As a society, we’ve made food and nutrition so complicated, with confusing mixed messages about what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. On top of that, food and eating are intricately entwined with emotions and mood, hormones and body chemistry, and celebrations and traditions. Many of us obsess about food, thinking about it all the time. Others avoid food altogether.
How do we learn to make peace with food and our bodies, to learn how to nourish ourselves? We can start by practicing mindful eating, learning to listen to our bodies, honor our cravings and develop healthy habits for our body and soul.
Here are a few strategies for letting go of the madness and giving ourself permission to nourish ourselves.
Pause, Breath and Learn to Listen to Your Body
Before eating, pause and take a deep breath to connect yourself to your body and the present moment. Notice how you are feeling. Listen to your body signals. How hungry are you? How do you feel? Are you eating because you’re hungry, or because you’re tired, bored, angry, happy or celebratory? As you eat, pause between bites to notice how you feel. Are you still hungry? Have you had enough food? Are you satisfied? Those questions might have different answers. Pause to consider. After you’re eaten, notice how your body feels. Still empty? Just right? Uncomfortably full? Again, pause and take a deep breath. Connecting to your body, your body sensations and your feelings takes practice. A lot of practice. But if you pause, breath and listen each time you eat, you will learn to listen to and understand your body, and your own hunger and fullness.
Forget the Clean Plate Club
Growing up, many of us learned to finish everything on our plate, regardless of whether we wanted more food or not. While none of us wants to waste food, we do ourselves and our body an injustice by eating more that we want or need. If you’re at home, learn to serve yourself smaller portions to start, knowing you can always go back and get more. When eating out, ask for a box to take the leftovers home.
Food does not Equal Morality
“I was bad this weekend.” “This is my guilty pleasure.” “This is sinfully delicious.” “I was good, and only ate a banana all day today.” How often do you hear these phrases—or ones like them—coming from your lips? Food and eating do not equal morality. Banish these words from your food dictionary—guilty (and its opposite—guilt-free), decadent, sinful—and any other words that equate morality with eating. Eating dessert—or not eating dessert—does not make you a good person or a bad person. Food nourishes us. We have to learn how to ignore unreasonable rules about good and bad foods, to learn how to accept our hunger and cravings for what they are, and to learn how to honor them.
Food Should be Pleasurable
Discover—or rediscover—the pleasure of eating good food, food that tastes good and makes us smile. Finding pleasure in food is one of the keys to learning to eat just the right amount. When you savor each bite, relishing in how the food tastes and makes you feel, it takes a lot less to satisfy your body and your taste buds. Food is supposed to be enjoyed and savored—not feared. If you have a food craving, allow yourself a single serving of something you really enjoy. And do so with abundant thankfulness for the utter sensory pleasure and sense of well-being we receive from food.
DIET is a Four-Letter Word!
Every year, around 45 million Americans go on a diet, spending a total of $33 billion dollars on weight loss products. And yet, two-thirds of our country struggles with overweight or obesity and weight-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Diets don’t work. While many people do, in fact, lose weight on fad diets, research shows they usually gain it back within a short period of time. Why don’t diets work? Diets tend to categorize certain foods as bad, wrong, or off-limits, and they don’t help you to develop a positive, loving relationship with food. This sets you up for failure or guilt. When you’re able to allow all foods into your eating world, you are finally able to relieve yourself of unconscious feelings of deprivation which can often lead to subsequent overeating. How many times have you broken your diet and thought “I blew it anyways, so I might as well have more…”? If you allow yourself to enjoy favorite foods mindfully, you’ll be less likely to over-indulge in the long run. Allow all foods in your life, in moderation.
Manage Stress in Healthy Ways (other than eating)
Listen to music. Laugh. Take a bubble bath after the kids have gone to bed. Play with your pet. Go on a walk. Pick fresh flowers. Write in a journal. Punch a pillow. Scream at the top of your lungs. Call a friend. Read a book. Rent a movie. Clean out your closet. Paint. Have a dance party in your room. Work on a jigsaw puzzle. Take a nap. Breath.
Forget About the Numbers
Instead of getting hung up on a food’s nutrition content—things like grams of sugar, fat and fiber—focus just on eating real foods. There’s no need to add more work to your already-busy day by asking you to bring a calculator to the dinner table. Research shows we're bad at counting anyway, underestimating how much we eat by 20 - 40 percent. When you focus on eating real foods—in reasonable portions—the nutrition takes care of itself. In addition, don’t get stuck on a number on the scale, or the size of your pants. Instead, focus on being the healthiest, most vibrant and active version of you.
There are going to be some days when you eat too much and some days when you eat too little. Or exercise too much, or too little. That’s okay. It’s part of being human. It’s part of life. Remind yourself that you are absolutely a perfectly imperfect version of you. To help you practice self-compassion, develop a positive affirmation about nourishing and loving your body, and repeat it to yourself each day. Put it on your refrigerator. Write it one your mirror. Make it your screen saver. Add it to your prayer book. Giver yourself the gift of a postive daily affirmation: You are worth it.