Having a good relationship with food might be challenging for some of us. All our lives we were told that we should eat this, or we should eat that! Or that we should eat everything we have on our plates. This really has an impact on the way we relate to food, whether making us eat more than we need or not eat certain foods at all…
This article is for you if you…
Constantly feel overly full at the end of a meal.
Feel you didn’t taste a meal right after you finished it.
Feel that you don’t have control over food or your food choices.
Eat to fill an emotional gap.
Constantly snack without a sense of hunger or satiety.
Or nibble things you didn’t even actually wanted to eat.
Download your HUNGER SCALE cheat sheet here!
These behaviours and feelings have a name: mindless eating. These are things that we unconsciously do and might have a bad impact on our health and wellbeing.
So what can you do now to eat more mindfully and improve your relationship with food?
Listen to your body’s signals
Pay attention to signals of hunger and fullness. Babies are born knowing when they’re hungry and when they’re full, but after years of ignoring our bodies signals, we end up losing this capability. It is crucial to restore it and reconnect with our instincts. To do so, we’ll use a hunger scale to help us out. This scale is divided into 10 points, number one being an uncontrollable and painful hunger and the last being so full that you feel unwell. So what you have to do is when you feel like eating and still can’t distinguish whether it is real hunger or not, look at the scale and try to understand where you are.
When you find yourself beyond 5 – that is just desire to eat due to reasons other than real hunger. This desire to eat can appear out of boredom, emotional distress, to prolong feelings of joy or due to environmental cues, like the smell or the look of food…
From 1 to 4 it is physiological hunger. Always aim to eat when you reach number 4, as you can still make healthy and good food choices. When you reach a 3, 2 or a 1, you reach a point of excessive hunger in which you’ll have to rely on your willpower and motivation to make good choices because your body already asks for a quick fix of energy making you crave foods rich in sugar and fat, that will give it that energy fix. When you find yourself thinking about food and with a slightly empty stomach prepare your complete meal, choosing a variety of nutritious foods that you actually enjoy. Take some time to eat slowly without distractions, focus on the flavours and textures of what you’re eating and feel your body gradually going from a state of hunger to a comfortable state of satisfaction, without the feeling of having overeaten.
To help you with this task, I developed this HUNGER SCALE for you to download!
Basic understanding of nutrition and our needs
To develop a good relationship with food, having a basic knowledge about nutrients, foods and the benefits they offer you is essential. That way you will easily know how to create a complete and nutritious meal that will satisfy you, give you energy and prevent cravings and hunger peaks.
Add rather than subtract
Most diets and “healthy lifestyles” focus on restricting, limiting and banning certain foods. So to change things up a little, instead of saying “from today on, I won’t eat more cake / or cookies / or chips” say “from today on, I will try to include in my diet fruit, nuts and seeds as an afternoon snack”. Focus on adding more nutrient-dense foods and you will naturally decrease your intake of other not so healthy foods. Try seeds, beans, different protein sources, vegetables and fruits that are wholesome and rich in nutrients like fibre, protein, slow-release carbs and good fats, that will nourish and satiate you until your next meal. Try different veggies on your salad, like cooked beetroot, red cabbage and spinach leaves or add nuts, nut butter, seeds and chopped fruit to your yoghurt.
Observe how food make your body feel
Tuning in to how different foods or meals affect your energy and digestion can help you eat more healthfully. For example, I know that if I eat too much on dinner, I will for sure suffer from heartburn and that per se, makes me naturally control the amount of food I eat for dinner. Or I know that a meal too heavy on sugar and fats will make me feel sluggish, so I avoid it. Of course, I have sweets and junk food, but only a small amount that I know will satisfy me without feeling sick. On the other hand, I learned to love to eat salads, nourish bowls, oatmeal with fruit, because I am aware of how good and full of energy they make me feel. So when making food choices, look past the instant gratification and try to understand what long-term effects that food has on your body.
Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food
Emotional eating is very common. We often eat for reasons other than physical hunger and food is often used to cover up unpleasant feelings and emotions. While food can certainly be used to soothe or cope with emotions, it can become a problem if it’s not working to help or it’s the only coping mechanism you have. Building up several different coping skills like exercising, talking with friends or family members, meditation, working, listening to music and taking self-care time.
Be patient with yourself
The timing is different for everyone. Trust the process and instead of focusing only on your weight or on the number of times you ate junk food this week, look for other more meaningful ways of measuring your health – Do you feel more energized? Is your digestion functioning properly? Do you have fewer cravings?
Create an Environment Prone to Good Choices
We make a lot of unconscious decisions based on environmental cues. It’s important to find the triggers that make you eat mindlessly and create an environment that prompts you to make healthier choices. For example, having jars of cookies on the countertop might make you grab cookies, even if you don’t really feel like having them. Instead of cookies, leave fruit or healthy snacks visible so you’re more prone to eat them. Whenever you’re trying to build a new habit or breaking an old one, look around you for environmental cues that you can change to help you adopt that habit or ditch the old one.
Make peace with food
You know “the stolen fruit is the sweetest”. Stressing too much about food can do more harm than good. Ditch the mentality that this food is good and that one is bad and give yourself permission to eat anything you want. And I don’t mean mindlessly indulging in sugar, but having some of your favourites indulgences without feeling guilty or thinking that you will have to restrict yourself later, to reduce your intake of calories and carbs. When you forbid yourself to eat a certain food that you like, for thinking that it is bad, unhealthy or dirty, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that lead to hard to control cravings. And when you finally give in to your forbidden foods, you might end overeating them and becoming overwhelmed with guilt. And might find yourself caught on a cycle of restriction, binging and guilt… Getting rid of overly restrictive food rules will take the power away from “unhealthy” foods and make them less appealing. So the trick here is to find the balance between your health and tastebuds and enjoy the not so healthy foods that you like without compromising the rest of your good food choices. Health is not just about your physical health and weight – health is mostly about wellbeing. You have to create a balance between what makes you feel good mentally and what does your body good. When you reach that balance you find wellness and happiness.
So what is a good relationship for you? For me is enjoying foods that promote my health, but also enjoy not so healthy foods when I feel like it, without guilt, restrictions or falling off the wagon. Is to actually want to eat certain foods because I know they nourish me, but not obsess about it. Is to listen to my body and don’t have any forbidden foods. This is my view but I would love to know about yours, so share it with us in the comments down below.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and that they help you eat healthy in an easy, sustainable and enjoyable way! Id you’d like you can dive deep into other articles I’ve shared on the blog:
- 20 Truques de Alimentação Saudável, Nutrição e Cozinha
- Melhora a Tua Relação com a Comida + Infográfico
- 10 Mitos de Nutrição Desmistificados
- Melhora os Teus Níveis de Energia (sem café)