How to move from diets and fads to mindful eating?
There is an ever-changing landscape of dietary recommendations and experts. You can find substantial evidence to support almost any dietary strategy, be it vegan, keto, paleo, or even raw food diets. With food rules and fads everywhere we look, how can we use mindful eating to optimize our health and relationship with food?
With modern living, there is a growing disconnect between humans and the food we consume. The veggies in our fridge may have traveled thousands of miles to find their way into our suppers or only to be discarded when they go bad too quickly. We’re not as often intimately tending to the soils of our gardens or gathering foods from the forests. We may even forgo the trip to the farmer’s markets and engaging with our local food community.
How then do we know what to eat? Historically, foods were seasonal and local. Thus the environment produced leaves and fruits in harmony with our seasonal needs (juicy fruits during the summer for hydration and electrolytes or hardy gords or corn to supply a starch needed to sustain the cooler months). Now we have theories on what to eat and rules to abide by no butter, gluten-free, etc. We have the world’s food options at our fingertips, coconut from the tropical isle, quinoa from the mountains of Peru, anything we could want is ours. It is a miracle to have so much abundance and options, but is it what’s best for us?
Often in my practice, folks will ask me what they should eat. Of course, I understand the confusion. With so many diets, foods, and the addictive and harmful nature of processed foods, it becomes overwhelming to sort things out. Our pallets are altered based on what we eat. Over time, we desensitize only satisfied with sensational food ingredients and flavors to boost our dopamine/satisfaction and soothe our stressed-out nervous systems.
Know all of this, how can we move forward and support ourselves nutritionally? Here are a few steps to help recover your food intuition and your body’s mindful eating habits.
Clean up your plate
our taste buds change every two weeks. Thus we can reset our taste preferences by eating in new ways for two to three weeks. If you’re conditioned to consuming high sodium or extra sweet flavors, you might find simple, clean food unsatisfying. Eating clean and simple foods with minimal flavors or additives can help you appreciate more subtle flavors. Try a two-week clean eating plan and see how your perceptions of a flavor change.
Track your food
where does your food come from? Spend a week reading the food labels and learning more about where the food you regularly eat comes from? After observing, notice if there are changes you can make to eat more local food? Local foods may have lower carbon footprints and also more nutritional value.
Avoid processed foods and all added sugars
this is similar to number one above, but food impacts our taste buds and our hormones and metabolism. Eating highly processed foods will have negative impacts on your sleep, blood sugar, and mental health. If you’ve not taken this step already, consider it on the top of the list to help you get more in tune with your body’s needs. Notice how your energy, mood, and sleep changes with this essential step.
Prepare beautiful food
making a lovely meal with rich colors, textures stimulate the senses and gives pleasure. With food often lefts as a low priority, the art of food preparation
and table setting goes neglected. You don’t have to do this every day. Perhaps you add a few berries to a salad to give a pop of color or get out the favorite napkins, a candle, or a simple flower on the table to delight the senses and bring more mindfulness to eating and enjoying food.
Bless the food
many cultures and traditions have the practice of giving thanks and blessing the food before eating. This moment of appreciation helps us realize the food’s gift for nourishing our bodies and spirits. We can consider all the connections and webs of our food system that brought seed to become a flower and then a fruit and arrive finally for our consumption.
bringing more time into eating our foods can help us be more aware of how our bodies respond to the food and consume what we need. It often takes time for our body to send the message of satiation. Eating more slowly and mindfully can help us avoid over or undereating.
our cravings can tell us so much about our needs. Instead of judging, or mindlessly engaging with food cravings, slow down and feel them. Listen a little more deeply, even ask your body what it needs.
Notice if you’re in any emotional state, stress, anxious, lonely? Are you craving certain food groups
like salty foods, sweets, or fats? There so much we can learn from observing and listen to our body’s cravings. (Check out this past article on the role of the microbiome and food cravings)
Take what you need
modern food can be sheer entertainment. Consider what food you need to help simplify choices and reduces excess consumptions. Of course, we delight in special foods for special occasions, but daily, how can we eat to support our needs.
Food as medicine
food rules can get in the way of our body getting the nourishment it needs. When food is labeled as bad, we may not eat it due to following the rules. This lack of flexibility can deprive us of what we need at the moment. As our activity levels, hormones, and life stage fluctuate, so do our nutritional requirements. If we are sensitive to the daily fluctuations and needs, we can
find more balance than when following strict dogmas and rules.
Food log or journal
consider tracking your food in a log or journal and reflecting on your sense of wellbeing and other health indicators (anxiety, blood sugar, menstrual cycle, weight, energy). If you’re making some changes to the way, you eat you’ll want to have your body’s data to reflect upon the usefulness of the change.
Try one of the tips above that stands out for you and see where it leads. Our food story is an every changing journey and relationship. The more loving curiosity and listening-in we can do the better we can understand and support our own unique needs using mindful eating.