This is the time of year when many of us decide to eat a healthier diet and/or lose weight. We will often try a specific diet to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, diets have side effects that are not helpful for our well-being. For instance, diets can cause a preoccupation with food, cause intense cravings, (because a particular food is not on the diet), decreased self-esteem and guilt, feeling like a failure, and body shaming.
Then there is emotional eating. This was a big deal during the height of the Covid pandemic. Many were stuck at home and got bored, lonely, anxious or all three. We turned to food to soothe our negative mind sets. Let’s face it, food brings lots of comfort. Overeating is also linked to PTSD, adverse childhood events, emotional trauma, anger and grief. When we eat to calm undesirable emotions, we are eating mindlessly. This means we have poor awareness of hunger, fullness and bodily symptoms of emotional experiences. We are on autopilot.
Given that diets don’t often work, what does? What if we could establish a healthier relationship to food and eat more mindfully? This is Intuitive and Mindful Eating.
Intuitive eating rejects the diet mentality, honors hunger, challenges the food police, and encourages making peace with food—hence a healthier relationship with food. We learn to feel our emotions, be aware of hunger—eating in accordance with internal cues, not a clock or just because food is readily available. And paying close attention to emotional eating—especially when we feel hurt, angry, lonely or sad. It’s a good idea to pause and check in with ourselves. Breathe. Ask, “What do I truly want right now?” Stop eating when full. Acknowledge cravings—explore them.
It is also important to be mindful of how we eat. We should take the time to sit down and enjoy our food, instead of eating on the go, or in front of a screen. Enjoy the sensual aspects of food—visual appearance, smell, texture, taste. Taking this time to appreciate a meal can improve digestion, and improve overall health, such as reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and gastro-intestinal issues.
These skills take repetition and the guidance of a skilled practitioner. I am available to help explore the concepts of intuitive and mindful eating—coupled with learning self-compassion; we need to treat ourselves the way we would respond to others when distressed.
Dr. Nancy Aton