Mindful Eating Helps You Become Mindfully and Intentionally Connected to Your Body
Mindful eating is often thought of as a way to change your eating habits and help you understand more about your food fears and anxiety, and help you to have a better relationship with food. But it can also heal your relationship with your body and actually help you identify many physical traits you weren’t even aware of.
Body Image Basics
The term body image refers to the way we think, feel about, see our body, and how we perceive others think, feel, and see our bodies. We receive messages about our bodies and how they should look, from external sources like family and the media constantly from an early age. An unhealthy body image can lead us to struggle with low self-esteem and can adversely affect many different aspects of our lives, including the development of an unhealthy relationship with food.
Positive body image is essential to both physical and mental health. Positive body image has been tied to health promoting behaviors like movement and lower stress levels. Conversely, low or negative body image has been linked to depression and eating disorders (Ferreiro et al 2014).
The pervasive thought in today’s culture is that body image issues primarily affect young girls in Western culture. This belief falsely assumes that others, including boys, men, older women, people of color, and members of the LGBT+ community do not struggle with the stress of assimilation or pressure to conform. I believe that these groups can suffer from poor body image even more. The truth is, body image issues can and do affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
It follows then that a negative body image can change our relationship with food as food becomes a way to alter the body’s appearance. Food is not only essential for our survival, but it is interwoven throughout our culture in many ways. However, if our relationship with food is laden with guilt, shame and anxiety, it can take the pleasure away from the experience of nourishing our bodies and connecting with others in this way. Practicing Mindful Eating is one way to reconnect with our inner wisdom and foster a healthy body image and relationship with food.
Mind-Body Balance is Natural
We are all born with an innate ability to regulate our eating. This is ability is driven by a deep and natural connection to our internal cues and sensations. Babies, for example, are experts at knowing just how much to eat and when they are full. They are unconcerned about timing and other external information about meals and amounts. They learn about meal times and such. Even this simple social construct starts the process of disconnecting us from our internal cues. It only worsens as we grow up.
In today’s culture, pressures to adhere to certain diets, exercise regimes, and body image ideals can lead us to engage in weight loss efforts, dieting behaviors, and even what is essentially normalized disordered eating. Instead of listening to constant messages from our bodies, we let external cues be our guide. This can often lead us to feeling out of control of our eating and disconnected from our bodies. So what can we do to regain this mind-body connection?
The Power of Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
Mindfulness can be defined as the practice of being in the present moment with awareness, openness and acceptance. It is not new by any stretch although its popularity in the West makes it seem so. Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to our bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts without judgment and has been shown to enhance both psychological and physical well-being.
Mindful eating is a mindfulness practice that encourages us to understand the impulses and the motivations that drive our urge to eat for comfort or distraction. We learn to tune into our bodily sensations and decide whether or not we are physically hungry. If the answer is yes we are physically hungry, we can eat while paying attention to the appearance of the food, the smell, the taste, and what the mind is thinking about the food that we are eating. If we understand that we are not physically hungry but are responding to learned impulses to comfort or distract, then we are able to explore those urges and the meaning behind them; to develop the knowledge and skills to eat in the way that aligns with our well-being goals and needs and to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Mindful Eating is Not a Diet
As you can see, this practice is not a diet. there is no judgement about food choice or amount. There is no emphasis or pressure to change your body shape or size. Those things may or may not happen as a result of Mindful Eating. The point is about the relationship you have with your body and food. The goal is connection to your inner wisdom and balance between the mind and body.
The core premise of mindful eating is ‘it is not what you eat but the way you eat ‘, (Albers, 2008).
Common Reasons for Eating
- To sustain life
- For energy
- To satisfy physical (and other types of) hunger
- To comfort or calm ourselves
- To cope with overwhelming emotions
- To deal with childhood/family trauma/issues
- To feel safe or because it is the safest choice available
- It is reliable
- As a distraction
- Because we don’t know what else to do.
Eating is necessary to sustain life and for energy to live life in a fulfilling and satisfying way. Eating is and should be an enjoyable part of life. However, eating can become problematic when we overuse it in some of the ways listed above, particularly when other areas are not getting the attention they need. Although eating can be valid ways to manage our feelings when we are unsure of other ways to manage or cope, we can learn other ways to cope as well. Reconnecting to our bodies can help us feel better about our bodies and give us the courage to heal from past hurt, develop new coping skills, and develop confidence in our ability to meet our needs.
Mindful Eating Strategies to Reconnect Mind and Body
Use the following questions as a guide to help you tune into the messages that your body is communicating with you. I suggest using a journal to jot down anything that comes up for you as you practice mindful eating and how your body responds. It doesn’t need to be more than a notebook designated for your reflections
How Do You Feel When You Are Full and Satisfied?
Instead of just focusing on how you THINK about being full, try to use your body’s sensations and cues to know when you FEEL full. Fullness is usually easier to learn first as it is typically a physical sensation that is hard to fake or substitute. You may overstuff yourself trying to feel that fullness and that is okay. It will not be long before you recognize your body’s sign that means enough. Additionally, the mindful eating will help you enjoy food more and you will notice satisfaction doesn’t require feeling stuffed. That is often an uncomfortable feeling that your body will want to avoid. Often times, we are motivated more by our thoughts, worries, and fears, as opposed to our actual feelings. Your body is smart and will tell you everything you need to know, if you know how to listen to it.
It tells you when you are hungry, what you are craving, and when to stop eating as you get closer to fullness. But if you wait for your mind to tell you, you might find sometimes you purposely eat less than your body needs to cut calories, or you eat well past fullness because you just aren’t paying enough attention.
Being mindful with your body and paying attention to how you feel while eating (and throughout the rest of your day), is so beneficial.
What Foods Don’t Feel the Best?
Another way mindful eating helps with your body’s mindfulness is by understanding how different foods makes you feel. This isn’t about restricting your food or trying to go on a diet, but simply being more aware of the way different foods affect you. Be sure to consider how you feel at the time you eat them and how you will feel a couple of hours later.
For example, you might find that while you absolutely love sweets, they tend to cause a pretty bad energy crash if you have them earlier in the day. By being mindful, you then know to save them until later in the day.
Use what you learn through mindful eating to decide what meals are most appropriate for different times of the day, while still eating all the foods you love that nourish your body properly.
Are You Learning Your Actual Hunger Signals?
As you practice mindfulness more, you can start noticing your hunger signals in addition to fullness cues. This might take a little more time if you are used to just eating at designated times during the day, or you have an issue with emotional eating. But the more you practice mindfulness, the easier this will be to pay attention to.
The real win is learning to recognize hunger cues and the types of hunger. Yes, the types! Physical is the only one that needs food. There is nose, eye, and emotional hunger too! Every time I go to an carnival and smell corn dogs and funnel cakes in the air, I want them! Even if I just ate! I have the best memories tied to them and it never fails so I make the necessary adjustments so I can enjoy them and still feel good. That typically means eating some fruit before and sharing the corn dog with my little girl and sharing a funnel cake with the big girl! Everybody is happy!
Consider the following:
- Eat free from distractions
- Eat slower
- Question your cravings
- Explore your food and mood connection
Mindfulness and specifically mindful eating, can be a helpful tool to increase both body awareness and acceptance. It can do the same for your relationship with food as well as discussed on my blog. However, if you feel that your relationship with food is a problem, or you are wanting to further improve your relationship with your body, coaching may help. Complete my online inquiry if you are in need of additional support.