By Michelle May, M.D.
(This is the third article in a three part series about making dietary changes without feeding the Restrictive Eating Cycle. The first article, A Diet by Any Other Name is Still a Diet, explored the idea that when people make a voluntary change in their eating in the name of “health” without mindfulness, they may find themselves hyper-focused on food with less energy left to focus on living the healthy life they set out to achieve. The second article, Mindful Eating with Health Issues: What If I Can’t Eat What I Love?, is addresses the concerns people have about mindful eating when they have medical or health concerns. This article will apply specific strategies from the Am I Hungry? mindful eating programs that help you eat better.)
If you’ve tried a restrictive diet for any reason, you’ve probably experienced the resulting feelings of deprivation and cravings that lead to the rebound effect of overeating the foods you were trying to limit. However, “eat what you love” may sound like a scary idea at first!
In fact, scary or not, all Am I Hungry? mindful eating programs use a “non-diet” approach. But until you’ve tried it, you may be afraid that without rules, you “won’t eat healthy.” You might not. At first. But as you learn this new way of making decisions about eating, just the opposite is true!
I know that may seem hard to believe—and maybe too good to be true. But if one of your goals is to “eat better,” here are seven strategies you learn about in Am I Hungry? mindful eating programs that will help (along with reminders about where to find out how to do it in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat).
Set your intention.
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Assuming that your intention is to feel great, think of dietary changes as choices you make in order to feel your best both short and long term (rather than some externally applied diet). (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 6)
Consider what your body needs.
When deciding what to eat, ask three questions: What do I want? What do I need? and What do I have? The question “What do I need?” is all about acknowledging your personal health needs, including medical issues, allergies and reactions, family history, and health goals. (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 5)
Use nutrition information as a tool, not a weapon.
Nutrition knowledge is helpful for making decisions, but it is not the only criteria for deciding what to eat. (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 10)
Balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.
There is room in your diet for foods eaten for pleasure! In fact, regularly including foods you love makes it less likely that you will overeat those foods because you ran out of willpower. While it may seem counter-intuitive, when you are free to eat whatever you want, food loses the power it had over you. As a result, your choices are likely to be more balanced instead of “all of nothing.” (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 5)
Don’t miss the lesson.
One of the many benefits of mindful eating is that your awareness helps you make connections between what and how much you eat and how you feel—as well as how you feel and what or how much you eat! This direct feedback is very helpful for making changes in order to feel good – not to be good. (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 7)
Recognize and address your non-hunger triggers for eating.
When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it. By learning to meet your other needs in more effective ways, you won’t use food for that purpose nearly as often. (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 4 and Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating)
Eating is for fueling living.
In our food-abundant, diet- and weight-obsessed culture, eating occupies too much of our time, attention, and energy. Your were born with the instinctive ability to eat enough food to fuel your life. Learning how to get back to that place where you can trust your ability to manage your eating without a bunch of rules gives you a pattern of eating that you can sustain almost effortlessly. (Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat chapter 8)
If you want to “eat better” for the long run, learn to eat what you love fearlessly and love what you eat mindfully!