By Jennifer Sterling
It can be our best friend and our worst enemy.
We need it to live, yet most of us are at war with it, confused not only about what we should be eating, but how much. We count calories, rely on "cheat meals" for pleasure, and try to keep up with the latest Instagram food fads. It's enough to drive anyone crazy.
So how do you quiet the noise and get rid of the guilt, shame and "shoulds" around food and eating?
The answer is mindfulness.
A mindful relationship with food will help you to stop obsessing over, or worrying about food, and make healthier food choices so you feel nourished and satisfied.
You can start cultivating a more mindful relationship with food with these 5 tips:
1. Eating when you’re hungry
We eat for two reasons: To feed our bodies and to feed our emotions. In order to make peace with food, it’s important to know the difference.
Physical Hunger comes on gradually and can wait. If you run out of the house and skip breakfast, you can get through a few hours before your stomach starts growling and begging to be fed. When you finally sit down to eat, that hunger can be satisfied with just about anything. Physical hunger doesn’t discriminate. It also has a limit—there’s only so much your stomach can hold, and when it’s full you no longer feel hungry.
Emotional Hunger on the other hand has no physical limit. It doesn’t go away when your stomach has reached capacity. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and is very specific—think chocolate covered pretzels, ice cream or mac and cheese (comfort foods). If you are physically hungry, eat. Denying your of body physical nourishment sends your body into starvation mode and will often result in binge eating later. If you suspect emotional hunger, pause and check in with yourself. Is there something besides food that would make me feel good right now? Allow yourself to be nourished without food, if that is what you’re craving.
2. Eating with intention
Make eating an event—sit down to eat, without distraction. Before you begin eating, take 30 seconds to notice what’s on your plate, and allow yourself to take in the colors and smells. Chew slowly and notice the tastes and textures of what you’re eating. Every so often check in with yourself and notice if you’re feeling satisfied. Slowing down gives your body the time and space needed to digest what you’re eating. It will also help you to know when you’ve had enough to eat.
3. Eating what your body needs
It can be challenging to figure out what your body needs if you’ve been relying on calorie counting, dieting or other external sources to tell you when and what to eat, but it gets easier with practice. When hunger strikes, take a minute or two to check in with yourself. Instead of getting caught up in what you should be eating, get curious about your hunger. Ask yourself: What am I hungry for? What would make me feel nourished right now? The answer may come to your immediately, and it may not. Try not to judge yourself here. The more you take the time to connect with and listen to your body, the easier this process will become. In time, you’ll gain a better understanding of your body and what you need to feel your best.
4. Eating until you're satisfied
Instead of stopping because you feel you should, stop when you feel you’ve had enough. This will vary depending on what you’re eating, your emotional state, your schedule and how physically hungry you are. Allow yourself to be flexible and trust that as long as you’re eating with mindful attention, you’ll be able to feel when you’ve had enough and are satisfied.
5. Being kind to yourself
Creating a peaceful relationship with food takes time. We live in a society where dieting and calorie counting are the norm. We’re encouraged to look to celebrities and fitness gurus to tell us what we should be eating, which results in guilt and shame when we fall off the wagon. Instead of beating yourself up for not being able to stick to a diet, understand that dieting isn’t sustainable—95% of people who lose weight on diets gain the weight back in 35 years, so you’re not alone. Treat yourself with kindness as you learn to listen to your body and its hungers.
Learning to listen to and understand your body is not a quick fix and it won’t happen overnight. It’s a process that requires you to get honest with yourself about your food issues and eating habits, but the effort is well worth the reward. The more you use these tools the easier it will become to let go of the guilt and shame around food and transform any unhealthy eating habits.
Jennifer Sterling contributes to BGIO because she believes in the mission to make holistic health and wellness accessible for the Black community. As a holistic nutritionist and emotional eating coach, she too believes that everyone should have access to information needed to feel their absolute best. She is based in New York City.