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A dietitian's advice on how to love, savor and enjoy food without guilt

Posted February 22

In honor of February and Valentine’s Day, I’m writing to encourage you to love food. That might sound crazy, especially if you feel like you love food too much. In fact, I hear that a lot; “my problem is that I just love food too much!” I would disagree.

If you love something, wouldn’t you want to nurture it, spend time with it, slow down and savor it? I don’t think love would encourage you to use food as a way to distract or numb, and it shouldn’t leave you feeling stuffed or uncomfortable. We spend more time thinking and talking about food than we actually do cooking and eating it. The answers to your food issues may be found in mindful eating.

Essentially, mindful eating is the practice of bringing conscious, mindful awareness to your food choices and your body’s intuitive signals while engaging all your senses to make the experience satisfying and nourishing to both your body and your mind. Anecdotally, we see this kind of eating experience being practiced regularly in other countries with noted benefits to their health. In our busy and hectic lifestyle, we rarely make the time to approach food in this way.

For a healthy relationship with food, we need to find the balance between our body’s need for nourishment and it’s need for satisfaction. This prevents the all-or-nothing mentality that is bound to result in disordered eating. Making a food forbidden just increases its allure. It has very little to do with self-control or willpower and everything to do with allowing yourself to fulfill your innate drive to feel satisfied, while trusting that you can.

While I fully support making nutritious food selections, I actually find that emphasizing weight and nutrition can often prevent truly making peace with food. I strongly encourage you to put weight and nutrition on the back burner and focus instead on connecting with your body and its needs. The body is built to self-moderate food choices. When you focus less on what you eat and more on how you interact with whatever you choose, the actual food selections usually take care of themselves. A balanced approach to food is a natural consequence of satisfying, positive mindful eating practices.

With less emphasis on what you eat, let’s look at some general recommendations for the rest:

How: Slow down! For true psychological and physiological satisfaction, it’s important to realize you are eating. Approach meals with intention and connection to avoid distractions that often lead to overeating. As you eat, focus your attention on the food. If you find your mind wandering to responsibilities, work or judgments about the food, gently bring your attention back to how the food tastes, smells, feels, looks and sounds (if applicable). This will allow you to truly enjoy your food while providing the opportunity to listen to hunger, fullness and satisfaction.

When: Are you eating often enough? Every body process functions best when given consistent and regular nutrition. It’s easy to forget, lose track of time or avoid eating. Stress actually suppresses hunger signals, so a busy work day can leave you exhausted and ravenous once you finally slow down. I encourage you to eat every three to four hours, using snacks between meals to keep your brain and body well-fueled. A body that feels well taken care of is one with an effectively functioning metabolism.

Why: I often encourage food journals to help people become more aware of why they are eating. I’m not one to encourage people to write down everything they eat or count calories, but I do find journals helpful for increasing awareness. Are you physically hungry? Has it been three to four hours since you last had something to eat? Why do you feel the urge to grab something? Is it emotional hunger? Pausing to check in can be empowering and can make the difference between functioning on autopilot versus being proactive in meeting your true needs (which can be done with or without a journal, you decide what’s actually effective and helpful).

Where: Are you eating in the car? At your desk? While answering emails? Over the sink? While it’s probably not realistic to expect yourself to sit down with zero distractions for every meal, I would encourage you to take every opportunity to make your meal time a separate event from work. I know you will find greater self-trust and eating competence as you truly allow yourself to just eat.

Mindful eating has real potential to create positive experiences with food, which will increase self-trust and decrease fear. For those who struggle with overeating, undereating, food anxiety or physical symptoms of irregular food patterns, I assure you there are real answers here.

Emily Fonnesbeck is a Registered Dietitian and president of Emily Fonnesbeck Nutrition Consulting. Her nutrition passion lies in helping people make peace with food. EMAIL: emily@emilyfonnesbeck.com

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