As a dietitian, my healthful eating habits were turned upside down when diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Two years later and it’s still difficult finding the balance between eating gluten free healthfully and happily. However, a practice called mindful eating has been beneficial for me. Perhaps it will be helpful for you, too?
Being a dietitian, you’d think learning to eat gluten free would be easy. Not so much. Of course, the learning curve was less steep for me than most, as I already knew what gluten is, what contains it and how to ask the right questions to avoid cross contamination outside the home. However, I was not prepared for the emotional and psychological changes involved with having to eat gluten free for the rest of my life.
I not only worried about avoiding gluten, I obsessed about making sure I was getting the nutrients I was deficient in as well as getting the nutrients found in the foods I could no longer eat. My diet was no longer about enjoying food, but ensuring I was getting all the right nutrients, which led to me having an insatiable appetite. Insatiable, because I wasn’t satisfied with the food experiences I was giving myself.
Contrary to what has been ingrained in us over the past two decades, ENJOYING food allows for healthy eating. Deprivation, rules and numbers are often counterproductive and elicit the opposite effect.
So, I decided to pay more attention to a concept getting lots of attention recently–mindful eating.
Not all, but many dietitians and health professionals are relying less on dietary guidelines and numbers and more on mindful eating principles to help clients achieve their dietary goals, whether that be losing 50 pounds or sticking to a dietary intervention to prevent disease.
According to The Center for Mindful Eating, mindful eating is:
- Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing
opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom
- Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor and taste
- Acknowledging responses to food (likes, neutral or dislikes) without judgment
- Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating
The CAMP System is based on four ideas:
- As unskilled eaters, we make naive and mindless choices about our own eating. We eat inattentively, for the wrong purposes, and without a sense of power or control
- Over time, this lack of skill with eating causes imbalances, unhappiness and problems of being overweight or obese
- When we learn to eat mindfully, we correct the imbalances and learn to make good choices naturally. The new skills allow us to recapture and reclaim power over food–power that we relinquished long ago
- Bringing mindfulness to food and portion choices results in a healthy relationship with all foods and brings more happiness to all aspects of life
In short, those who practice and preach mindful eating believe that, when paid close attention to, a person’s internal and external cues will lead him/her to healthful eating based on their body’s specific needs. Striving for a certain number on the scale, jean size or number of calories per day will not lead to positive outcomes, as they often work against one’s personal needs.
A few mindful eating practices that have helped me get back to enjoying food are:
- Paying attention to my true hunger cues and cravings. I no longer eat lunch at 12:30pm just because “it’s lunchtime.” I eat when my body tells me it’s hungry. When my body is telling me it wants a specific food, I eat that food rather then deny myself.
- Eating with no distractions so I can enjoy eating with all of my senses. For the past few weeks I’ve eaten NO meals in front of the TV, computer or while reading or texting. At first I didn’t know what to do with myself, but then I realized I had my senses fully available to me to truly taste, smell and see my food. It may not be believable at first, but you will see that you will only eat until you are full and no more. That’s because you have allowed your body to “experience” the food, which leads to satisfaction.
- I allow myself more treats. How exactly does this lead to more healthful eating, you may ask. Now that I allow myself more treats and focus my senses on enjoying each bite, I don’t have to eat as much to be satisfied!
- I eat slower, savoring what my senses are experiencing. Again, this leads to satisfaction with a smaller quantity of food.
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think – by Dr. Brian Wansink
The Center for Mindful Eating – which provides information as well as links to books, research articles and much more
Eat, Drink and Be Mindful – by Dr. Susan Albers