Before even writing this article, I consciously decided to eat a portion of my favourite orange and raisins’ cake. And now, I feel ready and inspired to let the flow of my mind and my pen travel and start writing on one of my favourite topic which is quite challenging for many people and was for me also until some years ago.
We often eat just what we find in front of us out of hunger, boredom, anxiety, joy, habit, need, anger or even sadness. We forget what our body wants to tell us, and we only eat based on our thoughts and feelings. And this is how a vicious circle is created, and food comes to comfort or empower our emotional world instead of giving energy and strength to our bodies. But, this is absolutely normal. The process is based on cultural, historical, social and biological roots that are deeply established. Hence, it belongs to our DNA. For instance, the mother offering her milk to comfort her child or the hunters who share their prey and their joyful or sad moments, the family table often goes together with positive -or negative- feelings, etc. Therefore, the connection between food and emotions has been there since always, and we aren’t supposed to break this pattern nor punish ourselves each time we eat a bar of chocolate “just to feel better”.
What we call “conscious eating” doesn’t tell us what we should or shouldn’t eat. It doesn’t concern good or wrong food choices. It involves the levels of awareness in our food experience. This is precisely the challenge that will make us better in the way we eat and give back to food the role it should play (nourish our body).
When we don’t make good food choices, the 1st step towards conscious eating is to stop judging ourselves. And not to accept any criticism or judgment from our surroundings, which often originates from personal conflictual relationships with food. Understanding why we eat what we eat and taking the time to analyse our habits, and forgiving ourselves when objectively we don’t make the right choices is already a big step. “I choose to eat chocolate because it gives me a sense of warmth that I need today” or “I can’t resist the temptation of eating chips because they remind me of my childhood”, etc. Let’s stop having remorse and guilty feelings, and let’s focus on the why. We aren’t “bad” when we overeat or when we choose to eat sugar, and eating something more healthy doesn’t make us better persons!
The 2nd step is to focus on awareness and decisiveness to our natural body’s needs and the feelings that arise from any kind of food. That is to say, learn to eat by listening to our body and chasing away the “emotional overeating”, according to the principles of “Intuitive eating” (Resch & Tribole, “Intuitive Eating”).
I will share with your some practical tips and advice that personally helped me a lot to achieve all that:
- When I eat, I try to connect quite quickly with my stomach. Obviously, the eating process starts from the nose with the odour and the mouth with the taste. The 3-4 bites at the beginning of the meal satisfy the needs of my mouth. At this specific moment, I try to think and focus on what my stomach is trying to tell me. What are its conditions? And then, nearly automatically, there is a shift of my thoughts and my concentration towards my stomach. I listen to it and try to imagine it talking to me and sharing how it feels. Getting used to this process took time, but it slowly became a life habit and a pattern that made me feel much better. And every time I decide to ignore my stomach, I do it consciously and for a reason. Even more, I never try to forbid myself to eat some food. On the contrary, when I want to eat something that objectively isn’t promoting my well-being, I don’t restrain myself and do it with pleasure and peace. I never let thee food police take place.
- Before starting dinner with friends where I know by definition that I might get carried away by the pleasant atmosphere and forget to connect with my stomach, I set a reminder to myself, like an anchor. The anchor can be the main course or a particular moment or a pause that I will have proactively decided I will have. This anchor will allow me to connect with my body and consciously decide what I want to do with the rest of the meal. Therefore the progress of the mean will be agreed upon in advance with me, and I will feel aligned with myself, my body and my mind.
- I find other ways to connect with my friends and family, which do not focus on rich food or alcohol, even during our shared meals. It is not uncommon to go out with friends, and instead of listening and speaking authentically to each other and opening our hearts, the only thing we do is eat non stop as if there is no tomorrow … Does this sound familiar? Well, this often hides a kind of insecurity and difficulty in honest communication. I practice this direction, and instead of creating a communication path through food, I seek an essential and genuine relationship with my surroundings. This makes me feel self-confident but also much closer to the people I enjoy being with. It is not only food that connects us but much more.
- When I am hungry, even just a little, I always eat, and I never wait to be very starving. I respect my needs. Therefore, I can better enjoy food and taste, and my stomach doesn’t take revenge on me! Everything happens more smoothly, I pause, and generally, I find the time to better feel my body and whether I am full or not. I accept the fact that I have a different body and needs than others. I am unique in my body. There are no ideal bodies or objectives to be reached, and I must respect what nature gave me. This control makes me feel self-confident and happier.
- I have included movement in my life daily since it gives me energy and makes me feel well and unique. I don’t pay attention to severe performances or the calories I consume. By doing so, my body feels nice, and my mind rests.
- I go on the scale very seldom, and I don’t follow any strict dietary program. I see the forest, and I don’t stick to details. I focus on the overall image and not on each food intake or any kind of exception. Even if I have a meal that is not perfect, nutritionally speaking, I know that it won’t have any decisive result on my health status. Having this kind of mindset, I keep my desired weight and never follow neverending restrictive diets as I did during my youth. And, what’s more important is that this attitude helps me keep a positive mindset and have a positive impact on the people close to me.