Developing a healthy relationship with food

Developing a healthy relationship with food

Comfort eating, eating disorders, calorie counting, binge eating, yo-yo diets, fasting, Atkins, cabbage-soup diets… the list is endless! We all have a relationship with food and this can change from day to day and over our lifetime. One day you might read a news story telling us about a new “superfood” or some food item that is “good” for us, yet the week after there´s another article telling us that this same food items is “bad”, which can lead to confusion. Maybe you would like to change your relationship (mindset) with food – to see food as something that supports your body in creating health and wellbeing? In this article we will explore how you can develop a healthy relationship with food.

Do you live to eat? Or, eat to live?

If you have a healthy relationship with food you can probably answer yes (or neither) to both sides of this question!

Enjoying what you eat is important. However, at one extreme of the scale, it could mean overindulgence (either over-eating or eating too much of the food items that do not support your body nutritionally). At the other extreme it could mean that you place so little value on what you eat that eating becomes a chore, boring and something to simply get through. This could mean not getting enough food (subsisting on coffee and sugar to keep you going) or eating things that are quick and “easy” (potentially missing many nutrients that your body needs). For example, fifteen cups of coffee with two teaspoons of sugar per day is one extreme, banning coffee completely is at the other. If you choose to drink coffee, make it a good one. Sit down, enjoy it. We encourage you to find the balance for you.

Apply the 80:20 rule to food

This is a great rule for life, as well as food. Ensure that you eat healthy nutritious food for 80% of the time, and then give yourself a break, allow yourself to enjoy those other items occasionally.

Practice mindful eating

By mindful eating, I mean taking time to focus on the food that you are eating, with no distractions. This means that you do not read, watch the TV, or check social media or emails whilst you are eating. Eating time is for eating and only that.

By eating mindfully, all your senses are involved in eating the food on your plate. You can taste each mouthful of food and enjoy it. You can enjoy looking at the food and smelling it. You can make time to chew properly. What happens naturally is that you start to eat more slowly. Sometimes, you might choose to put your knife and fork down. There is no rush. By eating slower, you can tune into your body´s message when it is full. This can stop you over-eating and can help with weight-loss.

I remember one guest who came to stay for a week at the retreat. She was always first to the meal table, heaped her plate high and dived into the food with relish. She cleared her plate first and dashed for seconds. After she took part in the eating a raisin exercise* in our mindfulness workshop, everything changed. She realised that she could take more time to really taste and experience the food. As a result, she ate more slowly, started to notice when she felt full and did not feel the need to take a second plate.

Eat when you are hungry

You can also learn to eat when you are hungry. What does hunger feel like for you?

We all have different patterns of eating – some people love breakfast on a morning and eat lots, then eat smaller meals during the day. Others prefer to eat a small breakfast, with a larger lunch or dinner. Work out what sustains your body best.

Eat when you are calm

Eating mindfully also means being aware of your emotions. Comfort eating typically happens when you are feeling tired, stressed, sad, hurt, or experiencing some other strong emotion. The next time you reach for a packet of crisps, biscuit, glass of wine, sweets or ice-cream, take a moment to notice how you are feeling. If you become aware of a strong emotion, stop for a moment, take a few deep breaths or have a drink of water. Acknowledge the emotion and then notice if your desire to eat has gone. If it hasn´t gone, move your body (go for a walk), do some yoga or meditate. Check-in with yourself again. If you are calm and feel hungry, eat.

Creating a calm environment in which to eat means that you a more likely to be able to digest the food.

Experiment with variety

A year or two ago one guest arrived and told me “I don´t eat vegetables”. I checked with her and she had read our website which says that we served plant-based foods! By the end of the week this lady transformed and realised that she could eat and enjoy eating vegetables. Her experience with vegetables had been of the over-cooked, soggy version, served alongside a piece of meat. When she realised that you can eat vegetables in different ways – raw, steamed, with different herbs and spices – and that she could survive without bread or pizza, her world opened up. Her body responded and she left feeling much healthier than when she arrived.

We eat with our eyes – so make your food attractive to you. Think about shapes, colours, textures, as well as flavour, and include a variety of items on your plate. Read our earlier articles quick and easy tips on vegan cooking at home.

If you want inspiration for mealtimes, we have lots of plant-based recipes on our blog page.

Plan rather than control

Plan ahead, particularly if you want to follow a plant-based diet for 80% of the time. It can be more difficult to eat out or grab a quick meal when you are eating plant-based (thankfully this is changing as more and more people choose to eat less meat or dairy). If you are meeting friends to eat out, suggest a restaurant that you know will offer something suitable for you.

Controlling can mean obsessive calorie counting, or screening every meal for “bad” items.
Planning is putting some thought into what you are eating and when.

Remember, not all calories are equal – some food items that are high in calories (avocado, nuts, seeds) are nutritionally great for our body. Other items might be the same level of calories but contain poor levels of vitamins or minerals (bread, pizza, French fries). The first group will support your body, the second will support weight gain!

Try to avoid shopping when you are hungry – it is best to go shopping when you have just eaten and are feeling satisfied. Take a list with you, this can help to avoid making impulse purchases. Beware the end of the aisles in the supermarket, where all the special offers are!

If you know you like to snack, take something with you – nuts, seeds, dried fruits, banana. That way, if you are out or working and need something, you can reach for something that sustains your body, instead of a croissant, chocolate bun or some other readily available snack that will give you a quick burst of energy (followed by a fast slump)! You could also make some of our energy balls  and eat one as a quick snack.

Give up your “banned food” list

Yes, you read that correctly! Many of us have a list of food that we decide we want to ban. Common culprits include: chocolate, crisps, chips, wine, pizza, ice-cream or sweets. By saying to yourself that you are not allowed to eat certain things, we can set ourselves up for cravings – our mind goes onto overdrive telling us to eat them. Allow yourself to have these items occasionally. Perhaps serve yourself a bowl of crisps, rather than eating directly from the packet. Be mindful during eating – notice how your body feels. You might find that you only want to eat a small portion. These items could be part of your 20% (from the 80:20 rule).

If you find this difficult then only buy these items in small (single size) portions so that you cannot over-indulge!

You are what you eat

The reason that we eat is to provide our body with the nutrition that it needs to continue to function in good health. Our cells need different things to be able to function, to grow, cleanse and to maintain our body in health. Therefore, every item that we eat or drink can affect how our cells function, which in turn can create disease or health. If you eat a large amount of processed foods you will automatically be eating more salt and/or sugar, plus chemical preservatives. Storage and processing of food products can degrade vitamins and minerals, so aim to eat food items that are as close to their natural state as possible (for 80% of the time!).

Develop a healthy relationship with food

If you want to experience eating a plant-based diet, packed with nutrition, for yourself, then come try one of our retreats. You can learn the difference between how “full” you feel after eating plant-based food and maybe you can make some changes to your diet when you return home. You can read more about the food that we serve by reading our food page here.

* Eating a raisin exercise
Here are the instructions if you wish to try this mindfulness practice at home. All you need is somewhere quiet to sit and a raisin.

Take hold of the raisin into your hand. Spend some time first looking at it, noticing colour, shape and texture. You might then smell it. Feel how it feels between your fingers. You then place the raisin on your tongue. Notice the taste, texture and how it feels in your mouth. Then start to chew, again noticing taste, texture and what happens in your body and mouth. Eventually you can swallow the raisin. Notice how it feels as you swallow and how your body reacts to it.

About the author

Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).