Mindful Eating

by Elizabeth Dengler, The Huckleberry Home

As I scooped a spoonful of bacon grease into the frying pan to reheat some steak and grits I had a thought that I might not be the right person to write an article about “health and wellness” for the Huckleberry Press…upon further consideration, I realize that I am. Earlier this year I began developing a commitment to mindful eating and movement. I call it the Movement and Energy Game. The purpose of the game is to be in life with energy and vitality, to experience ease of movement and enjoyment of my body. Goals I set to achieve by Labor Day include going down two dress sizes, participating in one hour of a physical activity a day, enjoying increased levels of energy and decreased levels of pain. One of the areas that I’ve taken on is mindfully eating.

I took on mindful eating to be empowered with my food choices and to give up feeling guilty or ashamed of what I eat.

Foods have long been labeled as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. There’s plenty of people and experts out there that would say that you shouldn’t eat bacon grease and there are plenty of them that say you can. There are people with certain health conditions that bacon fat would exacerbate and possibly shorten their life expectancy. I’m not one of those people. You don’t have to look back that far to see what has happened to our food in the name of the “healthy” diet. If you were to look at my family’s table in the 1980s you would not see a salt shaker. You wouldn’t see butter, you’d see margarine. Instead of sugar, it was Sweet ‘n Low. Diet soda, skim milk, microwave dinners, no fat or low fat, sugar free…on and on with the different artificial foods. I grew up in the 80s when sugar was seen as bad for you, same with salt and fat. Processed food wasn’t even a conversation on most people’s lips. Being skinny and tan was all the rage. . Now was this horrible? No, it’s just what happened in the name of being “healthy”. I only recently figured out that growing up in the 80’s was one of the experiences that shaped my relationship to food, health and physical appearance.

As I started to look at food I began to see it for what it is – food – it’s just food. It’s what we say about food that creates problems or, opportunities. I’ve been told “doughnuts are bad for you”. No, a doughnut is just a doughnut and if doughnuts were “bad” they would be bad for everyone and they aren’t. The notion that foods fall into a “good” or “bad” category is absurd. In framing conversations about food as “good” or “bad” we begin to create and experience shame, guilt, embarrassment or other disempowering feelings when we eat a particular food. All that really happened was we ate a doughnut or two. Regardless of the quantity or the type of food, neither reflects a personality or moral defect. The question to ask is “do doughnuts work for me?” My ongoing mindfulness about food has me ask these questions: how does this food make me feel, how does this food impact my energy and what are the side effects of eating this food? Common sense is a player in this game, I’m not going to eat candy and avoid all vegetables because I can figure out there would be some long term side effects that I may not experience immediately. When I refer to how food makes me feel, I’m not talking about feeling shame or embarrassment or guilt, those are programmed feelings. What I’m examining is what I just ate and the physical sensations that I am experiencing. For example, I’m allergic to mangoes and eating them makes my throat tight and
my lips tingle.

One of the phrases that really clues me to pay attention to what I’m eating is when I say “I love…insert food here”. I’ve always said “I love a good biscuit.” Well, turns out biscuits create a number of uncomfortable physical sensations including stomach cramping and headaches. So, now when biscuits are served, I pass because I’m very aware of how awful it will make me feel to eat one. I have an ongoing list of foods that I choose to no longer eat or have modified either serving size or cooking method. I don’t eat raw carrots, cauliflower or broccoli so I roast them. I keep rice to a ¼ cup cooked and only basmati. Dairy works for me when it is full fat. There’s even been enough difference in brands that I know which brand of ready-made food to purchase. Foods like eggs, avocado, bacon, melon and berries give me energy and don’t have negative physical effects and they increase my ability to concentrate. When I experience physical discomfort from what I eat my energy level often plummets and I find myself having to manage negative physical feelings. Being able to move and exercise doesn’t work when I’m experiencing physical pain or discomfort. Food impacts more than caloric intake.

Eating mindfully looks like stopping before I’m stuffed. I pay attention while I’m eating; I don’t eat while working, reading, looking at my phone, playing a game etc. Mindfulness boils down to being curious about what is working and not working and making adjustments accordingly. Eating a variety of foods also supports mindful eating: colorful fruits and vegetables, minimally processed food, cooking food with my family and eating together.

Eating mindfully is one way I’ve created being empowered in my life and it may not be for you and you may have already found the pieces of health and wellness that work for you. I find that sharing what I’ve been struggling with and where I’ve discovered my power is far more impactful than telling someone how they should or shouldn’t eat.