7 Ways Mindfulness Can Heal Diet Obsession
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.
The Rise of Restrictive Diets
If you’re like me, your interest is always peaked by whatever diet trend is in the headlines. The problem is that most diets fail, and people end up gaining the weight back, and then some.
While we can’t fault news outlets for publishing stories with flashy headlines, we can think twice about believing that there’s always a new diet to be tried or that one change can magically transform our health.
Healing Diet Obsession
Ultimately, I think we can agree that diet obsessions and unnecessary food restrictions are failing us and can be counter-productive. Orthorexia and eating disorders are on the rise in the United States and many other countries. It’s time we reevaluate the way we look at food and start using a mindfulness approach when eating.
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the idea of mindfulness in the late 1970s as: “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what’s on your mind.”
We can apply mindfulness to diet since studies have shown that a mindfulness approach to eating has positive benefits such as weight loss, control over overeating, and limiting sweets.
7 Tips for How to Eat Mindfully
1. Plan Ahead for Meals
There are many benefits to planning ahead for meals. For starters, you decide what you’re going to eat before your meal, saving you from decision fatigue at mealtime. If you know what you’re going to eat ahead of time, you are less likely to settle on an unhealthy takeout meal or something quick and processed.
Planning ahead also saves you money and time, forces you to think about what you want to eat (i.e. real food vs. processed fast food), and saves you stress from having to throw together a quick meal with limited ingredients. Think about the meals you want to eat for the week the weekend before. Do your grocery shopping and meal prep what you can in advance before the start of your week.
2. Listen to Your Body for Clues About Food Sensitivities
It’s almost shocking how little connection we now have between our bodies and our minds. For example, not many people would consider that their debilitating migraine could be linked to a meal they had that contained MSG a few hours prior.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who fail to see the connection between diet and chronic conditions. We need to listen to our bodies for clues about foods that are not right for us. For example, not many people are aware that acne is a negative reaction to dairy. Also, people with a sensitivity to gluten may experience bloating after meals.
It’s important to start making these connections within our bodies so that we feel vibrant and healthy. Keeping a basic food and mood journal is a great place to start if you want to track your symptoms with possible food sensitivities. Read more about how to go gluten free and dairy free.
3. Nourish Your Body with Real Food
As stated above, being more mindful with your food choices forces you to consider what you’re eating. I promote a clean eating diet over one that is unnecessarily restrictive or full of processed foods. When you’re practicing mindfulness with food, you’re more likely to choose a healthy real food snack over something quick and convenient from a vending machine.
Another reasons to eat real food? A recent study shows that ultra-processed foods are linked to cancer risk. Make a conscious effort to nourish your body with real food and notice how real food makes you feel.
4. Recognize Food Triggers for Overeating
If you have a sweet tooth, then this tip to avoid food triggers shouldn’t surprise you. Often times people who eat processed sweets crave more food. And it’s usually not healthy food that they’re craving.
If ultra-processed sugary junk makes you crave more junk, don’t eat it. Make a conscious effort to avoid it. The same goes for other foods that may trigger you to binge. For some people it’s crunchy, salty chips. For others it might be comfort foods that remind them of their childhood. Alcohol can also be a trigger for some.
Recognize your specific triggers for overeating and try to cut them out as much as possible. Read more about how to follow a no-sugar diet.
5. Be Aware of Your Emotional State
When eating you want to be in a parasympathetic state, also known as “rest and digest,” as opposed to a sympathetic state, also called “fight or flight.” Chronic stress and negative emotions leave you in a sympathetic state, and this isn’t good for your digestion. When you’re in a parasympathetic state, your heart rate slows, your intestinal gland activity increases, and the muscles in your gastrointestinal tract relax.
It’s important to evaluate what emotional state you’re in before you begin eating so that you can better digest and absorb your food and the nutrients it contains. If you’re not in that rest and digest mode, take a few minutes to do some breathing exercises or meditation. Taking a minute or two to show gratitude for the food you’re about to consume can put you in a parasympathetic state as well.
6. Be Flexible with Your Eating Approach
Being flexible with your eating approach is important because it can prevent you from restricting certain foods. An example of this would be people who are following a ketogenic (high-fat, low-carbohydrate) diet thinking that bananas are practically poison.
If you have the choice between a banana or a candy bar, choose the banana. There are certain foods that I think people should try to avoid. Gluten being one of them. But if you’re a person who doesn’t have Celiac disease or a known gluten-sensitivity, then having a few bites of something containing gluten when out with friends is not the end of the world.
7. Be Kind, Patient and Loving with Yourself
I cannot stress enough the importance of self love. No one is perfect. We all slip up from time to time and may forget to consider our food choices before consumption. Don’t beat yourself up over a mistake. Just set an intention to try not to do it again.
Be patient with yourself. New habits take time to form. Mindful eating may not come naturally to you right away, and that’s okay. The more you practice mindful eating, the easier it’ll become.
You might want to check out my other posts about disordered eating recovery. And, if you think you do have an eating disorder, please consult a qualified healthcare provider.
It’s easy to fall into the trap that you must only eat healthy foods to be healthy. The truth is that health is made up of a bunch of factors, including what you eat, how you sleep, how stressed you are, and whether or not you have a positive attitude. Mindfulness can help you obsess less about what you are eating.
I will leave you with these quotes:
“Every time you put processed food in your mouth you give your body a message: ‘I do not respect you. I do not love you. And I do not care for you.’” – Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
While I appreciate the intent of this quote, I’ve switched it around to have a more positive connotation.
“Every time you eat real food, you give your body the message – I respect you. I love you. I care for you.” – Carrie Forrest, MPH in Nutrition.
What are your thoughts on the diet culture and how mindfulness interacts with that? I’d love to have you leave a comment.