Mindful and compassionate eating
We’ve all heard, ad nauseam, the term “relationship with food.” We’ve heard how it’s not about diet but about lifestyle. People, desperate to lose weight for all sorts of reasons, force themselves to make large changes over night. The vast majority of those people are successful in the short-term, but find themselves back in their old patterns for the long-term.
Usually feeling a little worse for the wear; guilty. Ashamed. Convinced they just aren’t “strong enough” and, had they tried harder, or done this or that, they would have lost the weight and FINALLY be good enough in their own eyes. And others’ eyes, too.
I’m a naturopath. And, for a number of reasons, I always feel extra pressure to always make the right choice around food. It’s hard, friends, because truth be told: I really love to enjoy food. And I was raised on the Standard American Diet (SAD). So, I joke that ALL my teeth are sweet, not just one.
I know, dear friends and clients, that the struggle is real.
My relationship with food has been, like everyone’s, a journey. One with triumphs and with pit falls. I once reached out to a fellow naturopath for help making sense of my relationship with food. I was told, “you’re a naturopath! you should have this figured out!” This only added to my shame, and I withdrew inside myself, confused and frustrated. I, apparently, could help others. But not myself. So, I struggled in silence.
Eventually, about a year later, I found a book called The Yoga of Eating (available on Amazon) and began to explore mindful eating.
And, all the sudden, my struggle made sense.
I wasn’t struggling because I was weak.
Or I was self-sabotaging.
Or a bad naturopath.
I was struggling because I was attempting to force change and by seeing my relationship with food allopathically; simply a way to get (or not get) the nutrition I needed, instead of dynamic, changing and growing, with many dimensions and even more personality.
When, in reality, food is (and should be) so much more.
Here in the USA we have this near obsession with will power. If we fail it’s because we’re weak. If we’re struggling, we ought to push harder. If we’re craving something not good for us, we need to resist. We’re a nation whose motto might as well be “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and move on…”
The problem with this mindset, though, is that we were never… ever… meant to survive on will power. Will power was meant to get us through challenging moments and difficult situations. Not lifetimes. And relying on willpower, a rallying of all our inner gusto, requires us to, essentially, ignore the base desires/needs and cues we have; disconnecting us from our bodies, and teaching us to deny our senses and inclinations.
We were never meant to live in such a state of disconnected exhaustion. Imagine living connected to yourself. Experiencing your longings, desires, needs, and cravings.
And then responding to them. And honoring and meeting those needs.
Can you imagine?
Think for a moment.
How would that be?
To connect with yourself.
Feel your desires. Cravings.
The pushes. The pulls.
How would it be to release our iron clad sense of needing to push through and hold strong?
What if, instead, we connected to our bodies and explored our feelings around food?
Honored its dynamic, multifaceted place in our life and began to work on change from there?
What if, instead of fighting the desire for chocolate cake, you knew that the chocolate cake was more about connecting to a time in your life where things made more sense and you need that right now… things making sense. Security. And you don’t have a whole lot of control over much right now. So that chocolate cake… it, well, it brings you peace. And you honor that.
You have a piece of chocolate cake.
The BEST kind of chocolate cake.
Maybe it’s gluten-free or egg free because you can’t do gluten or you can’t do eggs. But it’s got great ingredients. It’s free of additives and junk, because friend, your body deserves the BEST ingredients.
And as you eat that very amazing chocolate cake, you enjoy every single bite. It tickles your taste buds and maybe your close your eyes and breathe deep. Because it’s THAT good. Your closest friend is there with you and together you both fully enjoy your cake.
Because really, it’s about far more than the cake. And because you know that, and you’re seeking to identify those needs and sort out how to meet those needs in healthy, meaningful ways.
My encouragement to most* of my clients that are working on making food changes is this:
Yes, if you went home today and made all these food changes today and never ate poorly again you would feel better SO much faster.
But you weren’t meant to live off of willpower. So if you find yourself battling for more than a short while, check in and see what it is that you need.
Is it the sugar? If so, what else could you eat?
Is it comfort? If so, what other ways could you comfort yourself?
Is it the grounding memory that’s associated with that food? What other things help you feel grounded and secure?
If at the end of the dialogue with yourself you’re still trapped in a willpower battle, allow yourself the cake. Make it a good cake. The BEST cake. With the best possible ingredients. Because you are worth the best.
It’s okay to put the bootstraps down. And know that you’re moving forward.
*I say “most” because SOMETIMES a food is making someone SO sick that they don’t have the luxury of indulging here and there. They have to go all in over night. Even in those instances, though, there is grace and love and immense compassion for those chocolate cake moments.