The way we eat food is trained into us from childhood. Some of us were raised to eat every last crumb off a plate, or we were accused of being wasteful. Even though we’re now adults, we still hear that message ringing in our head. We might be full, or even over-stuffed, but we still force ourselves to eat down the rest of the food on the plate. It’s required.
Other people were raised on unhealthy food. Glass after glass of sugary soda. Plates loaded with carbs and sugar with nary a vegetable in sight. It can be very hard to break out of that routine. And especially when we are facing emotional challenges, our instinct is often to go back to our “comfort food”. Whether that’s a bowl of ice cream or a mound of pasta, it’s rarely something healthy.
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of those patterns.
The Importance of Food
It makes sense that our bodies would prioritize the intake of food. After all, for many of our ancestors, famine was a very real problem. Heck, it’s still a serious issue in our modern world, where over 10% of people are undernourished. One out of every ten people on our planet faces food challenges.
Our bodies understand that very-real risk. They do their best to prepare for the eventuality. When the world feels stressful, our bodies clamp down onto every ounce of fat. That can then add to our stress, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle.
We need to acknowledge that our relationship with food is complicated. It’s not a simple, mathematical solution. It involves emotions and childhoods and pressure from family and friends. Add in hormones and stressors, and it’s no wonder that many of us struggle with weight.
Mindfulness In Action With Food
A key benefit of mindfulness is that it helps you to view an issue without emotion. Without judgement. To simply look at the environment and consider what is happening.
Let’s say it’s midnight and you’re watching a sad movie. You’re curled up alone on the couch. You want ice cream. If you pause for a moment and think about how you’re feeling, you might realize you’re not actually hungry. It’s not that the ice cream will meet a physical need of nourishment. Rather, it is a soothing action. The flavors bring you comfort.
Many food addicts will tell you that they don’t even feel pleasure when they’re sneaking something. They feel nerve-wracking guilt and a compulsion to continue. When they’re done they’re often overwhelmed with regret.
Use mindfulness to pause for that moment. To take in a long, deep breath. To gently ask yourself, what is it that you’re looking for? What need is waiting to be addressed?
Tips to beat the crave
If you do, indeed, feel that your body needs nourishment, start with a glass of water. Lemon and lime can make it more palatable. There are often times when we are thirsty and misinterpret the signals. If you are still hungry, think about the range of options. If you’re particularly craving something unhealthy out of habit, would something a bit healthier do well enough? If you’re craving salty, think of something else with salt. If it’s sweet you’re craving, head in that direction.
This is where preparation can help immensely. If those less healthy items aren’t in the house in the first place, it’s harder to eat them. Healthier items which are present might get consumed just by default.
If, in the end, you do eat the unhealthier item, try a smaller portion size. Often we keep eating and eating past full just because the food is there. By gently weaning yourself down to smaller portion sizes, you can train your body to learn when it’s naturally full.
Eat slowly. It takes a while for the ‘full’ signal to come up from our stomach to our brain. Give your body’s systems time to send that signal. Enjoy each bite.
The more you think about each step, and make even slightly healthier choices, the more that over time those decisions add up. Your tongue’s taste buds adapt to the new eating style. Your stomach’s biome adjusts to crave those new foods. Your entire body becomes healthier and happier.