Diet culture teaches us that we can’t trust ourselves around food. It teaches us that we can’t trust our bodies to accurately communicate hunger and fullness. In fact, it teaches us to fear both hunger and fullness. And, as such, diet culture makes us believe that the only way to “control” ourselves around food and “manage” our weight is by following rules.
So many rules. Rules about when to eat, what to eat (and what not to eat), and how much to eat. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. It can become all-consuming. But, as much as we hate the rules, and as unhelpful as they have been, the fear of letting go of the rules terrifies us.
So, it comes as little surprise, when we begin to learn about the non-diet approach to health and well-being, an approach Green Mountain at Fox Run has been pioneering for over four decades, our natural instinct is to figure out how to turn this into a set of rules, too. I see this all of the time when I teach women about mindful eating, an integral part of the non-diet approach.
What is Mindful Eating?
The Center for Mindful Eating describes mindful eating as…
“… allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food.”
Mindful eating is about trust – trusting our bodies and trusting ourselves to make food decisions (which means unlearning a lot of what diet culture has taught us). It’s about:
- listening and responding to our body’s cues (which requires allowing ourselves to feel the cues we might fear).
- removing judgment from the decision-making process (not labeling foods as good or bad, or determining our self-worth based on our food decisions).
- allowing pleasure to be part of the eating experience.
In short, it’s about letting go of external controls to manage food and focusing our attention inward.
It’s about doing everything diet culture tells us we shouldn’t or can’t do. That makes this seemingly simple concept difficult in practice.
So, as we are trying to navigate this journey to become a more mindful eater, we search for ways to make it easier. It sounds like it should be so easy. We fall back on what we already know. We know the rules. So, in an effort to simplify and create a feeling of safety in the unfamiliar place, we start creating rules. Mindful eating rules. Rules to help “control” our decisions about food.
Reinterpreting the Rules with Mindful Eating
Hunger & Fullness Rules
Mindful eating is about noticing and responding to hunger and fullness cues. But, because we’ve learned that our bodies cannot be trusted, feeling hunger and fullness may also kind of scare us. So, to help, we set rules…“I must eat when I am hungry” and “I must stop eating when I am full.”
But, the real intention of noticing feeling hunger and fullness is to help you make informed decisions about food. To notice when your body is telling you it needs fuel so you can decide when and what you’ll feed it. And, to notice when the tank is full so you can decide if you want to stop, or if you want to continue eating anyway. You don’t need to eat the moment you feel hunger and you don’t need to stop eating just because you feel full.
NEED HELP RECONNECTING TO YOUR BODY’S HUNGER AND FULLNESS CUES?
Green Mountain at Fox Run can help. Join us this winter in scenic Vermont to re-learn to trust your internal ability to self-regulate when and how much you eat. Our nutrition and eating behavior curriculum will empower you to eat what you want in a way that feels good. Contact us to speak with a Program Advisor about how we can help.
Part of mindful eating is about eating in a way that tastes good and feels good in the body. It’s about making thoughtful and intentional food decisions based on your needs and preferences in the current moment. We often interpret “thoughtful and intentional” to mean “healthy” and proceed to set rules like… “I must always choose nutritious foods,” and “my meals must always contain a protein, grain or starchy vegetable, and a fruit and/or vegetable.”
And, while sometimes being thoughtful and intentional about our food decisions may mean choosing to eat salmon, kale, and brown rice, sometimes it also means eating chocolate cake.
It’s recognizing that our bodies crave balance and when we can tune in and listen to them, when we can respond to their needs based on what they are communicating in the present moment, we can make choices that honor our health as well as our taste buds.
Fun Food Rules
On a similar note, because the thought of now allowing forbidden foods a place in our regular eating routine feels uncomfortable, maybe even unsafe, we may only conditionally incorporate them. For example, we might say… “I am allowed to eat chocolate, but I am only allowed to have 1 piece per day.”
These types of rules keep us stuck in the dysfunctional eating behavior we are trying to change. Because there is still restriction, the food still holds power over us. We will never be able to end the power struggle until we can give ourselves unconditional permission to eat the forbidden foods.
“Doing it Right” Rules
Because dieting is all about “doing it right,” we often enter the journey to becoming a mindful eater with a similar mindset. We feel like mindful eating, too, is something we need to “get right.” We find ourselves striving for perfection and setting rules to help us get there. Rules like… “I must always eat without and distraction” and “I must be fully present and aware for every single bite of food.”
Mindful eating is about slowing down, tuning in, and being present. With practice, patience, and experience, our ability to do these things naturally builds over time. And, those anything-but-perfect eating experiences actually provide really rich learning opportunities for strengthening our mindful eating muscle.
Mindful eating is about being curious. It’s about experimenting. It’s about continuing to learn and grow. It is about progress, but never about perfection.
Resetting Expectations for a Successful Mindful Eating Experience
In order to fully immerse ourselves in this process, we likely need to reset some of our goals and expectations. Because mindful eating has become trendy and because diet culture has caught on, the popular media may have you believing that mindful eating will pave the way toward permanent weight loss.
However, the true spirit of mindful eating is about reconnecting with your body, learning how to trust yourself to making internally driven decisions about eating, and healing your relationship with food. It’s not about weight loss.
Do some people lose weight when they start eating mindfully? Sure. And some don’t. Ultimately, what happens with your weight is up to your body to decide. It depends on where you are now and where your body wants to be – and only your body knows where that is.
One thing we do know for sure, when we turn mindful eating into another diet, it will lead us back to the same place as every other diet – deprivation, defeat, frustration, and likely weight gain.
But, if we can focus our sights on feeling good rather than being good, on enjoying food rather than fearing food, and on trusting our bodies rather than controlling our bodies, mindful eating can open the doors to a life free from the chains of dieting.
If you are ready to stop dieting, make peace with food, and finally start living the life you’ve been waiting for, Green Mountain can help. Our program is designed to help women develop the confidence and skills they need to take charge of their decisions about food, find true health and well-being, and stop dieting for good.