relationship with food)! Mindful Eating is NOT a restrictive diet! Instead, it’s a practice that involves deriving pleasure from food and being fully present at every meal. It promotes a psychological barrier to overeating and emotional eating by paying attention to your body’s signals—like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. With mindful eating, you learn to honor your hunger and to eat food consciously as a means to fuel the body.
TRY THIS TEST
To gain insight into just how often you eat mindlessly, try this fun test–take one week out of your busy schedule to eat food using your non-dominant hand! This simple act demands that your brain be fully engaged in the act of eating. Because it’s unnatural for you to eat with your other hand, your brain needs to send a message to that hand to pick up the food and place it in your mouth. You will be amazed by this small experiment to realize just how much mindless eating you actually do.
All silly eating exercises aside, I want you to just imagine your life if you decided to never eat mindlessly again –- you would likely feel a lot different about food and how you feel in your body!
REASONS YOU MINDLESSLY EAT
One example could be associated with the anxiousness of not being able to eat a particular food again because you fear that you will somehow feel deprived. Or, maybe you’re not particularly hungry, but there’s something in the fridge that you want, so you eat it before someone else gets to it first.
The sight or smell of certain foods can also trigger your desire to eat. Maybe you catch a smell of your local coffee shop–with its rich aromas of coffee and freshly baked donuts (how could anyone resist that, right)?! It’s hard for your mouth to resist something delicious – it craves satisfaction, and it looks for entertainment through sweet, savory, or “off-limits” treats.
The paradox is that once you stop viewing certain foods as being “off-limits,” or “good vs. bad,” a sense of ease and joy ensues. As you begin eating your food with intention and awareness of the senses, this can greatly help you in reducing your urge to want more and give in to those senses.
EATING WHAT’S AVAILABLE
You might feel inclined to eat certain foods due to them being more readily available, so you’ll eat (hungry or not). For example, let’s say you attend a meeting (assuming there’s no pandemic!) where donuts are freely available to enjoy with your coffee – and even though you had breakfast before the meeting, everyone else is putting pieces on their plates and you want to “”feel included””—so you add some to your plate! Another example of just eating what’s available (versus eating mindfully) could be that you keep mostly quick snacks, but little to no fruits or vegetables.
What about time? It’s breakfast time, then it’s lunchtime, and then dinner time, and what about those times in-between – that means it’s time to eat, right? But do you ever just pause and check-in with yourself to see if you’re *actually* hungry when those times come up? Many of us have been conditioned that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are times to eat, hungry or not, which means that sometimes we eat more than what we need or when we’re actually hungry. Again, the remedy for this is intuitive eating.
You likely know how easy it can be to succumb to food when your emotions taking charge–-like when you’re lonely, sad, happy, or nervous–you reach out for those snacks to make you ”feel better” or to ”celebrate.” Learn to recognize the signs of being emotionally hungry vs. physically hungry (which is a skill that I help my clients to build). You might reward yourself with food too, like when you do well on a test, you might feel as though you “deserve” that massive piece of chocolate cake – after all, you “earned” it! Or, perhaps you emotionally eat whenever you have a tough day. Sound familiar?
Maybe your mother or a friend went to great lengths to prepare your favorite meal, so you want to show your appreciation by eating more than you’d like–to not offend or “rock the boat.”
HOW TO DEAL WITH FOOD TRIGGERS
You must cultivate an awareness around your triggers to overeat. Once you’re consciously aware of them, you can then move forward with a strategy to overcome them. Here are a few helpful tips:
- To start, honor the fact that it’s ok and perfectly natural to feel hunger! The enemy to your triggers is not being hungry–the problem lies in over-stuffing yourself and remaining disconnected with your food. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being hungry; it is natural for your body to tell you it needs food, as long as you’re also able to effectively eat balanced meals required for your body size.
- When you learn to respect your body and appreciate the health you have, you will take better care of it. Work on appreciating all that it does for you and on feeding it in a way that deeply nourishes you.
- Instead of saying “”What can I eat now?”” ask yourself, “”Do I need to eat now””? If you are hungry, then you should eat!
- Remember you’re neither a “bad eater” nor a “good eater”; just let whatever enters your mouth be a deliberate and intentional choice you make. And then be willing to check-in with yourself as to how certain foods make you feel.
- Don’t forget to drink water, because it is crucial water to your wellbeing. Hunger is often disguised as thirst, and we tend to eat mindlessly when we actually are dehydrated. If you learn to drink water regularly each and every day, you will quench your thirst and eliminate the yearning to eat mindlessly.
