If you haven’t heard, this month is National Nutrition Month. Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chooses a theme. This year it’s “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” – their own version of mindful eating. I love my profession, I’m the president of my local association and I’m dang proud to be a dietitian. There are few careers I’d rather have. However, it’s not uncommon for my beliefs and approach to not align with traditional nutrition and dietetics messaging. I mean what does “eating right” mean in the first place? Right according to whom? The entire dietetics profession can’t decide what that means so I’m confused about why we expect the millions of consumers out there to understand and effectively use that message. This year, having a focus on mindful eating, was definitely something I could get behind – kinda. A colleague I look up to and have learned a great deal from, Marci Anderson Evans, recently shared a slight tweak to this message – “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right For You.” I can get behind that one! I have a hard time with some of the ways mindful eating is presented and common misconceptions that are out there. Some of these misconceptions lead to using mindful eating as a method of weight loss or an effort to get someone to eat in a particular way. I think our journey through mindful eating and mindfulness are ever growing and changing. I believe that the way we use it simply indicates where we are in our own personal and professional journeys. It’s not bad or good. It just is the way it is. Just like I can’t make myself see the world as if I’ve been around for 50 years while in my 30’s, I can’t magically have a full understanding of a complex process from day 1 (or day 4,000). There is no such thing with mindfulness. It is a lifelong journey.
I recently started doing my own practice in mindfulness. I had done tons of mindful eating work personally and professionally but I had honestly never truly explored personal mindfulness practice before. I’ve been able get clarification on some of my own misconceptions around mindfulness that have been so helpful to the way I view and use mindfulness in my practice and my life. One of the first things my therapist, a mindfulness expert, said to me is “Mindfulness is not a tool. It’s not about pushing judgments and thoughts out of your mind. Mindfulness is a way of being. It’s a practice.” Boom. Something connected and I was on my way to the next step in my mindfulness journey. It’s amazing to me how a shift in language and hearing something when you’re ready can change your entire perspective of something.
Mindful eating is part of mindfulness. I’ve always told my clients, once you have awareness of your eating experience, there is no such thing as not being an “intuitive eater” or not being mindful – there is simply being less or more mindful, less or more intuitive. Our lives are a series of fluid experiences. There is no “on” or “off” – as many diet, weight loss or “lifestyle change” programs will have us believe. Somehow, I hadn’t caught on to how this applies in our general lives, probably because I hadn’t done that personal work. So, lesson number one – mindfulness is not something we can just teach others about. It’s not something we can just read and study. Although it can be compartmentalized to simply be applied to eating, it’s far less valuable when we do that. We have to practice it personally and having a coach is very helpful!
Lesson # Two – What mindful eating is and isn’t.
Mindful eating is the practice of being aware during a meal. That’s it. It’s not about enjoying the meal, it’s not about eating healthier, and it’s not about eating less. It’s not about “eating right” Click & Tweet! – whatever the heck that means. Mindful eating is not about anyone’s agenda for your eating. Click & Tweet! It’s not about agendas at all. It’s also not about pushing thoughts out of your head (another previous misconception of mine) or eating at a snail’s pace. Often times these things are certainly byproducts of mindfulness. Doing mindful eating exercises that ask us to eat slowly and intentionally can help with awareness. However, we can’t skip to the last chapter of the book of mindfulness and start there. We can’t say “Mindfulness is about eating ‘right’ and enjoying your food!” It might be and it might not be. This can unintentionally set expectations about mindful eating and interfere with our own personal experiences. What happens when you notice you aren’t enjoying your food? What happens when you feel you are eating mindfully but you aren’t eating ‘right’ according to someone’s definition of what eating ‘right’ looks like? What if you’re eating mindfully and not losing weight? Are you doing it wrong? Ya know how people say it’s about the journey, not the destination? This could not be more true than for our journey with mindfulness. Through awareness we might start to notice when we have judgments about what, how or how much we are eating. We can observe how these judgments impact our eating without immediately trying to change them. We can pay attention to how our physical sensations, emotions and thoughts are impacting our eating experience and sense of hunger and fullness. It may prompt us to slow down or speed up our eating. It may prompt us to change our food choices. It may lead to more enjoyment of our food or it may lead to less enjoyment. Or maybe it will be something entirely different for you. And maybe the greatest value in this practice is to notice these things and do nothing at all – to just sit with it and get to know it for a bit. That requires a dietitian who can sit with it too. One who can hear that you’re noticing overeating and not immediately tell you not to do that. One that simply asks you to talk more about what you are learning from being aware of overeating. But that’s all up to your own personal experiences. Your own personal journey. Every journey is unique.
That leads me to lesson number three – the power of noticing without defaulting to trying to “fix” it, get rid of it, avoid it, etc… This is where I’m certainly not the expert. I have a long personal journey ahead in this department! We all do. I can support you in sitting with things in your eating experience. I can sit with ya all. day. long. However, when it comes to really sitting and processing what comes up with mindfulness, it’s important that you have a trained therapist to process that with. There is definitely overlap in the therapy and nutrition worlds when it comes to mindful eating. However, this is where they don’t overlap. So if you’re doing deep work around your eating experience, having a therapist is crucial to that process. You don’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to benefit from seeing a therapist and a dietitian at the same time. Feel free to contact me if you need a referral in the San Diego area. I know lots of fabulous therapists :-).
If you walk away from this blog post with one thing, I hope it’s that mindful eating is an incredibly personal experience that will look different for everyone. What you learn and how you respond will be entirely unique to you. The only way to know what it’s going to look like for you is to regularly practice it and be aware :).
Nurtured Mama Members – Find this interesting? What to learn more?? We are having our first free call on March 15th at 9:30am PST on this very topic! You have to be a member to join but it’s FREE! You can join here today! http://nutritioninstincts.com/memberships/