Yesterday, I stumbled upon several posts on a new-to-me-blog called Avocado a Day Nutrition, and I was almost instantly convinced that her approach to food is the one I had been missing out on. I’ve heard of mindful eating before, but never really had it explained very well or contrasted so thoroughly with more conventional approaches to healthy eating.
The whole concept behind traditional diets is risky and ineffective, as restricting calories and labeling foods as “good” or “bad” often leads to binging and regaining any weight that was lost. Instead of jumping on that bandwagon, I began exploring the idea trying to live a healthier lifestyle quite some time ago, convinced that a more relaxed and holistic approach to food and health was the right way to go.
I wrote about using fitness trackers that included exercise, sleep, food, and water, which I appreciated greatly for a long time (almost a year), as it motivated me to make healthier choices, until it started stressing me out. I was getting tired of inputting all of the information and discouraged when the program indicated I hadn’t done as well as I thought in sticking to my goals. It felt more like Big Brother watching over my shoulder to see where things ended each day, evaluating my performance by external standards. It was no longer a tool I valued, so I have since been looking for a new approach that doesn’t require extensive logging and counting.
Enter mindfulness. I still wholeheartedly believe in pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and I think the application of mindfulness fits into that idea and provides a useful tool for managing food intake while enjoying food at the same time.
It’s all too easy to either feel like trying to eat healthy is a burden, keeping us from eating what we really want, or, on the other hand, to love food so much that we feel the need to eschew all concern for health to maintain our joy surrounding food and cooking. But what I’m learning about mindfulness is that it can bridge the gap between the two– you can enjoy what you like, but only until you’re full. If you pay attention to how you feel, you’re more likely to choose mostly nutritious food, with the occasional indulgence– because that’s what will make you feel your best, not to check off lists of required vitamins or keep your meals under a certain number of calories.
The key is that you take a moment to think about whether you’re really hungry and what you really want to eat. You take into consideration how you will feel after eating what you’re craving and decide if it’s truly worth it. You don’t count calories. You don’t place your worth in the number on the scale. You learn to listen to your body’s own fullness cues, so that you give yourself what you need to become strong and fit, without overindulging or restricting. You don’t label foods as “good” or “bad,” but recognize that there’s a place for all foods that you truly enjoy.
I’m trying to embrace this idea in all aspects of my life, asking myself why I’m doing the things I’m doing. Why am I working at my current job? Why am I craving chocolate? Why am I reaching for yet another handful of granola? Why am I exercising? Why am I binge-watching TV shows on Netflix? Why am I saving money?
Examining my motives for things helps me see the gaps and the ways in which I can change my thinking to focus on positives and make better choices that align better with my values. I want there to be a good reason behind everything I do, whether it’s big or small. I don’t want to go back to the kitchen for seconds out of habit when I’m already full simply because I haven’t taken time to realize I’m already full. I don’t want to run because I feel like I have to since I know exercise is good for me; I want to run because I like to.
With that in mind, I’m trying to learn to pay attention to cues of fullness and satiety in what I fill both my stomach and my life with— I don’t want either to be uncomfortably full or achingly empty. I encourage you to join me in embracing a more mindful approach to food and life.