- Learn to eat slower as well, relishing your food, listening to how you breathe. When you start breathing or sighing heavily, your stomach has had enough, and it’s time to quit eating.
- Taking the time to master eating with perseverance and patience, you can get rid of mindless eating. It’s going to be a daily practice, focusing only on today and not on a certain event or date in the elusive future.
Remember that mindless eating can also be influenced by the environment and whom you come into contact with, like friends and family. It can also be determined by the sizes of your glasses and plates.
Learning what causes you to eat mindlessly is an excellent step in changing how you eat. Don’t worry too much if you’ve over-indulged in the last few days because there is no time like the present, and also, you are now more aware of the mindset that’s required to promote mindful eating. Naturally, you would not run a long marathon without practicing correctly, and it’s the same thing when it comes to mindful eating.
“Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency, or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.”
― Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
Your body needs to learn how to eat mindfully through practice. Here is a 7-day plan of new habits to get you on your way to starting to eat mindfully:
Your first day is an excellent time to start some deep breathing before you begin with any meal. Smell your food, enjoy the sight of what you are going to eat, look at the colors. Before you tuck in, take a moment to think about how grateful you are for this delicious meal before you. Gratefulness and peace are excellent for digestion as well.
Try to chew slowly on this day, trying to concentrate on your meal’s textures and delicious tastes. Pay attention to the creaminess or crunchiness of the food and take in the flavors, savoring them. Between the bites, even put your fork down, taking a few deep breaths before you pick up your fork for another morsel.
Today is an excellent day to eat your food without sitting in front of the TV. Sit at a table with your attractively prepared meal in front of you – no standing around.
On this day, I would check out how full you feel. Are you aware of being full and satisfied? Are you hungry or thirsty? Try and take notice when you feel about 80% full and satisfied rather than being 100% full and satisfied. Try and stop eating at that stage, when you feel satisfied and not overfull to the point of discomfort.
Before you reach for a snack, check yourself – do you really want this food; are you that hungry? Check out how good the quality of your food is that you want to eat.
Enjoy the company of the people you eat with on this day, listening to them fully, and not trying to prepare a response. If you eat alone, note your thoughts, letting them flow without any judgments or action.
Pay attention to be aware of how your meal affected your energy levels and your mood. If you are not satisfied with the way you feel, don’t put yourself down negatively. Try to remember how you felt when you ate that particular food the last time, not repeating eating that food again. If you feel good, make a note as well, and be grateful for it.
Mindful eating is not a diet; however, it is important to understand what gentle nutrition is and the foods that’ll sustain you in the long-run. With that said, the technique of mindful eating can be practiced even if you’re eating a cheeseburger with fries–because no foods should be considered off-limits. Mindful eating is all about being fully present when it comes to engaging with your food.
Adopting mindful eating as a technique might mean making a few adjustments as to how you approach your snacking and your meals. It’s not what you eat; it’s how you eat it. Therefore, your relationship with food is improved, and the hold that it had on you will be broken (which reduces stress in itself)!
Ok, you might not be 100% sure that this is the right kind of eating style for you, but every person is an excellent candidate to follow mindful eating. Mindful eating won’t just stick with you if you are not prepared to make some lifestyle changes. That means you need to be ready for the changes so that you keep on pushing through when the going gets tough. If you want to see changes, you need to be committed.
HEALTH BENEFITS TO MINDFUL EATING:
Yes, mindful eating has health benefits in that it:
- Boosts the immune system.
- Increases the absorption of nutrients supplied from food and energy when you eat healthy food.
- Improves gut health.
- Prevents overeating, emotional binging, and gaining weight.
- Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Treats as well as prevents eating disorders.
- Enhances your attention skills, memory, and learning.
- Prevents and treats eating disorders.
- Improves general satisfaction and contentment.
Enjoying your food should be a treat, so why not relish it with the beautiful technique of mindful eating!
“If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you love it, savor it.”
― Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
My name is Rebecca Capps, and I’m a Licensed Psychotherapist and Wellness Coach who helps my clients develop a better relationship with food and body. My signature framework—The Mind-Body Thrive Method—offers easy, effective, and time-saving strategies to free my clients from the prison of diet culture. My process has helped hundreds of people—just like you—build greater confidence, health, and life satisfaction.
If you want to take a deeper dive into learning how to mindfully eat, check out my Eating With Intention program.
Cheers to your health and wellness!