Eating Mindfully & Intuitively: Seven tips to help you build better eating habits & improve your relationship with food
Everywhere you turn, there is someone advocating a "clean eating", restrictive, free from diet, one that promises to heal and save you from the evils of modern food. It can be confusing and overwhelming and leave most of us vulnerable and fearful of food and questioning when, what and how much we should eat.
I first started "restricting" my own diet at 19. I decided to give vegetarianism a go for many different reasons raging from health benefits to sustainability. I later became dairy free, then sugar free, processed foods free, I tried eating an exclusively plant based diet (aka vegan), I became pescetarian, then macrobiotic and gave up all raw foods and night shades among a slew of other things. While the changes were positive for the most part, the labels were limiting. I had good intentions, I wanted to eat healthier and be healthier, but I also became obsessive about food. Social eating became complicated, so I avoided going out to eat and I’d skip meals if it meant I couldn’t eat within the confines of the label I had attributed to my diet in any given moment.
Today, I consider my relationship with food to be balanced and healthy. As a holistic nutritionist, I support eating a whole food (unprocessed) mostly plant based and seasonal diet, with the addition of some quality animal proteins if you chose. I believe in making your own food and limiting pre-packaged convenience foods as much as possible. I don't endorse fad diets, counting calories and/or macros or restricting food groups unless you have a reason to (ergo allergies, intolerance, religious or ethical beliefs, personal taste preferences, or accessibility issues). In other words, I don’t think you SHOULD be omnivore, vegan, paleo and/or keto or any other food or diet label.
I teach my clients that diet is not all or nothing. Sometimes it’s necessary to restrict for a period of time in order to feel better, but choosing to eat something you normally restrict doesn’t negate all the effort you’ve made. Stressing about it just might. I encourage them to eat mindfully and intuitively so they can build good habits and a healthy relationship with food for the long haul.
Labels are rarely if ever conduits to long term change. So I encourage you to wipe that slate clean, rid yourself of those labels and start listening to your body and what it needs.
If you’re looking to build better eating habits and improve your relationship with food, here are my top tips to get you there, no matter what your food philosophy may be.
Avoid distractions and don’t eat at stressful moments. Turn off your electronic devices and focus on your meal. Be grateful for the food that you are about to eat. To be mindful you must be in the moment.
Slow down, put the fork down between bites and chew your food. Saliva contains enzymes that help you break down carbohydrates, but some of those enzymes only get activated when you start chewing.
Engage your senses. Mindful eating is about engaging all five senses. Salivary enzymes are activated by the sight, smell, taste and texture of food.
Stop dieting and start listening to what your body needs. Eat a variety of foods across all the food groups. Stop seeing foods as good or bad and allow yourself to eat food for both nourishment and pleasure.
Tune in to your hunger & satiation cues. Acknowledge your body’s signals and allow yourself to eat when you feel hungry, but recognize the signs of satiation. Eat until you’re comfortably full. Following step 2 above is a great way to tune in to your satiation cues. Eating slowly gives your gut time to send the message to your brain, telling you to stop eating.
Don’t use food as an emotional crutch. Food is nourishment, but it is also comfort, pleasure, familiarity and culture. Food doesn’t solve problems though. Find healthy ways to deal with your issues and don’t drown your sorrows by overindulging. It may make you feel better or numb you momentarily, but it doesn’t take away pain and discomfort.
Honour your cravings. If you want a cookie. Eat a cookie. Once you stop depriving yourself of the forbidden foods, you’ll crave them less often and you’ll be less likely to binge on them when you do. You don’t have to eat perfectly 100% of the time. I like to aim for the 80/20 rule. It leaves me room to eat well 80% of the time and indulge the rest of the time without feeling deprived or guilty.
Once you start eating mindfully and intuitively, you’ll eat with awareness, purpose and intention, choose foods that are both nourishing and enjoyable, give yourself permission to eat the food you want without the guilt, and you’ll connect to the bounty before you. Most importantly you’ll gain the power to listen to your body and act in its best interest.