Do you often eat until you are stuffed? Do you regularly feel guilt after eating a particular item or after a meal? Do you exercise to “buy” yourself more calories or as repentance for an indulgence? Has your weight fluctuated significantly over the past several years?
Let’s face it. Most of us have answered yes to one of those questions at one time or another. For some, managing appetite and making healthy choices comes naturally, but for most of us there is some amount of guilt, work and sacrifice involved.
Eating healthy does not begin at the dinner table, in the kitchen or even at the grocery store. No, it begins with what you think. “Je pense, donc je suis,” as René Descartes so famously penned. “I think, therefore I am.” Our thoughts, our perception of ourselves, our deepest heart’s desires — these are all eventually reflected in our choices and our behaviors.
When it comes to eating, however, this is not as simple as it seems. You see, the subconscious brain has a funny way of taking control of the choices we make regarding food. Your brain is wired to make you overeat. Our bodies are built to survive scarcity, yet we live in an incredibly abundant environment. Calories are easy to come by and they require little to no physical input to obtain. You no longer have to farm, hunt, process and prepare your own food. It comes conveniently packaged and ready to consume. In other words, we no longer spend calories to get calories.
To make matters worse, modern processed foods are designed to make us overeat. Your brain and your body are on the hunt for the magic combination of carbohydrate and fat (think ice cream, cookies, potato chips) that will flood your brain with happy chemicals that lure to eat that food again and again, and in as much quantity as possible. Carbohydrate, fat and, to a certain extent, salt are the most basic things that communicate to your brain that your body is being replenished with energy (which used to be in short supply before modern times). Your brain remembers that food and those happy feelings, tempting you to eat that food again whenever it’s available. It’s a genius design for the survival of the human race.
So what are we to do since our biology is working against us? The answer is to eat mindfully. Since we now know our brains are playing tricks on us, you may realize this is much easier said than done. The first step toward mindfulness is to pay attention. Call out into the light the subconscious brain and its influence on your eating behaviors. Then ask yourself the important question that we often neglect when we choose to eat. Why? Why am I eating? What purpose is it fulfilling?
Any number of answers to this question are perfectly valid. You may eat for fun, for nourishment, for flavor, for energy, out of boredom or because you’re stressed. The answer to the question isn’t nearly as important as simply learning to ask the question. Once your subconscious behavior comes into the light, it allows you to begin to make a conscious decision with your rational brain about what to do about that particular desire. At times, you may decide to proceed and at other times you may stop and realize that you’re eating behavior is not giving your body what it needs at that time.
This is also a good time to ask yourself a simple question. “Am I hungry?” Answer the question honestly. This is the opportunity to make a decision. And whatever the decision you make, don’t feel guilty about it. It is perfectly acceptable to eat for pleasure. But if you often tend to eat until you are miserably full, perhaps asking the question can help you to pause. Take a moment to better appreciate that wonderful and tasty food you are enjoying, and you may not feel the need to eat until it hurts.
The next question to answer is what? What should I eat? And how much should I eat? Communicate with yourself. Stop to ask yourself a few simple questions and evaluate your eating decisions. Eating should bring joy and should make your body feel energetic and vibrant. If eating is instead bringing you pain and regret, stop the cycle again before it begins. Don’t rationalize the eating choices later. Instead make a rational and conscious decision before the choice is made.
Love yourself by asking the right questions, eating the food you love and eating it in the company of the ones you love. Listen to your body. If it feels unwell, listen to the feedback and give it what it’s asking for. Move more, eat when you’re hungry, eat mostly nourishing foods and give yourself a break when you get stuck in old habits. Every bite is an opportunity to stop, look inward and ask yourself the questions. “Why am I eating?” “Am I hungry?” “What should I eat?” “How much?” Listen to yourself and show your body some love.
For more information about Mindful Eating, and to take a Mindful Eating self-evaluation, see AmIHungry.com.
If you’d like help evaluating your eating habits and would like to get on the road to a healthier version of you, schedule a consultation with Angela at the MediSlim clinic at 3806 S. Medford Drive in Lufkin. Call (936) 632-1996 for more information.