Our inner dialogue or self-talk can sabotage our goals and health. Whether negative or positive, it will influence our mood and emotions. Statements such as “I should be” or “I could have” mire us in the past or future, rather than the here and now. This particularly holds true when it comes to eating. The best place to be with regard to food, is to take pleasure in whatever it is we are eating in the present moment.
When we make conscious food choices and eat mindfully we are less likely to overeat or beat ourselves up for whatever it was we consumed.
It’s important to pay attention to the words we use to describe our food choices. Do any of the following sound familiar?
“I was so good today. All I ate was salad.”
“I was so bad today—I ate ice cream and cake at the party.”
“I cheated on my diet with a whole bag of chips.”
“I’m a total failure—I can’t stop eating carbs.”
The words we choose to describe what we eat have a powerful impact on our psyche. Linking food choices with our self-worth is damaging and destructive. Berating ourselves for our choices—any choice—is perhaps the most damaging and destructive behavior of all. We aren’t a mess, a disaster, a train wreck. We are simply a person, struggling with a difficult issue.
We are worth more than the food we put on our plate. Our value has nothing to do with ice cream or broccoli. Thinking of ourselves as a good or a bad person based on our food choice can be a repetitive cycle we are doomed to repeat. Imagine, for a moment, that your food is just food, and that your choices are just choices—good, bad, those words describe your decisions, not you. Imagine how freeing that would be?
We don’t tell our children that they are bad or good based on their choices. We tell them that they made a not-so-good choice, and then we talk to them about the consequences of that choice and how to make a different one in the future. We can do the same for ourselves.
To change our relationship with food, we need to develop a new language around our food and to eat mindfully. Which simple means that we consciously choose what we want to eat and we enjoy our choice. Making simple statements devoid of judgement is the first step.
“All I ate was salad today.”
“I ate ice cream and cake at the party.”
“I ate a whole bag of chips.”
“I ate carbs.”
Boiled down to a simple statement we can, if we want, figure out why we made that choice. Once we know, we can begin the process of making a different choice based on our own values and goals. Allow ourselves to become aware of our feelings around that choice. For example, feelings like worry, fear, stress, frustration, resentment and anxiety, can profoundly impact our food choice or result in us eating unconsciously. Mindfulness opens the mind to see opportunity and choice. When we eat more mindfully, we are bringing our full attention to food and eating. Some ways to do that are:
Give your full attention to the food that is in front of you by taking three deep breaths.
For the first breath, inhale the smells. Exhale any tension or stress.
For the second breath, inhale, knowing that the feeling of hunger will pass. Exhale your worries.
For the third breath, inhale the present moment. Exhale thoughts of tasks, projects and deadlines.
Tell yourself, “I can choose to relax and enjoy eating.”
Pause. Let your eyes feast on the food before you and celebrate what you will be eating.
Now, taste the bite directly. Notice everything and anything you can about the food in your mouth. Pause and let yourself fully take in the experience.
We want our food choices to provide variety, moderation and balanced nutrition. We want our thoughts of food, hunger and weight to occupy only a small part of the day. And we want to eat for health, pleasure and energy. And afterward – simply feel satiated.