We all know that eating mindfully is important for our overall wellbeing. Eating while being present, honoring your hunger and fullness cues, and savoring your delicious meal make the entire eating experience more enjoyable and, of course, we’ll digest the food better.
And yet, so many of us find it extremely difficult to eat mindfully on a regular basis. Why is this? How can something that is relatively simple feel so impossible?
When I was struggling with Binge Eating Disorder (essentially the opposite of mindful eating), I always ended each binge with a new (yet old) promise to myself: “Tomorrow I’ll work out in the morning, eat less, and be super certain not to eat until I’m hungry and stop eating as soon as I’m full!” These promises were broken a million times over, because I had hidden blocks that were keeping me from being truly present with my meal. Even when I was sitting in silence, taking deep breaths, and putting my fork down in between bites, I still found myself overeating and searching through my cabinets for “something extra” after my meal, until I felt totally stuffed. Most of what kept me blocked from mindfulness were tiny little mindset tricks that took me months of working with a coach to understand.
Here are 3 reasons why most of us are keeping ourselves from being present at the plate:
1. Your goal is to eat less.
Any forced attempt to make yourself eat less will backfire 100% of the time. Ever seen those diet ads that will tell you ‘tricks’ for how to remain full for hours so that you won’t want to eat as much? For example, wearing a tight dress to a party so that you won’t want to be bloated, eating a salad before your “real” meal, or eating before going out to eat with friends so that you won’t be tempted to munch on appetizers. I call these false willpower tips because they don’t work. Any scenario like this that puts us in a psychologically stressful state of resistance turns off the important hunger and fullness hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which makes it nearly impossible for us to be present with our body and food.
So, instead of trying NOT to eat, which puts you into this stress response, simply ask yourself whether or not you’re hungry, and release the expectation of needing to consume only a certain number of calories for the day or only eating at certain times of the day or only eating certain foods. You’ll be much more apt to make more supportive food choices from this calm headspace.
2. You’re not in touch with your emotions.
Let’s be frank: Most of us were never taught how to be alone with ourselves. This is why so many people go through life never feeling a true sense of happiness or sadness – because they’re so used to numbing out with food, technology, alcohol, etc. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “What you resist persists,” and it’s true. The more we avoid something, the bigger it becomes. All of the tough feelings that we ignore become more intense under the surface.
This lack of mindfulness about our own emotions leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to get rid of those exact emotions. And the reason that most of us are unwilling to be in touch with our feelings – to create a real, intimate relationship with ourselves – is because we believe that there’s something wrong with us; that we are broken. We continue on with unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as mindless eating, because we believe that we inherently deserve it.
Eating mindlessly, using food to numb out, or literally stuff down the feelings that are trying to spill out of us, will never work. We must learn to address the very things that make us feel like we can’t handle our emotions. This can be done through therapy or counseling, but even something as simple as identifying what you’re feeling, in silence, can be powerful.
This type of awareness about your emotions will put you in that clear headspace that allows for more loving and supportive choices around food, plus a clear awareness that no amount of food is going to fill the emotional voids that we all inevitably feel throughout our lives.
3. You believe that foods are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
When we put the labels ‘good’ or ‘bad’ on our foods, it makes it basically impossible to be mindful about eating. In fact, labels like that completely tune out any information that your body is trying to give you about what feels good or bad for it, because you’re stuck in a strict expectation of what you’re ‘supposed’ to want to eat and in what quantities. Removing the good and bad labels from food takes time to undo, since many of us have spent years enforcing these ‘rules’ on ourselves. Be patient with yourself during this process and know that your body will not fail you.
Healing my own relationship to food, and being mindful about why I was binge eating, restricting food, and attempting to control my body, led me to greater understanding about inner critic, my fears, and my deepest wisdom. Understanding these hidden blocks and mindset shifts will help you to do the same, so that you can be fully present at the plate and savor every bite of your meal!