Even if you don't suffer from an eating disorder, you may have disordered eating habits. Maybe you skip meals. Maybe your library contains all the newest diet books that never work. Maybe you overeat to the point of guilt and compensate with dieting or restricting food. Maybe you "eat your feelings," or emotionally eat. It could even be as simple as telling yourself in the head that you "shouldn't" or "can't" have a food because it's "bad."
Developing a healthy relationship with food is a continuous journey. Everyone deserves to enjoy food without a sense of guilt. It should nourish our body and mind. The food police in our heads need to be kicked out. Instead, we need to give ourselves permission to enjoy the foods we want to eat without any negative emotions attached.
Food is personal. It tends to be the centerpiece of events, groups, or cultures, and it has the power to bring up feelings or memories. As a nutrition professional, I try to never tell someone not to eat a food, except for cases of true allergies or intolerances. Food is not "good" or "bad." Food may be pro- or anti-inflammatory and effect your health in different ways, but it should not induce feelings of guilt or shame. It is meant to be nourishing and pleasurable.
It's hard to decipher the nutrition messages out there, especially when there's a new diet to try each week. Throw out the diet mentality, and respect your body and health. Forget what you know about nutrition, and trust your own body to guide you. Get rid of all diet talk, especially fat talk. Stop telling yourself "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Just get rid of the words "skinny" and "fat" from your vocabulary. While you're at it, throw out your scale.
Learn to listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Give yourself permission to fully enjoy the foods you want to eat guilt-free, but pay attention to how you feel afterwards. Everyone is unique, and one food may be incredibly nourishing for someone, yet make someone else bloat and feel terrible. Seriously, you should eat vegetables because they make you feel good, not because you feel like you "have to."
There are many ways to incorporate mindful or intuitive eating into your lifestyle. It's a new way to think about food, especially if you're used to eating on the go or in front of screens. This week - National Eating Disorder Awareness Week - is a great time to start, and it's always okay to start slow.
Mindful Eating Exercise
Start with one meal or snack time and make it into a mindful eating exercise.
Sit down with your food in front of you. Turn off the TV and put your phone away. Your focus should be on the food in front of you.
Take a few deep breaths, and close your eyes if you would like. Think about if you're hungry or not and what you're feeling. If any negative thoughts pop into your head, acknowledge them, and let them float right out.
When you're ready, take a bite. Put your utensil down in between bites, and use all your senses. Observe the smell, texture, and flavor of the food. Take another bite if you would like. Notice if anything changes with the second or third bite. You may realize that you're satisfied after only a bite of two of your favorite chocolate cake. Or that your favorite candy bar actually doesn't taste that great. Stop eating when you're satisfied, full, or simply not hungry anymore.
Over the next few hours, pay attention to how your body feels. Notice if you're hungry or full, or if there are any digestive side effects, such as bloating, cramping, excess gas, or other side effects, such as headaches or cravings. These could be signs of not tolerating a certain food. Instead, you may find that you're full of energy and feel great - these are signs that the food is nourishing you.
Over time, you'll discover the foods that nourish your body - not the foods you think you "should" eat. You'll start to fully enjoy food rather than mindlessly munching on food that you stop tasting after the first few bites. Your hunger and fullness cues will return, and you'll discover how much food your body needs.
Mindful or intuitive eating can help heal your body and mind and rid you from disordered eating habits, including emotional eating. If you're interested in learning more, leave a comment or ask a question, and I'll try to answer it. If you really want to try it out, I highly recommend the book "Intuitive Eating," or you can read the 10 principles of it here.
I realize that it's hard to get rid of negative thoughts surrounding food and your body, but everyone deserves a healthy relationship with food and their body. Start on your journey today with a mindful eating practice with one snack or meal.