A small, daily-practice approach can help you experience joy and pleasure from food again, and liberate you from diet culture.
Last month, we talked about how to use our sugar cravings to our advantage and tune into our body’s signals. By noticing six areas of our well-being, we learn to become more intuitive eaters. You may have heard of intuitive eating and by way of comparison, of mindful eating. Could these concepts be our scenic route to true food freedom?
What is food freedom?
I have come across many descriptions of food freedom and I walked away with the following- it is the ability to shed all the rules and restrictions that we’ve imposed on how and what we eat. It’s our ability to tap into our inner wisdom by listening to our body’s signals and desires. It’s healing our relationship with food and not establishing our self-worth by how many “good” or “bad” foods we eat.
This really struck me because I grew up in a home where food was central to our cultural identity, our family bonding, and our relationship with our friends, family, and community. My mom cooked for us pretty much every night. I feel privileged in a way because we were allowed to experience joy and pleasure from the food we ate. I loved drinking the salad dressing at the bottom of the bowl and eating the homemade french fries my dad always requested with dinner.
Arabic cuisine has been influenced by many empires that have come and gone. I grew up with a lot of variety including rice, yogurt, lamb, and every vegetable under the blue sky. When I created MAGICdATES, I knew that food freedom had to be central to our mission. Food restriction, body image disorders, and the self-criticism that inevitably follows “falling off the wagon” were primarily impacting women. And that really bothered me.
Even though disordered eating was not the particular way that I neglected my own needs; I understood self-betrayal all too well. In doing my own work to become more attuned to my emotional needs and wants, I came across the work of Dr. Nicole LePera, a clinical psychologist who focuses on early childhood experiences and how they relate to our adult life and relationships. According to Dr. LePera, growing up with a parent who is overly focused on appearance may cause us to develop a habit of comparing ourselves to others on a surface level in adulthood. Not realizing that emotional wellness goes deeper than that. This can lead us to deny our internal experience and pain in order to maintain the appearance of being “perfect”. Dr. LePera identifies this as a form of trauma bond. This led me to wonder how this focus on perfectionism impacts our relationship with food and dieting since they so often revolve around appearance and weight loss. And I wondered, how does one attain food freedom?
I had heard of intuitive eating as it made a resurgence in the last few years. The term was coined by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995 (shout out to my friend Cathryne for sharing their work with me). Tribole and Elyse’s 10 principles of intuitive eating are inspired by movements dating as far back as 1973. In chronological order, Thelma Wayler, Susie Orbach, and Geneen Roth realized in their own way, that fleeting diets and fads are not sustainable ways to end our struggles with food and body-image. Their visionary work was feminist in their own unique ways and paved the path for future movements. As they see it, what should matter is science and freedom of choice.
The ten principles that Tribole and Elyse outline include rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, and making peace with food. You can say that intuitive eating is the tool with which we can achieve food freedom. On the outside, having yet another label for our eating style may feel prescriptive. It is a principled approach and requires effort; at first.
This reminds me of the concept of “finding your passion in life”. As if our passion is supposed to drop out of the sky and we instantly fall in love at first sight. We chase this illusive passion only to be disappointed. We are disappointed if our new-found passion doesn’t yield instant results. We forget that the word “passion” comes from the latin word for suffering. You may question the idea that the path to freedom is through suffering. However, there’s something to say about doing work, an activity, or an eating style, long enough to build a habit and let yourself get good at it. You may suffer, struggle, or “work hard” in the short-term but it’s very likely you will start loving it because you’re good at it.
I digress but I hope this illustrates my point. If the end goal is food freedom, you may be more willing to implement an intuitive eating approach while you learn to trust your mind and body once again.
Mindful Eating as a Stepping Stone to Intuitive Eating
With a general idea of intuitive eating; I wondered if there is a way to begin implementing small daily practices that can help us succeed in the long term. Why the small daily practice approach? Because this is what builds habit. And isn’t our behavior just a collection of small habits? Merriam-Webster defines a habit as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance”. In the context of eating, making small, incremental changes to our diet yields long-term results and is supported by research. This is where mindful eating comes in.
Mindfulness is about paying attention, in a focused way, without judgment, and in the present moment. As it applies to food, mindful eating is about bringing conscious awareness to the sensations of food (taste, smell, texture, and appearance). Even though the purpose of mindful eating is not weight loss; this may often be the result. That’s because as an individual is focused on the experience of the food and savoring the moment, they’re actively making a choice of what to eat, when, and how much. This helps develop autonomy which is in sharp contrast to the prescriptive nature of diets. Not coincidentally, through mindfulness, a person often chooses to eat a smaller quantity of more nutrient-dense foods. This is a long-term and process-oriented approach versus the short-term and out-come based approach of dieting that always works in the short-term but fails in the long-run. This approach applies to eating fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains as much as it applies to a burger and fries. However, when you pay attention to how you experience food and how you feel after a meal, you will likely eat less of the latter.
Here are six ways you can start eating more mindfully:
What’s ONE small habit you can implement today to help you enjoy your food more mindfully?
Friends, I'm not a doctor, dietician or healthcare professional. The information in this post and any post on this website is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical or professional advice. You should consult your physician or professional before making any lifestyle change to determine if it's right for your unique needs. This is particularly true if you have underlying medical conditions that require specialized medical advice. References and sources may be provided upon request. Please email us.