Healthy eating – it’s not just about the food

So, what IS healthy eating? This phrase is thrown around a lot, and its meaning is vague at best! Here’s what I’ve learned during my eating disorder recovery.

We can argue all day about what foods are the healthiest, and even the experts can’t agree. Everybody seems to agree that fruits and veggies have lots of nutrients, but still, every body is different. When striving to “eat healthy,” consider both nutrition and what works best for your body (broccoli is generally considered healthy, but if it makes you feel ill, then it’s probably not healthy FOR YOU!). Don’t forget the importance of balance – eat a wide variety of foods, including treats*. This is basic intuitive eating. 🙂 But here’s the thing …

Healthy eating isn’t just about what you put in your mouth.

Healthy eating also requires a good attitude and satisfaction with food and eating. Don’t believe me? Studies show that attitude and satisfaction from eating actually have a very significant effect on your metabolism and digestion – possibly even more important than what you’re eating!

So, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough. Eating nutritious food is not healthy eating if you’re forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t like … or if you’re feeling guilty or anxious during or after a meal. Just as good health requires both good physical health and good mental health, healthy eating also has both physical and mental components. Our bodies and our minds are intricately connected, so when our bodies and minds are not in harmony, we are essentially at war with ourselves – and you can imagine what kind of damage can result from constantly being at war!

Healthy eating = nutritious, balanced eating + a healthy, positive attitude toward eating

So, what does this have to do with eating disorders? It matters because most ED people don’t consider the last part of the equation. They think that eating salads every day = health … or eating raw vegan = health. That might be true if a person genuinely loves eating salads every day or eating raw vegan AND if that way of eating creates no difficulty or anxieties (and no restricting or binging behavior). But most people who strive to “eat healthy” focus solely on what they’re eating without considering how it makes them feel. This creates a disconnect between our minds and bodies – or even within our minds.

It is possible to derive both nutrition and pleasure from our eating. This is truly healthy eating!

This disconnect is the problem with eating disorders. An eating disorder essentially means that a person has an unhealthy relationship with food and with her body. How do Thoughts-Create-Your-Reality-300x196we fix that? For one thing, we can work on the right side of the equation above (the “attitude” part); in fact, fixing that part of the equation will go a long way towards fixing the actual eating part too. Don’t believe it? Try it and find out. Work on changing your attitude toward food. Experiment with different foods and eating situations, and find what gives you pleasure. When we change our thoughts, we change our reality.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? What does that equation mean for you?

 

I use the word “treats” here loosely to refer to “play food” or food that is eaten purely for pleasure rather than nutrition; however, the actual practice of intuitive eating involves giving up labeling food as “good” and “bad,” so in reality, any and all foods could be considered treats if you enjoy them!

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The secret to quitting binging: #3

This is the third post in a new series, where I discuss my top tips for quitting binging. These tips – or practices – have worked for me and many others in long-term recovery. In the first two posts, I talked about how important it is to eliminate food-related guilt (click here to read the first tip) and to put weight loss on the backburner (click here to read). In this third tip, I’m going to talk about mindful eating.ALKBit

What is mindful eating? Simply put, it’s the practice of eating with mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being in the present moment and focusing your attention on the current internal and/or external sensations, feelings, thoughts, and observations of the world. Mindful eating is simply applying the idea of mindfulness to the act of eating. When you eat mindfully, it’s impossible to binge. Simple, right?

Well, not so simple actually. Most of us are constantly focused on the future or the past – we’re rarely in the present. Oftentimes this is a major cause of anxiety and even physical health problems. Yet, keeping your head stuck in the past or future is not an easy habit to break. Many people use meditation or yoga to learn how to be mindful, but this can be difficult for someone whose mind is used to going 100 miles per minute!

When we binge, we are never being mindful. Most of the time, we’re watching TV or reading or playing on the computer to distract us from our eating. Or, our brains are a million miles away from the food and our bodies. Or, we’re thinking about our next meal or the next bite … or how guilty we feel or how “bad” we are for eating this or that. Or, sometimes we’re even in a binge-induced trance where we have almost no awareness of anything!

So, how do we eat mindfully? The most important step is to eliminate or reduce distractions. When you eat, don’t do anything else. Just eat. No TV or phone or laptop. Just you and the food (and maybe your partner). Also try to reduce distracting thoughts. As your mind wanders, keep gently returning your focus to the food and the process of eating. Use all your senses in paying attention to the food, and focus on how the food feels in your mouth, in your stomach, etc. Listen to any feedback you get from your body. If your taste buds are telling you something doesn’t taste good, then don’t eat it. If your stomach is starting to gently remind you that you’re full, stop eating.

Theoretically, it seems so simple, but it’s much harder to put into practice, and it does take a lot of practice. Take baby steps. Try to remind yourself throughout the day to be present in the moment – to be mindful of your surroundings. And on a relatively drama-free day, try eating mindfully for just one meal. Don’t tell yourself “from now on, I’m eating mindfully all the time.” That seems too overwhelming. Just do it for one meal. And maybe another after that. You don’t have to do it for every meal or even every day. In my own experience, it feels a little weird at first (I was really, really attached to my TV and computer distracted eating rituals). But I soon began to enjoy my mindful eating time and even look forward to it. Crazy, right? The need to binge or overeat is never there when I’m truly being mindful, probably because it is MUCH easier to obtain satisfaction from your eating experience when you’re actually paying attention and savoring each bite! Suddenly, having just one or two cookies (instead of the entire box) becomes possible, because when you take the time to eat a cookie slowly and savor and truly appreciate it, there really is no desire to eat a hundred more!

But practicing mindfulness in my life is always a work in progress. I still have a ways to go in learning to direct my mind to the present moment more often, and I’m currently trying to work harder on that. So far, the payoff has been enormous. Just in the last two days since I started putting post-it reminders around my house (with cheesy sayings like “Be present” or “I’m fine RIGHT NOW”), I’m felt so much calmer and more peaceful, and it’s really kind of an amazing feeling. 🙂 I’m going to give myself a few weeks with this renewed effort and see how things progress, and I’ll write another blog post detailing my progress!

What are your experiences with mindful eating … or mindfulness in general? What is one mindfulness goal (even a tiny one) you can make for the next few weeks?
P.S. If you’re interested in joining a “Mindful Eating” online group event for support and tips in the month of May, message me below in the comments! 🙂