June 20, 2018

Mindful Eating: Cultivating a Healthy Relationship With Food

In my first blog post, I shared my story of struggling with poor gut and the holistic approach I took to reverse my symptoms. On this journey of getting well, I began to realize that making lifestyle changes meant challenging my mind and building a certain type of discipline within myself.  As I read through health and wellness websites, the topic of mindful or intuitive eating would usually pop up. I started to reflect on my unhealthy eating habits toward my relationship with food. For years, I had struggled with overeating and addictions to both bread and sugar. I came to terms that I am very much an emotional eater. There were many moments when I was eating to ease sadness, stress, anxiety or simply out of boredom.

In my personal day to day life, eating mindfully starts with checking in with my emotions and identifying the triggers that lead me to crave certain foods that I know do not agree with my body. I have been learning to flow with my feelings as they arise, figure out the root of where they are coming from and simply let them pass with no attachment. It is easier said than done. Instead of quickly reaching for something sugary, like a candy bar or soda, when I feel overwhelmed, I now drink a cup of water and the “hunger” quickly goes away. Eating mindfully has a lot to do with rewiring my brain to see food as nourishment, not a crutch. It is less about having a rigid, restrictive diet and more about creating a lifestyle where I learn about my body’s needs, connect with electrifying foods and most importantly feel free in the process.  Eating should be enjoyable. I don’t believe that we should restrict or create barriers to food that leave us feeling guilty, shameful and drained. From time to time I do like to snack on some of my favorite treats. The difference is that I cultivated a sense of balance.

As I journey through eating more intuitively, I have created a few tips to guide me along the way. Maybe these tips can help you as well to look deeper into your own relationship with food.

 

1: Ask yourself this question: “Are you even hungry?”

When I would feel the urge to overeat and overindulge, I would ask myself this simple question. It was the main starting point for me when it came to connecting with my thoughts, feelings, and emotions surrounding food. Like I mentioned above, I am overcoming overeating. The body knows when it is hungry, yet my mind would often trick me into thinking that I needed to eat more food, often finishing a whole bag of chips in one sitting. Overeating also made me feel guilty and ashamed because I felt I had no self-control. I now notice the difference when I am responding to hunger cues or if I am eating to satisfy an emotion. If the latter creeps in, which it often does at times, I will drink a glass of water or tea to curb the desire to overeat.

 

 2: Slow Down: Aids in Better Digestion

My sister was notorious for telling me to eat slower. I never realized how fast I ate until it was pointed out to me. Honestly, what is the rush, right? I would scarf down my meals in minutes fighting against time. When rushing, I usually would end up feeling bloated or uncomfortably full afterward. It is important to practice slowing down, indulge your five senses and connect with the food on your plate.

In order for our bodies to know it is full, hormones send signals to the gut to make you aware that you’ve had enough, and receptors indicate to the stomach that it has stretched to its full capacity. Eating slowly aids in proper digestion and allows our brains to register how much food is actually in our stomach. When you rush through your food, the brain is not able to properly signal fullness, and you will have a tendency to overeat. It also can lead to excess air being trapped in the digestive tract, further resulting in pieces of food not being properly digested in the body. When you allow yourself the time to thoroughly chew your food, you end up being full without overeating.

If you have a tendency to rush through your meals, I strongly encourage creating a calming atmosphere where you can enjoy your food with no pressure to rush. If you need to, pause and breathe in between bites. It takes practice to slow down, especially in a culture that constantly pushes a fast-paced lifestyle. However, with effort, I believe it will get easier.

 

3: Remove Distractions

 This is still a tough one for me, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I’ve noticed that when it came time to eat, I would need some type of distraction around me. Whether it is the TV, my phone, a book, etc., I was not fully engaged with the food in front of me, which often lead to mindless eating and not activating my five senses to fully enjoy my meals. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to eat quietly without a need for diversions. If I do choose to have some noise, it may be some light music or a podcast in the background. I am still a work in progress, as I’m sure many of you are too. So, let’s continue to work on this one together.

