How Can I Become a Mindful Eater?

Maybe you're in the depths of a relationship with food and your body that you desperately want out of.

In that sense, mindful eating doesn't exist in your vocabulary. You're a vegan, fruitarian, vegetarian, paleo-eater, macro-counter, etc. for no reason other than the fact that categorizing your diet gives you something to belong to. It allows you to rationalize why you eat what you eat. It boosts your ego.

However, you're aware that your relationship with food is obsessive. You're fixated on food all of the time. You're constantly scouring new recipes that fit the parameters of your diet. You pin cookie recipes that — if you're being honest — you'll never actually make. You comment on dessert photos on Instagram with comments like, "YUM. I can't wait to make this!" But, you'll never actually bake the cookies, brownies, etc. Why? Because loosening the grip you have on your diet is impossible. It's your identity. It's your being. It's you, at the very core. Inevitably, mindful eating scares you. You're petrified you'll gain weight, hate your body, never be in a relationship, and lose all of your friends.

Or, maybe you have a mediocre relationship with food and your body.

You live by an 80-20 rule. Nutritious food 80% of the time; pizza, doughnuts, and beer the other 20. You allow yourself to indulge, but only in restricted, rule-laden doses. You reassure yourself that only indulging in a very finite window of time is okay. After all, you'll get back on the horse tomorrow. You'll run X number of miles, skip breakfast, or both. Deep down, though, you're looking to banish this paradigm from your life. Inevitably, you're eager to eat from a place of mindfulness (...and not just 20% of the time).

Alternatively, maybe you consider yourself a pretty mindful eater.

You eat a burger when the craving calls (but, only if it's pasture-raised), you grab an ice cream cone with friends without feeling much guilt (so long as it's made with high-quality dairy), and wine on Saturday nights is a regular thing (but, you only allow yourself one glass). And, while you do eat most things in moderation, you still drag yourself to an intense workout 6-7 days per week. You engage in a juice cleanse or Whole30 program when you feel a few pounds over your "normal" weight. In essence, while you're familiar with mindful eating, you find yourself dipping back into perfectionism around food and exercise from time to time.

If any of those resonate with you, I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. I've been all of those, and I'm still not a perfect mindful eater. That's a pretty high standard to accomplish, anyway.

For me, instead of aiming to always eat mindfully, I aim to eat mindfully more often than not. It's not always easy, though. And, the journey to mindful eating is not a hop, skip, and a jump away. It takes time. It's an evolving process — and it's all about progress. That said, no matter where you are in your journey to mindful eating, I've put together a few simple tips to help you honor your hunger cues and learn how to enjoy a variety of foods. Because when you listen to your innate hunger cues and forego eating the most "superior" foods all of the time, you'll learn how to become a mindful eater.

1. Read up. These three books will kick-start your journey to intuitive, mindful eating. You'll likely see yourself in these books, and that's the whole point. Again, you're not alone — and there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Stop spending every free hour on social media. Remember that what you scroll through every day has a major impact on your thought patterns. It dictates your cravings and influences what you're planning to eat. Additionally, it makes you feel guilty for your past (or present) food choices.

So, the more time you can spend off of social media, the better. If you can't seem to wean yourself from it, here are a few suggestions: get crafty — make a vision board, color, paint, etc. Spend time outside with a friend — go for a walk, grab coffee, or buy new plants for your home. Read — pick up a fiction / non-fiction book or flip through a magazine like Sunset, Real Simple, and Kinfolk. Call a friend — someone whom you haven't caught up with in a while. Cook something delicious for you and your roommate, spouse, or family — do it for your tastebuds! Practice self-care — take a bath, put on a face mask, cozy up on the couch and watch something on Netflix, etc. 

3. If you're spending a lot of time on social media, be mindful of who you're being influenced by. If you're following these types of activists, you're definitely getting steered in the right direction. They're pumping out content that will motivate and inspire you to look at food and your body from a different light. However, if you're following orthorexic social media influencers, macro-counting body builders, clean-eating gurus, weight loss dietitians, etc. you're not getting mindful eating messages. If that's the case, stop following them! You have to do what is best for your mental and physical health, and being bombarded with messages to eat a certain way, look a certain way, etc. is detrimental. At the end of the day, even if you are following #healthateverysize and #intuitiveeating health practitioners, spending too much time glued to social media is taking away from your (real) life.

4. Start eating when you get physically hungry. If you're someone who eats at the same times every single day, start putting food in your body when hunger calls. Creating trust with your body = mindful eating. You're not establishing trust if you're constantly ignoring or avoiding your hunger cues. You'll always be begging for fuel if you're not filling up your tank when your tank is running on empty.

If that's too scary, write down when you get physically hungry vs. when you allow yourself to eat during the day. Where you see discrepancies is where there's room for improvement. The closer you can get to feeding yourself when you're physically hungry, the easier mindful eating will get. If being at work, in class, etc. provides a challenge for eating mindfully, either bring a snack with you! Or, fill up on complex carbs, healthy fats, your favorite protein, and plenty of fiber ahead of time. You'll keep your engine revved for a good 3-5 hours if you're eating enough.

5. Try to eat away from distractions or when you're feeling anxious, frustrated, or lonely. Now, I understand that we live in a time where distractions are everywhere. From our addictions to our phones, our email, podcasts, etc., it's easy to reach for technology when eating. However, start leaving your phone in another room. Shut your computer during lunch and give yourself as much time as you can to eat. If that means sitting outside on a bench, do it. Instead of forcing your mind to absorb what you're reading / watching while you eat, your brain will be able to send more signals to your digestive tract, thus assimilating the nutrients you're putting in your body.

If a certain emotion prevails, do something to feel happier, more at peace, or less anxious. Feeling stressed, sad, etc. will wreak havoc on your digestive system if you're trying to absorb what you're eating. You'll end up feeling bloated, eat past fullness, or feel worse afterward. Getting a grip on your emotions is key.

6. Figure out what you're craving, and if possible, eat that. Now, in a perfect world, you'd have everything you ever wanted to eat at your fingertips. Grilled chicken and leafy greens when that calls, peanut butter oats when the craving strikes, a nutrient-dense smoothie when you need something refreshing, sushi on a Friday night, or a warm cookie while sitting on the couch. However, that's not real life. So, if you're in a situation where you can eat what you're craving, go for it! If that's not possible, do the next best thing — get something else that sounds good (based on flavor preferences, your mood, your hunger level, etc.). Tell yourself that the next time you're craving X and it's available, you'll eat it.

These are just a few tips to get you started. If you're interested in one-on-one coaching around mindful eating and breaking free from the diet mentality, I'm here for you.