When clients come to talk to me about their food issues they generally tell me in some way or another that what they want is to eat ‘mindfully’. They want to know if it’s food they really need and if they’re really hungry…all with the goal of being a normal eater.
When I probe a little deeper I usually hear that they think that by being ‘mindful’ around food they will eat less food by virtue of listening to what their body wants and ‘needs’.
I get a little twitchy when I hear clients likening mindful eating to eating less food because as biology and psychology would have it, trying to eat less food has been shown to result in rebellious eating at some point in time.
When I talk about mindful eating what I mean by this is: “Eating in a way that is based on the body’s individual, internal hunger cues, rather than food groups or amounts that are prescribed by some external authority” -Isabel Foxen Duke.
There are a plethora of coaches who support women to learn to connect to their appetite and satiation and as a coach who has worked with many women all over the world, I do feel mindful eating can certainly be a powerful tool in helping women to connect with food with more self awareness and presence….which is especially important, I believe, for those clients who tell me they ate a whole box of cookies and have ‘no’ idea where they all went.
However, I don’t feel mindful eating is the answer to the whole picture….And here’s why:
1. Mindful eating misses the emotional hunger:
I’ve seen a lot of coaches flaunt this idea that you should really only eat when you’re hungry, which I agree with but only in part.
I believe it’s those people who just see hunger as physical and only look out for these signs are missing a huge part of what it is to be a normal eater.
Eating to feel emotionally satisfied and well is a very significant part of the eating experience and I believe the people who miss this part end up being the people who when they eat a cupcake even though they aren’t hungry feel like a failure/ fat pig/ unloveable etc. More on this here.
The way mindful eating is taught involves tuning into your physical hunger ‘signals’. If you’re hungry- eat, if not- wait.
But what happens when you just want to eat because? I feel there’s this underlying “don’t-eat-emotionally-diet,” where women are taught that unless you’re physically hungry, you shouldn’t be eating.
I’ve written before about how I don’t feel emotionally eating is all that bad- which you can check out here. But I want to be clear here and mention again that those people who ignore the emotional satisfaction and connection with food are the ones who end up at some point diving head first into the brownies and cake….think about that one.
2. Mindful eating misses the body image piece:
I say this time and time again but a significant number of reasons why women end up feleing out of control around food is due to some body image issue.
I’m yet to work with a client who hasn’t initially told me something along the lines of “I watch my diet because I don’t want to put on weight”. It’s the weight stigma that I truly believe we have to address if changes around food are going to occur. In other words: When you can separate weight from self worth you’ll be able to eat in a completely different way.
3. Mindful eating doesn’t acknowledge that food is not your true focus:
I’d be missing an even bigger piece of the puzzle if I didn’t mention that food is not your purpose. Food is not what your life is calling out to you to become ‘aware’ of. Food isn’t what you really need to be questioning, being hypervigilant about.
I truly believe that your ‘hunger’ will subside when you start taking better care of yourself, when you develop self compassion and self acceptance. Without sounding fluffy and woo woo, when you’re able to fill the need that you’re hoping food will fill.
In summary, while I do feel mindful eating is helpful, it’s not the whole piece of the puzzle. I generally work with mindful eating principles in combination with doing the body image and self worth work.
Because truth be told I don’t actually care what you put in your mouth. I care about how you feel about what you put in your mouth. This is the big difference between a normal eater and someone who has issues with food.
If you need one last ‘nail in the coffin here’ there’s a lot of research that informs us that those people who blame, shame and judge food eat way more than the person who is calm, non judgemental and content with their food choices.
So let me remind you that it’s okay to eat a cupcake for no other reason than that you want one. You don’t need to dig deep and question and ponder- am I hungry or not? Is this trying to fix something?
I’ve got a blog post coming next week where I have asked a group of women to ask me for their questions around mindful eating. Stayed tuned for that Q & A.
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