The advice to eat what we want sends shudders of horror among many women today.
“If I eat what I want, then I’ll eat nothing but potato chips and candy!”
But when we truly understand the advice, we see that only by eating what we want can we achieve success in feeding ourselves well for health, healthy weights and well-being.
Mindful eating (and the related concept of intuitive eating) uses our internal cues for hunger, appetite and satiety to guide us in eating. As infants, we naturally follow these cues, but once the outside world begins to influence us, we often start to distrust our cues.
“Women who come to Green Mountain often say their struggles with eating began with comments from well-meaning parents, worried their daughters were eating too much because they had recently gained weight,” says Robyn Priebe, RD, nutritionist at Green Mountain at Fox Run. “The parents didn’t realize that their children were in the midst of growth spurts that often mean a child gets rounder before she gets taller. Unfortunately, the result for many women is the beginning of a lifelong struggle with eating and weight.”
This struggle frequently revolves around periodic bouts of dieting, or even living on a diet, in constant fear that what we eat will make us fat. Research clearly shows, however, that dieting doesn’t work. While we may lose weight initially when dieting, we fail to keep it off, and often regain even more pounds than we lost. Further, we’ve “failed” when we don’t lose weight or when we regain it.
On the other hand, mindful eating is positive. It’s part of living well, leading a healthy lifestyle and accepting the diversity of size of bodies in their healthy states. After years of dieting their way to higher weights, many people lose weight by adopting this new way of thinking and being. More importantly, however, it means improved self-esteem and health including lower cholesterol and blood pressure. There’s no ‘pass/fail’ to this new lifestyle. Instead, the result is a happy, healthy body, mind, and spirit.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is eating in a supportive manner, using our bodies’ cues to guide us in when, what and how much to eat for satisfaction and well-being. It includes all kinds of foods that make us feel well, but that can vary from time to time as well as from person to person. For example, a hot fudge sundae may be a better choice than an apple sometimes, although some of us may not like hot fudge sundaes so we never eat them.
Mindful eating is about:
- a peaceful eating relationship with food according to your body’s needs
- eating to support your body’s natural healthy state
- balance, choice, wisdom, and acceptance
- eating consciously in a way to make our bodies feel well
- being aware of our surroundings, mind, body, and spirit
- being “in the moment”
Mindful eating is NOT about:
- measuring or weighing food
- restricting or avoiding foods
- counting fat grams or calories
- worrying about body size or “ideal” weight
3 Strategies for Success in Eating Mindfully
These three steps can help you better understand your role in eating mindfully. Eating with intuition is different for every person, but the general aspect of listening to your body remains constant.
- Eat when you are hungry. Watch for your body’s hunger cues as your signal that it is time to eat. Eat enough to feel satisfied and comfortably full, not stuffed. For most of us, this means eating every 3-5 hours or so. Balanced meals that include grains/starchy vegetables, protein foods, and vegetables and/or fruits promote satisfaction and satiety.
- Eat what you want. If you don’t, you’ll likely find yourself overeating out of deprivation. Restricting ourselves from certain foods may also keep us searching for food whether we’re hungry or not. If what we want is always the richer choice, we may still be caught up in diet deprivation. Compromise by using richer foods in smaller quantities. For example use foods such as blue cheese or bacon bits as a garnish on a green salad.
- Eat until you’ve had enough. If we’re used to eating until we’re uncomfortable, we may want to work on redefining our definition of how much is enough. Being comfortably full after a meal may be necessary to feel satisfied for some people. On the other hand, consistently eating until we’re stuffed is not ideal for healthy eating as it may mean we were not listening to our bodies’ signal of fullness. Occasionally overeating is normal; it’s the habit that we want to avoid.
As you begin to practice eating mindfully, it may help to use the Healthy Eating Plate Model as a guide.
- It’s a tool to use until we’ve learned to trust our cues of satisfaction and fullness.
- It can help eliminate the anxiety of how much is enough/too much by providing beginning portion sizes without measuring, weighing, or counting what is being put into your mouth.
- It also guides us in balancing our meals for satisfaction and satiety, although it’s our job to put onto the plate what satisfies our taste buds and provides for our well being.
Our last tip is a critical one, too. Enjoy your food!
When we’re eating, we want to remember to savor our foods with our eyes and nose as well as our mouth. Letting all of our senses play a part can enhance our enjoyment and help us feel more satisfied.