 

4: Meal Plan: Get Creative

I have seen the benefits when I take the time to plan out my meals for the week. It is an amazing feeling when I have control over the ingredients being put into my food. I understand that many of you, like myself, might be on a tight budget when it comes to switching to a healthier lifestyle. Over time, I noticed that I was actually saving money. At one point in my life, cooking felt like a chore. It would stress me out and give me anxiety. I was not putting in the effort to make a list of meals that truly interested me and would find myself in the grocery store throwing random items into my cart. By the middle of the week, I would stare into my fridge asking myself, “what is there to eat?” hoping a meal would magically pop out. That train of thought always led to ordering out and spending unnecessary money. These last two years, I challenged myself to get more serious about making my own food and actually have fun in the kitchen. I mainly eat plant-based, so my meals consist of a variety of vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, grains, smoothies, and beans. I thought that switching to a plant-based would be boring, however, it is definitely the opposite. It does require me to get creative with my meal choices and do some research if need be. Cooking has become very therapeutic and fulfilling for me– plus my skills have improved after experimenting with different recipes. There are many benefits as a result of meal planning. Here are a few:

  • Less stress: I noticed a big difference in my stress level when I started to make a weekly list of meal plan ideas. Time is precious and the last thing I want to do was stare into my fridge and cabinets after a long day with nothing to eat. By being prepared with the items beforehand, I was less overwhelmed and actually enjoyed bringing my meals to life.
  • Less wasteful: When I wasn’t meal planning, most of the food in my fridge would go to waste. I felt so guilty when I found food molding because of my lack of planning and laziness. By paying attention to the items that I buy and creating multiples to stretch throughout the week, less food gets wasted or thrown out as a result. In January, I spent a month traveling in Africa and witnessed firsthand the struggles of seeing people with little to no food. Having access and the means to buy food is a blessing and I don’t ever want to take it for granted.
  • Stretch food with leftovers: You can never go wrong with leftovers. By planning ahead, you can be prepared to have leftovers on a day that you know you won’t have time to cook. I often get bored with eating the same meal after a day or two, however, have two or three meals prepared for the week, made me enjoy leftovers much more. You can also incorporate them into a new meal as another way to make your food stretch. If I have leftovers from the night before, it usually becomes my lunch for work the next day, which also saves money.

5: Eat with the seasons

After working for an environmental non-profit for three and a half years and learning about the numerous pesticides that are sprayed on fruits and vegetables to preserve them, I personally feel it is important to get your fruits and vegetables as fresh as possible. These chemicals found on our food can cause serious harm to our bodies: disrupting hormone production, imitating hormones, signaling cells to die prematurely, decreasing the production of other important cells, causing cancer, diseases, and many more harmful effects. The Environmental Working Group releases two lists; one that includes fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue and the next list includes those with the lowest pesticide concentration. You can download both of these sheets from their website http://bit.ly/2rsvvK6. Hang the list on your fridge to remind yourself or carry it with you while you grocery shop. Personally, I believe it is important to buy all my food as natural and fresh as possible; however, this list is a great way to start.

I have become more mindful about reading labels. Not all foods labeled “organic” are actually safe to eat. Living in a country with so many supermarkets and so few farms, having that farm-to-table connection pretty much nonexistent for many of us. When I used to live down the block from a farmer market, I would speak with the local farmers about their practices and felt at ease knowing what I was cooking and consuming was freshly grown with no pesticides. Nowadays, there seems to be more value over convenience rather than the quality of our health when it comes to food production in the U.S. I highly suggest researching farmer markets in your area and buying some of your produce from there. A major benefit is that you learn to eat fruits and vegetables in their season. You also support your local farmers so they can continue providing the community with fresh food. Start somewhere and allow yourself the space to build over time. I feel the more information you can gather about the food you consume, the deeper a connection you build with your body and the earth.

I would love to learn some ways you practice daily mindfulness when it comes to your nutrition? What are some of your struggles? How are you overcoming them? I would love to hear it all. Feel free to share below and connect these tips to someone in need.

 

 

With Love,

Christine

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