Photo by Sheelah Brennan

Mindful eating

Food can be a source of joy and nourishment, or an addiction and a source of suffering. It can be a part of celebration and togetherness, but it can also be part of disconnection and pain. What is our relationship to food, and can we be aware of our motives surrounding food?

Even though I’m an advocate for mindfulness, it has always been hard for me to eat mindfully. And so I’m also a bit overweight. This overweight has been bothering me, not only because I think my body would look prettier if I were slim, but also because of the health aspect.

Every once in a while I would start a new healthy diet. But it never lasted. Once I would reach a certain weight, I would become more sloppy with my diet and I would gain weight again. The well know yo-yo effect.

I think the biggest problem with this approach was that it was motivated by fear of health problems and resistance to the way I looked. Once the ‘problem’ seemed more or less under control, I would lose my motivation and the cycle would start over again.

Even though it is difficult for me to eat mindfully, just being mindful in general did help me gain some insights. First of all, fighting against something has never helped me. So fighting against the shape of my body, being afraid of disease, fighting against my own un-mindfulness was definitely not the way to go. And it would keep me trapped in feelings of failure.

So I made it my mindfulness practice to befriend my body, and accept it just the way it is. To send love especially to my belly, that holds too much fat. If my belly would be a person, it would definitely not like me hating it. I regularly thank my body for it’s good health, and tell it that I intend to take good care of it. It might sound silly that I deliberately talk to my body. But to be honest, the negative self-talk was actually also talking to my body, but then in a negative way.

When fearful thoughts arise, thoughts of possible health issues due to the fat that is stored in my body, I intend to just feel the fear and be with it, instead of suppressing these feelings or fighting them by jumping to quick fixes like dieting.

As much as possible I’m trying to be mindful of my intention when I start eating. Is it my intention to give my body what it needs? To nourish it? Or am I actually running away from discomfort? For instance, when I arrive at the railway station at the end of a busy working day, I usually crave something to eat. But more and more often I now manage to stop and feel first: am I buying something to eat in order to nourish my body, because it needs food right now? Or do I want to eat to soothe the discomfort, and does my body actually want me to relax, and get out of my head. Do I need some breathing exercises perhaps?

At some moments of the day, especially when I am alone, I am able to remember that intention and be mindful when eating. Breakfast for instance has become such a moment. The railway station on my way home is becoming that more and more. Other moments are still difficult and go by on autopilot. Only afterwards I become aware that I have been eating too much.

Intention is very important. I give myself permission to eat whatever I want, as long as it doesn’t conflict with a loving intention. When I am fully present with every bite I take, I can appreciate the taste which is a positive emotion. And I can be aware how the food nourishes my body, which is also positive. Snacks and cakes are also allowed, as long as I am certain that I take them in order to fully enjoy then, and not to run away from discomfort or negative feelings. When I eat my snack while doing something else, and not taking the time to enjoy the snack, that is a clear sign that I’m running away from something. I’m quite sure that if I would only eat when I am willing to take the time to enjoy my food, that I would eat much less.

Before taking something to eat I intend to notice if I will eat to soothe discomfort, fatigue or frustration or to nourish my body and really enjoy the food. That requires me to stop. Stop programming, stop reading, stop doing all kinds of other things, and just be willing to feel what my body needs. Am I hungry? If so, will I take the time to be present while eating? If I’m not hungry, will I take a break and relax my body for a moment? It requires me to make my body a priority, which is difficult when I enjoy my mind focused activities so much.

I feel that I’m taking baby steps towards more awareness of the motives I have when I grab some food. And every time I succeed in saying ‘no’ when wanting to eat for the wrong reasons, feels like a little victory. I have no goal other than loving my body and cultivating my willingness to take good care of it. And of course to enjoy more fully the moments that I do eat.

I know that many people, just like me, are struggling with a healthy relationship to food and their bodies. I wish for you all to be able to love and accept your body exactly the way it is, and accept your relationship to food the way it is, and take small, loving baby steps to more awareness of the mechanisms that keep you from being able to eat mindfully.

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