Last week I talked about how being on a diet has similarities to being in a bad relationship.
This week I want to talk about how mindful eating helps change that to a committed, long-term relationship to food.
The Honeymoon Phase
When you first learn about mindful eating, it’s a welcome relief. Finally, an approach that’s notgoing to boss you around! No one’s going to tell you that you can’t eat ice cream or cookies. That you have to avoid sugar or carbs. That you can only eat at certain times. Or that you need to bring a traveling food scale or measuring cups everywhere you go.
When you visit a friend or go out to eat, you can have whatever you want. Maybe that’s veggies and hummus… or maybe it’s the mac n’ cheese or mashed potatoes.
You can eat as much as you need to be satisfied. You don’t have to sit there with your stomach growling because you’ve already used up all your points or calorie limit.
And if you get hungry again later, you can eat then. It doesn’t matter if it’s after 7 p.m. or even right before bed. You can do what you choose.
The goal is just to make it a choice, not eating out of habit. And to remember that you can trust yourself to make them good choices.
At first it’s great. You love being in charge and not having to listen to someone else tell what you “should” be doing or how your body is “supposed” to be feeling. And mindful eating doesn’t try to make you feel bad about yourself or your decisions.
But as with all honeymoons, it comes to an end.
The Drag of Being Responsible
After a while, making your own decisions doesn’t feel like as much fun anymore. You don’t want to always be thinking about whether you’re hungry… trying to figure out what you really want… and being responsible for figuring out why you made a choice you regret.
The diet rules don’t sound so bad anymore. They were definitely simpler. And if something didn’t work out, it was easy to know why. You must not have been following the rules.
Questioning Yourself and Your Decisions
You also notice that you’re not always making good choices. Maybe even most of the time. According to mindful eating, you should trust yourself. But how can you, when you keep eating more than you need or choosing foods that don’t make you feel good?
You start to feel like a failure. You’ve screwed up all the diets – obviously you’re going to screw this up, too.
And somehow, the fact that mindful eating doesn’t judge you makes it worse. You almost want to be judged. You feel like you deserve it… and that you’re not good enough. You don’t have the right to be happy.
Healing and Finding Trust
You don’t quite give up, though. You want to believe the promise of mindful eating.
And then you realize part of the problem. You’re still carrying the wounds of those diet relationships. You’ve been mistreated… lied to… put down so often.
Of course it’s going to take you a while to trust yourself. To overcome those negative beliefs.
So you decide to have faith. To believe that it is possible for you to make good decisions and trust yourself.
You tell yourself that every time doubt creeps in. And soon you notice that you are making better choices.
Not all the time, not at first. But sometimes. Enough to gain some confidence. Maybe what mindful eating told you is true. Maybe you really are good enough just you are… and you don’t deserve the judgment or criticism of diets. You’re allowed to be happy.
Taking Ownership and Making Compromises
As you gain confidence, you become more comfortable taking ownership of your decisions. It’s not easy, and sometimes it forces you to learn hard truths about yourself.
Like how lonely you are. Or how stressed out in your job or relationships. And that you’ve been using food as a way to cover that up.
Except unlike diets, mindful eating is willing to compromise. To be okay with you still having some chocolate if you’re feeling down. It doesn’t push you to go too far or too fast.
But you decide on your own that you don’t want to abuse food anymore. Or use it to abuse yourself.
You find other ways of dealing with the issues. Maybe you see a therapist… open up more to your spouse or friends… express your emotions in some creative way.
And mindful eating doesn’t feel like such a chore anymore. You don’t struggle as much with the choices, and paying attention to your body starts becoming a habit. It’s not something you have to think about all the time.
Falling in Love with Food Again
Then you find something strange happening. Now that you’re not using food for inappropriate reasons (mostly), you focus on it more for itself.
And you like it more than you did before!
Maybe not everything. Maybe you notice you don’t need as many sweets or fatty foods. But instead, you discover that you enjoy other kinds of food you thought you didn’t like.
You become willing to try new things. You experiment with new recipes. Food becomes fun again in a way it hasn’t for a long time, maybe since you were a kid. Now that it’s not burdened by trying to carry so much for you, and you’re not weighed down with guilt, everything changes.
You feel lighter, free, and happy.
The Start of a New Adventure
Mindful eating might not always sound exciting. It doesn’t promise overnight changes… abs of steel… or never having to think about what you eat. Then again, I’d suggest seriously questioning anything that doespromise those things.
But think of it like other long-term relationships. You get to go much deeper, and you’ll find that brings whole new adventures.
Will there be bumps along the way? Maybe some disagreements? Things you’re not happy about?
Probably. Relationships tend to work that way. Even good ones.
But that doesn’t mean giving up on them. It means finding a balance, figuring out a give and take that works for you.
And I have to say that in my experience, when you eat mindfully, paying attention to the food and giving your body enough of what it truly needs and wants – it’s more deeply satisfying than anything I ever ate mindlessly.
For me, that makes it all worth it. That, and the freedom to make my own choices, and having the ability to accept myself and my decisions without judgment.
I hope this has helped you in thinking about your own relationship to food. If it’s given you any insights, or you can relate to any of it, I’d love to hear about it. And as always, I wish you happy eating, and joyful living.