Mindful Eating in Stressful Times

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Take some time to savor something good.

Have you been stressed out lately? With a tumultuous U.S. election just behind us, and the holiday season now bearing down on us, you might find yourself a little…frazzled. How then, exactly, are we supposed to keep our cool around food in stressful times?

My HAES colleague Nicole Christina, LCSW is here to tell you how in this, my first guest post!

You may be saying to yourself “Please don’t speak to me about another self-improvement project and don’t tell me to do it in “three easy steps!”” Women are so busy trying to work, grocery shop, make meals, transport kids to activities, and run the household, that there’s nothing simple or easy about living in today’s time starved world. The thought of trying one more method of improving one’s life may feel impossible. As women, we’ve never had as many choices, but as a society we haven’t figured out how to have a career and a sane home life. And for those of us high achievers striving to do it all well, burnout is always lurking just behind the corner. Being burned out doesn’t lend itself to practicing a new skill. Burnout lends itself to eating stale cookies in the pantry when nobody’s looking. But allow me to state a case for trying a practice that pays high dividends, is free, and is profoundly satisfying. Some of my clients have even called it life changing.

Mindful eating is a practice that is simple, but not easy. The goal is to get us off of autopilot, and help us stay in the present as we eat. Because we eat multiple times a day, we get many opportunities to practice slowing down and savoring our food, as well as the present moment. We do this slowly, imperfectly, and playfully. Instead of another task, mealtimes become a way to bracket our hectic lives with a few moments of precious stillness. It’s a sweet pause that is proven to do wonders for our mental state, as well as our physiology.

Here are some of the reasons that I recommend Mindful Eating to my clients who have conflicted relationships with food (and show me a woman who doesn’t!):

  • Mindful eating actually helps us digest better. Our bodies do not assimilate nutrients when we are eating in stress mode, and that includes checking our Facebook feed.
  • Mindful eating brings a calmness that can work its magic into other parts of our lives–it feels so good, and so different from the norm that often people want to try mindfulness in other aspects of their lives.
  • Eating becomes more enjoyable so it’s possible you may be satisfied with less. We taste more, savor more, and appreciate more. Appreciation and gratitude are closely linked with happiness.
  • Our bodies have some regular time to power down throughout the day. Evidence suggests that mindfulness reduces inflammation and decreases pain.
  • We learn how to manage the stress in our lives, which helps us develop a sense of mastery and competence.
  • With practice, mindful eating helps us build a relationship with one’s self. We are the experts on our own bodies, and that realization feels powerful.

Here’s a promise. Try the following exercise, and tell me if you don’t feel more calm. The next bite of food, or sip of beverage, take some deep breaths. Notice the textures, the flavors, even the temperature. Put away the screens. Allow your body and brain to rest and be still. Bring your whole attention to what you are eating or drinking. When you become distracted, simply bring your attention back to your eating again. The is a practice that is imperfect, fluid, and will get easier with time. It’s one thing to read about, it’s quite another to experience.

In this demanding, overstimulating world, mindful eating allows us to restore ourselves, and respect our need to run on human time, rather than electronic time. It’s a practice that runs counter to the multi-tasking, fast food, grab-a-protein bar lifestyle. It’s radical in that it resists the impulse to try to go faster and be more efficient. It reminds us that we are human, and eating is supposed to be satisfying and pleasurable. That’s why we have taste buds.

Nicole Christina is a psychotherapist specializing in food and eating issues. She recently launched a new webcourse: Diets Don’t Work! But Mindful Eating Does. You can find her on NicoleChristina.com.

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – BEDA conference live!

Aaron and I did a “live” update from the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) Conference in San Francisco last month. We had so much fun there, we wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

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Anatomy of a Bad Body Week

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This day was the beginning of my bad body week. No idea why – looks harmless now!

I’m committed to a non-diet life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad body days that turn into bad body weeks.

I’d been enjoying my time in Vivienne McMaster’s Be Your Own Beloved class. I was enjoying the challenge of taking a lot of selfies, even if they weren’t what I would have considered “flattering” or “attractive.” I felt I was really getting the hang of this compassion-for-myself business!

Then one day I took several photos for the prompt that day – we are encouraged to take many, many photos – and for some reason…it just set me off. The outfit I was wearing – something I thought looked super cute in the morning – was all wrong. My inner critic came leaping out of hibernation with all sorts of insults for my body, my face, my hair, my very soul, and for reasons I’ll get to, I was ripe for the picking.

I felt down for the rest of the day. I woke up the next morning with residual bad body feelings. I was also going through a period of fatigue (a theme of my life that I’ve learned to respect with rest). I felt like there was no one I could talk to about these feelings, because even if someone else knows the pain of bad body days, it’s hard to understand how other people have them. “You look great!” someone might console. I don’t know why, but that’s just not helpful at all; I know my bad body day is not rational and that others are not seeing what I see. A compliment at that moment just feels dismissive of all the dark feelings. I shared my thoughts with my partner and he was supportive and loving as always, but it’s still hard not to feel alone in these times.

But here’s what I knew, after so many years of experience: bad body days aren’t forever. And for me, they aren’t really about my body. At the same time, I also developed acid reflux and stomach distension that are classic symptoms of stress for me. So I started to think…what am I really bothered about? And I didn’t have to dig far to know that I’ve been a little stressed out with starting my business and dealing with the less fun administrative tasks. I’ve long known that I feel stress somatically, that even as my mind remains calm, my body sends me a multitude of distress signals. My body becomes, then, an easy target when the mental distress finally mounts.

What do I do when I finally realize I’m in the middle of a bad-body jag? It becomes all about self care. For me, that means getting lots of sleep and doing things like reading something fun and relaxing, eating familiar foods, and mindless TV watching or game-playing on my phone. And last week, it also included binge-listening to Julie Duffy Dillon’s fabulous podcast, Love, Food (specifically episodes 25, 26 and 28). Hearing that I wasn’t actually alone in these uncharitable thoughts about my body, that there were others dealing with these thoughts every single day, all over the place, was comforting.

In a culture that actively promotes body hate for profit – especially for women – and as someone who was a victim of this culture for 40 years before realizing it was total bullshit, it is unrealistic to think I’m going to feel great about my body every day. Frankly, I don’t even think it’s necessary to feel fantastic about the way our bodies look every day – that’s something that takes up a lot of mental space I no longer have room for. Feeling good IN my body is much more important to me, and that’s what I strive for now.

Soon enough, my bad body week ended. This week I’m back to being just fine with my body. I didn’t need to go on a diet to cure my bad feelings; I just had to sit with them for a while and be good to myself.

By the way, the photo that undid me is the one that accompanies this post. I look at it now and think there’s nothing wrong with this person in this photo. Some people in our photo group even liked it. In the end, it was all about what I really needed (self-care, compassion), and had nothing to do with how I looked.

Big News: Dare To Not Diet is in Business!

I’m excited to announce that I’m taking clients for drama-free-eating coaching! It’s been by dream to help others find peace with eating, food and their bodies, and after so many of you have reached out to say that you want this kind of support, I’m finally able to do it. To find out more, click here.

Latest Dietitians Unplugged Episode!

Aaron and I talk with Andrew Whalen of The Body Image Therapy Center about eating disorders in men. Give us a listen!

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