We love Mindful Eating. We think it’s wonderful, incredible, a door to a whole new world of connecting in a different way with food and eating. But what we understand is that it’s not for everyone, at any time. And here’s why…. Read More
If you’ve struggled with long-term dieting or an eating disorder, it’s likely that somewhere along the way you’ve lost touch with your true hunger and fullness signals. Years of following “rules”, listening to everything everyone said (but not yourself) and not paying attention to what your body is saying may have left you feeling less than confident about your ability to listen to, then respond to your body’s natural signals. The good news is that, eventually and with practice, you too will be able to ‘re-tune’ your body and mind to nourish and feed your body in a way that can best support long term health and wellbeing.
What we know is that people who eat mindfully do 3 important things:
- Eat primarily due to physical, rather than emotional, reasons
- Rely more on internal hunger and fullness signals
- Give themselves permission to eat, no matter what
The research clearly shows that people who eat more mindfully enjoy a greater variety of foods, are more optimistic, feel better about themselves and maintain healthier, more stable weights. This all sounds fantastic (and it is!) but let’s take a look at the steps you need to take BEFORE you start practising mindful eating.
One of the more comment myths about eating disorder or chronic dieting recovery is that meal plans are only for those who need to gain weight. This could not be further from the truth. Working with women with binge eating disorder and bulimia for well over 10 years now has shown me first hand that malnutrition and imbalance do not discriminate. Everyone deserves to be nourished, well fuelled and have the opportunity to re-connect with food and eating in a way that brings pleasure, energy and connection back into your life.
If you have been restricting your diet, binge eating, over-exercising or any combination of disordered eating behaviours, you may not yet be capable of accurately interpreting hunger and fullness cues. This can be because of a really complex set of interactions including nutrient imbalance and the way your body connects with and responds to your mind. You may only recognise two ends of the spectrum, that is really hungry or really full, but not much in between. Difficult or strong emotions can play a role in blunting hunger or causing uncomfortable gut issues.
So the first step in the process is a bit like rehab (but unfortunately without Foxtel’s Dr Drew!!). This usually involves some sort of a meal plan under the direction of an experienced Dietitian – the aim is to provide some structure, guidance and support for the short-term until nutrients are a bit more balanced. For some people, this might also be a time where you challenge food rules or increase the variety of foods you’re prepared to eat in the day. It’s important to remember that at this time, your body needs kind and compassionate care to adequately recover from what can be a difficult time for it – your body needs your help! Many people often feel like this stage can be a bit mechanical, which can be annoying and even boring, but is a really a really essential step in the recovery process.
Eating regularly (I usually say every 2-3hours) allows your body to get into a rhythm and provides fuel for essential daily activities. These times can be flexible (say, half an hour either side of the time you had planned) but making meal or snack time a priority is critical. Consistency and persistence is really important.
Many people who try this for at least a couple of weeks consistently notice that some hunger and fullness signals start to emerge and, with support, adjustments can be made to your plan. This stage can be as short as a few weeks, to many months, or more. What I have observed is that the sooner you are able to stabilise yourself nutritionally, the sooner you are able to connect with your natural signals. Before launching further into mindful eating, you would need to make sure that you’re not only able to sense your hunger and fullness accurately but that you’re able to better tell the difference between physical signals and emotional signals. And then, start to practice RESPONDING to each of them in a more helpful way.
So how do you know when you’re ready? This is both simple and complex. It can be as simple as testing yourself out in a safe environment when you’re feeling more confident. If you’re better nourished, you’ll be able to tolerate taking a few little leaps with support. It’s OK to do a few trials, but keep some guidelines in place. For example, not knowing what’s going to be on a menu and ordering what you feel like and stopping when you feel full but making sure that you’re keeping (roughly) to your time schedule. You may find it a scary, but ultimately rewarding experience, or you may discover that in fact you’re not ready to move from a more planned approach. These are great to discuss with your care team, and a really important part of understanding yourself and your recovery. There really is no right or wrong, but timing, readiness and willingness are all keys.
It is absolutely possible to be eating with some kind of framework whilst practising and paying attention to your hunger and fullness signals. In fact, that’s what some “normal” eaters do! Ultimately, mindful eating is about bringing together food, the mind and the body in a way that shows respect, compassion and acceptance. When you’re able to enjoy the pleasure that comes with eating lovely and tasty food, minus the moralising. And no matter how you get there, we think that’s pretty cool.