By ATMS Member, Debbie Pannowitz
How many decisions do you think you make around food each day? Maybe 20, maybe 50, actually it is at least 200 per day! How amazing, all of those unconscious decisions. With such a strong auto-pilot no wonder diets are so hard to stick to. Not to mention other factors that influence our choices e.g. thoughts, emotions, food availability, stress, deservedness, time etc. Healthy eating may start to sound a bit like a hopeless battle, especially when the ‘experts’ keep telling us conflicting information. Mindful eating provides us clarity when all those swirling thoughts, emotions and ‘alternative facts’ begin to swamp us. It helps us find a grounded, compassionate sweet spot and a path to exploring the relationship with food we would like to pursue.
Eating with awareness
Mindful eating in its simplest form is eating with awareness. It is eating in a way that allows us to become present to the moment by being aware of all that is in and around each mouthful. In those moments when we practice mindful eating we are asked to be curious and notice the sensations we are experiencing. We are asked to be kind to ourselves so that our food choices are harmless and nourishing, and that we notice any judgmental chatter we may have. Judgments are easily identified as those statements that include words like should, must, can’t etc. that somehow make us feel guilty or even ashamed. As we notice these judgments we come closer to being able to quietly release them from our lives and make choices that are more nourishing.
Tune in to recognise hunger
Mindful eating also gives us the tools to recognise satiety and hunger. Some of our emotional responses to life circumstances are felt physically in our body and these sensations are just the same responses our body would have if it was hungry. Mindful eating helps us notice if this gnawing feeling in our stomach is really hunger or perhaps stress and anxiety. As we tune into these sensations and our lives, perhaps relaxation with three, gentle, sincere breaths may be enough to allow us to choose something other than our favourite soothing food. This something might be a walk with the dog or maybe we could just decide that only our loudest scream will satisfy!
Overcome that chocolate craving
We have all experienced moments when the only solution in that moment is chocolate, but perhaps when we react to that craving we eat without enjoyment and the pleasure of chocolate is not experienced. Instead we experience a gnawing sense of guilt that is triggered when an empty chocolate wrapper is finally noticed. Mindful eating helps us find a way out from this experience of suffering to help us look with a more grounded, compassionate gaze upon ourselves. Mindfulness helps us get back to observing what is ‘this’ about, what am I feeling, what would be the kindest thing I could do for myself or if I make this choice or that how will either of them make me feel in an hour? Our cravings become our greatest allies, in this example, a craving for chocolate could just be a cue to examine ‘what’s not working for me today, what do I need to choose that would care for me?’
As you begin a mindful eating practice you may notice that an old habit has crept in, with mindfulness just notice, say ‘oops’ and know just noticing has returned you to mindfulness and a chance to choose differently. The most precious thing about mindful eating is that there are no good or bad judgments, just a gentle way of practicing to become aware of how food is affecting you, to tune in to your senses and to decide what is nourishing for you. It helps us notice does this food make me feel tired, energised, calm, distracted etc. When we begin to value all food this way, over time it becomes easier to intentionally make a choice and let the autopilot lose its power.
Be free from the righteousness of the diet
I say we have at least the opportunity for three ‘sweet’ spots every day. At each meal there is the opportunity to be present, to tune in to whether your desire for each mouthful is a need to be full or fulfilled. Just as a cook tastes each meal for seasoning, we can also ask what would season your life, is it love, peace, creativity, mindfulness etc. Each meal is a new beginning that does not have to be clouded by previous food choices, these choices are gone, so forgive and begin again. Eating is a practice, no one is perfect but every day we get a chance to try again, be curious, choose harmlessness when we are able and find forgiveness free from the righteousness of the diet culture.
Debbie Pannowitz, (ATMS Member Number 12923) Grad Dip Hlth Sci (Nutr Med), RSKP, MSc, MBA), the Mindful Nutritionist, gathers over 20 years of experience in healthcare and combines her clinical experience of nutrition medicine and kinesiology to meld individualised mindful eating programs via consults, courses and retreats. Debbie is a public speaker and the author of Heal with Food – Food Farmacopoeia. She has an extensive career in scientific research, the food and health industries and is particularly interested in clarity in healthcare communication. She has a number of publications to her name, lectured and tutored at several of the major natural therapy colleges throughout Australia and writes occasionally for journals and community newspapers. Her preferred habitat is a vege patch.