"What Did I Even Eat Today?"
It's an uneasy feeling when you "wake up" in the middle of the day to realize that you've been running the entire time on "auto pilot". Maybe you woke up late for work so you grabbed a protein bar (that you bought because it was on sale) as you frustratingly rummage for your keys. You can't find them this morning because you were so tired coming home last night that you don't know what you did with them. Finally, you find them and you're out the door, taking a bite of the sandpaper-and-whey bar when you realize the reason it was on sale, but force it down because you're trying to be good and really do want to eat healthier. At work, your boss decides that they want something entirely different from the project you're almost half done with and now you have to start over. You look up and somehow it's already 1 PM and you should probably figure out what to eat for lunch, even though it's already so late in the day and you have so much more to accomplish before you can leave. Something quick then that requires the least amount of thought and effort because you're in "working mode". You've got a package of nuts in your desk! That'll work. So you eat them while you continue to work on your computer. Your 8th grade child texts you at 3PM and asks what's for dinner. You hadn't even thought about dinner, but now that they mention it, you're starving and still have 2 hours until you're off work. You open the candy dish on your desk and help yourself as you continue to work. It's chocolate, which isn't your favorite, but after awhile you don't even taste it, anyway. You feel so exhausted that it isn't worth the energy to cook tonight, so you pick up fast food for the family on your way home. Your spouse had a bad day, too, and they are a little moody. Your children have more energy than anyone should after 6PM. There were some cookies on the kitchen counter so after putting the dishes away, you had some, but couldn't say how many. You feel you deserved them for having such a hard day, but tomorrow you'll feel guilty about eating them. Maybe you'll even feel like what's the point in trying to eat healthy at all if you always relapse.
If this sounds like you, know that scenarios like this are all too common. We go around with good intentions, but we unknowingly sabotage ourselves in the subconscious for a variety of reasons. Luckily for us, we are not doomed to be strangers who are locked out of our own thoughts and emotions. It is possible to become more conscious and aware of ourselves, thereby better understanding our behaviors. When we better understand our behaviors, we can regulate our actions more appropriately.
Admittedly, I am no expert in this field. Dr. Jean Kristeller, however, is an expert in the specific field of MB-EAT (mindful based eating awareness training). After reading a few of her many studies and writings, I have just purchased her book, The Joy of Half a Cookie. I look forward to writing a complete book review once I have read it. Until then, I wanted to share some knowledge and tips I learned from this esteemed psychologist's other findings.
Overeating can be a form of "passive coping". This may make the person not feel negative emotions as strongly for a short time, but also does not address the main issue. "Eating is often the coping method of choice when no other options feel available." Taking time to relax or actually dealing with the stressor/s are two more effective long-term stress management skills, but it takes practicing mindfulness to be able to identify what is even going on with one's emotions.
Take the 500 Calorie Challenge! Instead of adding up all of the calories that you've consumed for the day, try to reduce your daily intake by 500 calories. This can be accomplished by making slightly healthier choices all day, empowering the individual rather than bogging them down.
Identify your triggers for eating. Recognize your thoughts, feelings, and sensations (Is your stomach growling? Do you feel hungry? Are you feeling low energy? Do you have a headache? Are you stressed? Bored?).
Become aware of your level of hunger, fulness, and body satiety. Measure your hunger on a scale of 1-10 prior to eating. Measure your fulness throughout the meal, not just at the end. Witness how quickly your taste buds become tired with each bite, and focus on enjoying each bite like a critic. Observe how your entire body feels when it's hungry compared to when it is fueled.
Once you are able to "look at" your own thoughts and feelings, you need to work on accepting them. Negative self-talk helps no one. Imagine what you would say to your best friend if they told you they had those thoughts and comfort yourself the same. One way that I personally do this is think about what I'm really craving, and then making a version as healthy as I can without taking away any deliciousness. The picture in this blog post is Cream of Mushroom Soup and Dumplings, my answer to a childhood comfort food of Chicken and Dumplings. Instead of forever forbidding that amazing meal that had so many pleasant memories, I reworked it to fit my pescatarian and health-conscious lifestyle. There are still some foods that I refuse to make lighter because I feel that they then lose their value with me, and therefore I recognize these items as special treats that I still enjoy less often, but when craved.
It is important to be aware of your internal feedback messages of hunger, thirst, fulness, and taste, but also of nutritional information. Eating healthfully in a mindful way is being aware of and listening to your body coupled with applying nutritional guidelines.
Understand that your body may need a more flexible intake depending on many factors, such as activity level or season.
"Choice is essential for well-being." Be aware of why you're making the food choices you're making. If you don't feel like you have a choice, you will be more dissatisfied.
Self-managing by avoiding trigger foods and situations, substituting healthier alternatives for comfort foods, reconditioning your habits, and cognitive reframing are all necessary to add to general willpower. Willpower itself cannot be solely trusted to make the healthiest choices because it can run out before the day is over.
You are not helpless. Having a healthy lifestyle is not hopeless. Read and learn more about mindfulness and eating here: https://www.mb-eat.com/. Get started today and never again question what you even had to eat because you enjoyed every purposeful bite.