Do you ever catch yourself thinking about how much you hate “not being allowed” to have a cookie because you’re trying to be “healthier”? And then do you eventually enjoy that cookie along with it’s 11 other cookie brethren just to feel guilty and disappointed in your “failure of health”? Well, I’m here to tell you that diets, restricting what you can and can’t eat, and that bingeing and guilting cycle don’t have to be your only options. Intuitive eating, aka mindful eating, is slowly becoming more and more popular. Ah, yes, I hear you…what even is mindful eating and why should you listen? Let’s discuss.
Interestingly, food is one of the most common things humans have used to abuse, manipulate, control, and hurt others. It is at the same time on of the most common ways to show love, to heal, to help, and to improve life. Basically, food has a lot of power. However, we determine what kind of power. So I guess we could compare food to the OG superheroes of the world. We just determine if we use food for good or evil.
And it seems so often that many people make food an enemy, a trickster that can’t be trusted, or a frenemy… you know you enjoy it but secretly feel a lot of shame around it. With mindful eating that perception can change. Food becomes something that you enjoy because you enjoy it, because it gives you strength, and because it tastes just so damn good.
Quick disclosure: I am not a doctor, obviously. Not everything works for everyone so please consult an actual doctor if you have any dietary restrictions or concerns.
What mindful eating is not!
Let’s start with what mindful eating is not because it’ll make it easier to explain what it is.
It is NOT a diet
On the contrary, mindful eating is the rejection of the whole diet mentality. There are no good or bad foods to eat and it isn’t obsessed with restriction or bingeing.
There’s no weird numbers to crunch, no falling of the wagon, no obsession with every little bite you take.
The diet culture is often woefully manipulative and honestly dangerous. They take someone’s insecurities, promise that only they can help. They promise quick results and societal approval by just drinking their weight loss shakes, buying their diet program, or taking their pills. And the diets often work…for a bit. But if you stop, your weight comes back. Why? Because most of these things cause shock to your body. And when the shock stops or it adjusts to the shock, it tries to make up for the nutrients it is afraid it’s going to lose again. Thus, you plateau or start gaining weight again because you’re body is preparing for the next “diet apocalypse” if you will.
It is NOT a weight loss program
Just like with it rejecting diet culture, it is not about weight loss. Many people do lose weight eating intuitively but there is no restricting calories, no starving yourself, and no sending your body into ketosis. But it’s not the point of mindful eating. It can be a side effect, but it is no guarantee. Starting a mindful eating practice for weight loss, will honestly leave you frustrated because it simply isn’t about that.
It is NOT just another trend
Here’s a plot twist for you…intuitive eating is the most natural most normal way to enjoy your food. When primitive humans were hanging out (and food was plentiful, of course) they ate when they were hungry, enjoyed the food they wanted, and stopped eating when they were full.
This was how we were designed to eat…how almost all animals were designed to eat. Since the literal dawn of man, intuitive eating was just what you did. And now I’m sure Neanderthals would look at you like “what the eff is mindful eating?”….”you mean just eating…right”?
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is simply listening to your body and hearing what it needs. If your body is hungry, eat. Eat slowly, enjoy your food and listen to your body when it says it’s full. What are you craving? Are you thirsty? Needing carbs? Hankering for some salt? Want a cookie? Enjoy those things, without guilt or shame.
The idea is to bring awareness to our food and paying attention to how it affects your body, mood, mind, and the world around us.
It teaches us how to listen our body’s needs and make our own decisions when it comes to food. Plus, it takes away the direction given from external sources (like diets, celebrities, and other outside factors). We begin to eat a more balanced diet, which helps improve our relationship between our food and ourselves.
Intuitive eating can help if you struggle with: binge eating, emotional eating, food cravings, body image, cultural pressures, or eating disorders. *Note! If you think you may have an eating disorder, please, please consult a medical professional – which again, I am not.*
Intuitive eating relies on your intuition and listening to your body’s needs. It is designed to help you develop a better relationship with food + actually enjoy it without judgment. Mindful eating’s purpose is to reduce shame and guilt around food while honoring your hunger and needs.
Intuitive eating has been shown to increase overall psychological well being, increase confidence and self-esteem, and increase physical well being because your body is no longer being deprived. It helps you become more mindful and present in your day to day life and decreases the stress around food.
How to start eating more mindfully
I started trying to eat more mindfully when food began to feel like a chore – stressful, too much, and always making me feel “meh”. If you also are trying to fall back in love with food, please oh please check out this super awesome post from Kara Lydon Nutrition. She’s a awesome lady and a real life dietitian *gasp a professional?!* Yeah, so she knows her stuff!
By eating slowly your body has more time to let you know when you’re full so you don’t overeat. Of course overeating isn’t the end of the world, but the stomach aches, bloating, and *hem* gas that comes with eating too much, too fast sucks.
Engage your senses
My favorite part of mindful eating is making sure to truly enjoy my food. Food is a huge part of our daily lives, our cultures, and sometimes even out own identities. To enjoy your food, you need to be aware of your food.
So by slowing down and engaging your senses while you eat you get to experience your meal on another level. Indulge yourself in the smells, the textures, and even the sizzling sounds of freshly cooked bacon. When you consciously heighten your senses to focus on your meal, not only are you practicing some bad ass mindfulness, but you are also taking time to treasure your present moment and the best things in life….food.
And I don’t know about you but I think that is probably the best way to make every meal (and every day) a little more extraordinary.
Listen to what your body wants
Remember with intuitive eating, there is no such thing as good or bad foods. We are also working on honoring our hunger + body’s needs. So if you’re craving something, eat it (slowly, of course). Enjoy it and stop eating it when you feel full or when your body let’s you know that you’ve had enough.
A lot of people assume that when you start eating a more mindful diet, all you’ll eat is pizza and cake. Well, I’m going to be honest, you might…at first. See with processed foods and refined sugars, our brain gets a bit confused. When you remove your food restrictions, you may feel like all you want is cookies and pasta because you told yourself you couldn’t have those for so long.
Don’t worry. Those will make you eventually feel like shit. And your body will figure out that those things that were restricted aren’t really that great. So you’ll begin to crave more nutrient packed things.
This happened to me. I ate so much pizza and cupcakes that I thought I was going to explode. Until one day I woke up with a serious hankering for spinach. (Which by the way, I’ve hated spinach since forever). Well, I bought some spinach and developed a weird ass habit to eat them like chips…right out of the bowl, leaf by leaf…no dressing…just leaves. So weird.
You probably won’t develop weird habits like that (I’ve always been a weird eater) but you get my point. Your brain isn’t dumb, it just gets confused about what it wants sometimes. Be patient with it and be patient with yourself. Food is delicious and your body’s cravings were designed to get you the nutrients you need.
Want to check out some mindful recipes? Check these out…
Candied Citrus Peels: A Zero Waste Kitchen Recipe
Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies: Mindful Food
So to reiterate what we learned here: Diets are dumb + mindful eating is normal. Your body is a pretty good natural regulator of what you need to function at your most optimal level.
Food is the greatest wonder of the world and should be loved, honored, and enjoyed slowly and deliberately. We only get one life, why are we restricting so many silly things that bring our lives joy.
Bringing awareness not only to our food but to how it makes us feel creates a more balanced and healthy attitude around food. You should be allowed to have a cookie without feeling guilty – that’s not a healthy mindset. You should have a salad or a weird handful of fresh spinach because you know it makes you feel good – not because a diet tells you have to eat it.
*Of course, mindful eating isn’t always right for everyone. Many medical conditions require special diets and what not. Humans are not all one size fits all so please consult with an actual nutritionist or doctor before making huge diet changes.*