In my dieting days, I was the queen of “healthy” eating. I learned all about the subject from the plethora of diet books I devoured. Each new one promised a solution to my struggle with eating and I couldn’t get enough of them. I even went on to get a degree in nutrition and dietetics so that I could really excel at it.
The trouble is, my book knowledge didn’t serve me as well as I thought it might. I was so caught up in diet rules that I couldn’t meet my individual needs – both physical and mental — when it came to food.
At that time for me, and even now for many people, healthy eating meant eating in a way that controlled my weight – or at least eating in a way the weight loss diet industry told me would control my weight. The reality of this approach was that when I ate that way, I actually ended up gaining weight. It clearly didn’t translate.
Then I found mindful eating. Mindful eating didn’t change what I ate as much as how I ate. And it made all the difference.
What was that difference?
By eating mindfully, I now tune into what I need and want, not what some diet book or healthy eating guru tells me.
My wants vary according to what I need – sometimes it can be important nutrients; other times it can be the pleasure of enjoying a favored food.
The real gift of mindful eating is that it helps me stay very clear on what it is I truly want.
I’m not driven by feelings of deprivation that keep me chasing after something I think I can’t have. I also stay very attuned to what my body needs for well-being – if I go too long without eating vegetables, for example, my body tells me.
The end result is a supportive balance of meeting needs and wants that makes healthy eating happen on its own for me. It’s not something I have to try to force myself to do. Indeed, I don’t respond well to force. It usually sends me in the opposite direction, as my experience with diet rules did.
Ultimately what I’ve gained from mindful eating is that I began eating in a way that supports me in feeling good in the moment and over time. And that adds a whole new, very enticing flavor to healthy eating that keeps me doing it.
Did you ever define healthy eating according to diet rules – how many calories or points a food contains or whether it is high or low in ingredients like sugar, fat or salt? What challenges might someone encounter in moving away from that way of thinking and how could mindful eating help?
Marsha Hudnall, USA