How to Use Compassion and Mindfulness for Healthy Eating

How to Use Compassion and Mindfulness for Healthy Eating

“Eating well” isn’t just about the food you put in your mouth, it is also about how you relate to your food. We know that eating more fruits and vegetables will make us healthier, but when it comes to actually doing it, how does that feel? Overwhelming? Easy? Shame inducing? Anxiety producing?

Many of us struggle with food, not because we don’t know what to eat, but because of the feelings that come up when we make the choices that we do. Whether you feel good or bad about your food choices, you are processing a feeling. If you tend to feel badly or ashamed most of the time, that’s where your work lies.

Food shame and labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can be problematic. While there are foods that will enhance your health and those that won’t, occasionally having a treat is beneficial. We as humans are allowed to feel pleasure, and food can be pleasurable. When you feel bad about eating a slice of pie, you are negating your ability to enjoy it. You are eating it, you should absolutely enjoy it!

Mindful Eating

What is Mindful Eating? Mindful eating is noticing the foods that you are putting into your mouth. When you’ve had a stressful day, sometimes you go to the cabinet and pull out the bag of chips, and it’s half gone before you even notice what you are doing.

Mindful eating would be pulling out that same bag of chips, taking one chip out and pausing. See it, smell it, then place it in your mouth. Taste the salty goodness. Then start to chew, relishing the crunchiness that is helping you to let go of your stressful day. This second version feels different. Same chips, but different experience. Chances are, in the second version, you will end up eating less, because you are participating in the experience of eating.

When you eat with mindfulness (Sati), it’s easier to let go of shame. You are eating purposefully and feeling the full enjoyment of your food. When you taste, smell, and feel your food, you are getting what you need from it. No need to overeat because you are eating on purpose with awareness. Whether you are eating for fuel, sustenance, comfort, or something else, you are getting what you need from your food.

Compassionate Eating

This concept of compassion (Karuna) can make a huge difference in our relationship to food. Compassion means “suffering together” where you can sit with understanding of another person’s pain. Self-compassion is when we are the other person. In the first scenario with the bag of chips, can you feel compassion for yourself? You had a stressful day and that was how you coped with the stress. You know how that feels to want to numb your feelings. Treating yourself lovingly in that situation will prevent further mindless eating.

When you don’t respond to yourself with compassion, the alternative is usually shame. Shame feels horrible, and if you are like me, you will just eat more. Shaming yourself will only lead to more regretful eating, or alternatively restriction which can end in binge eating. Regardless, this won’t make you feel better, you will feel worse.

Intentional Eating

Intentional eating combines mindfulness with compassion to create healthier eating patterns in your life. This allows you to choose the foods that you eat, while tasting and chewing them slowly and mindfully. When you taste your food, you enjoy it more. You are eating with purpose and taking a more active role in your food choices.

Applying the wisdom of yoga will also create a healthier relationship to food. Concepts like non-harming (Ahimsa) can be applied to our eating, in the sense that we are choosing food that does not harm us. When you eat and are not hungry, that causes harm. When you don’t eat when you are hungry, that also causes harm. You cause harm when you don’t eat enough of certain nutrients. Practicing Ahimsa with regard to food can make a big difference in how you eat and what you eat.

Intentional Eating: Finding Peace and Balance with Your Relationship to Food

Starting November 7th I am running a 6 week online coaching program to help you improve your relationship with food and yourself. The group will meet online once a week to learn about how you relate to eating and how to change the narrative. You’ll explore the Yamas and Niyamas and apply the principles to help you feel more at ease with regard to food. Learn tools and habits that will help you through holiday eating with more grace and power over yourself, without simply relying on will power. Click here for more information. Limited to 5 people.

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