Do you remember your first diet? I’ve tried so many different ways to restrict my eating since middle school, that I’ve lost count. The unfortunate truth is that the average woman tries 16 diets in her lifetime. How did we get to a place of needing so much help in order to perform one of the most basic human activities?

As babies, we know when we are hungry and intuitively stop eating when we are full.  But then society’s incessant pressure to be thin disrupts our innate sense of hunger and satiety, so we don’t even recognize our body’s own signals anymore. Cycles of restriction, emotional eating, and guilt repeat again and again; it’s time to return to where it all began, to what we knew upon entering the world.

Eating mindfully, in tune with, and honoring, your natural cues,  is much healthier, especially during stressful times, like the  holidays, when there can be a lot of expectations around food. 

Here are a few ways to get back in touch with your mind and body and create a practice of self-care over the coming weeks of celebration.

1. Remove the Word DIET From Your Vocabulary

First: Give yourself permission to have control over your body and what you eat. Don’t let Aunt Susie force a second helping of mashed potatoes on you if you’re fully satisfied with what you’ve already eaten. And on the opposite end, if you want a piece of pumpkin pie, have it and enjoy every single bite.

2. Get in Tune With Your Body’s Signals

Look for signs of hunger and fullness. Is your stomach growling, or do you lose concentration when you get hungry? You probably need to eat! Once you notice your body’s messages, go ahead and eat until you feel full. Many people don’t realize they’re full until they’re past that point into discomfort. The key is to slow down and take mental note of how you feel after every few bites. Often when you pay this much attention, you may realize you don’t actually like snacks you’ve mindlessly finished a whole bag of before. As well, the mind takes 20 minutes to catch up and register satiety, so slowing down the process will help you get in tune with those signals.  

Another key is to avoid waiting until you’re ravenous to eat, and make sure to keep some snacks handy. If you’re a chronic dieter, it might take some time for these signals to become clear. Most importantly, be patient and kind with yourself. You’re doing your best and your best takes time.

3. Remember That Food Doesn’t Have Morals

Food does not make you a good or bad person. We often tell ourselves we’re “bad” for eating dessert, even in celebration, and are hooked in by marketing tactics of foods labeled “guilt-free.” Rather than placing value on your food, focus on how it makes you really feel, releasing yourself from guilt and being honest with yourself, and savor it slowly. Try chewing for longer than you’re used to and think about how everything tastes, smells, feels on your tongue, sits in your stomach, etc.

Are you enjoying all of those sensations?  This part of the process teaches you to really appreciate what you’re eating. If you’re enjoying it mindfully, it’s nourishing to you in some way, whether it’s nutritionally or mentally, and that’s always good regardless of calories.

We can get caught up talking and laughing with family at the holiday table and forget this aspect, so consider making it a group activity to appreciate the food together. Talk about the aromas and textures and flavors; share what you love about the meal and get others to join in. 

4. Acknowledge Your Emotions

As a holistic nutrition coach, I find there’s always an external factor that’s influencing eating decisions beyond true desire. I take a look at what else is going on in my clients’ lives that may be contributing to their complicated relationship with food. Perhaps instead of being hungry, you may actually be bored, angry, anxious, lonely, or trying to distract yourself from something. Ask yourself if your body is sending signs that it needs food or is the desire to eat coming from somewhere else?

This is where self-care comes in. Make a list of things you love to do for yourself, whether it’s a walk outside, a warm candle-lit bath, reading in your comfy chair, spending time with a friend, etc. If you acknowledge that you’re not actually hungry, channel your energy into one of these habits. And who knows, maybe you just really do want to eat a cookie!

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Learning to eat mindfully is never a perfect process. Make sure to pay attention to your inner dialogue. We talk to ourselves all day long whether we realize it or not, and negative self-talk can run rampant. Try to notice when you’re saying things to yourself that you’d never say to a friend, and put a positive spin on those thoughts. 

I have my clients share their negative emotions and help them reframe these feelings. Did you eat until you felt uncomfortable today? Rather than labeling this as a personal failure, look at it as a greater lesson. It’s okay, by exceeding your comfort level, you’ve learned something new about your limits that you can put into tomorrow’s work. Success!

The great thing about this process is that we have several opportunities every day to work on these habits, so there’s no need to be so hard on yourself if things don’t go the way you planned. Take each experience as a chance to grow and honor your relationship with yourself, as you gain a deeper knowledge and love for your being that will last longer than any diet fad ever will.

 

Kristen Ciccolini is a food writer and plant-based nutrition coach based in Boston. She is focused on nutrition education and teaches busy women how to incorporate healthy habits into their everyday cooking. When she’s not nerding out over food, you can find her upside down in a yoga class or right side up at a rock show. Follow her on Twitter @kciccolini.