This post was written by the facilitators of the Befriending Your Body with Mindful Eating retreat, Dr. Susan Wnuk, Clinical psychologist, and Chau Du, founder of the Canadian Mindfulness Centre.
Many of us can feel tremendous pressure to have our bodies conform to an ideal size and shape, usually an unrealistically thin one. This pressure comes from the media, family attitudes, social norms and negative past experiences like being bullied or criticized for our bodies. Internal events like emotions, memories, internalized beliefs and physical sensations can also add to this pressure. This can give rise to yo-yo dieting, negative body image, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. In an effort to fix these problems, many develop problematic relationships with food, where food can become an enemy or sometimes becomes a friend. We can develop black and white thinking, categorizing foods as “good or bad” and alternating between deprivation and indulgence.
Mindfulness and mindful eating can help you “befriend” your body – without you having to fix or change it, but to accept it with compassion, and use it as a source of wisdom. You can begin this practice with four steps: CHEW.
C - Commit to Befriending your Body with Mindful Eating
Making a commitment is not a one-time decision and does not happen overnight. It needs to be revisited and repeated, sometimes daily. It is usually more effective to commit to small steps, like eating more regularly, eating more fruits and vegetables or drinking more water, rather than setting an unrealistic or more dramatic goal like completely denying yourself of sweets or carbohydrates.
Physician and psychotherapist Russ Harris says, “Commitment isn’t about being perfect, always following through, or never going astray. Commitment means that when you (inevitably) stumble or get off track, you pick yourself up, find your bearings, and carry on in the direction you want to go.”
It is normal to fall back into old eating habits but this does not mean you need to give up. Instead, recognize non-judgmentally what happened, learn from your challenges, be open to alternative possibilities, and recommit to your intentions and goals.
H - Heart-centred Planning
Heart-centred planning involves practicing self-compassion, purposeful action and honoring your uniqueness. Firstly, it is vital to practice compassion for your body rather than being overly self-critical. When you respond kindly to the myriad of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations connected to your body and food, you can be more flexible with your food choices. Purposeful action means setting aside time to plan for nutritious meals, and to eat regularly and mindfully. While mindful eating does not prescribe a particular diet, it does recognize the importance of fresh, whole foods that have been shown to enhance health and satisfaction.
Finally, it is important to honor and take into account your unique situation and responsibilities. For example, do you have any medical conditions? Do you have a hectic work schedule and/or a family? Do you help care for an elderly relative? All of these factors need to be included in your planning so that you can achieve your goals. Stay focused on your own journey and progress rather than comparing yourself with others.
E - Eat Mindfully
Eating mindfully is about creating a new relationship with food and your body, rather than a type of diet. It involves paying attention to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, your food preferences and knowledge, and your own history, culture and experience. When it is time to eat a meal or snack, devote your attention to the food and eating. As best as you can, avoid multitasking. Give yourself the gift of time to chew the food, taste it fully, and notice the textures, temperatures and flavours of the food. You may notice that eating is more enjoyable and satisfying when your senses are fully engaged. Reflecting during and after eating can also help you gain insight: How satisfied are you with the food? How full do you feel? What thoughts or emotions are present? This can provide valuable information about your relationship with food and your body.
W - Wait and Evaluate
Take some time to pause. Waiting helps you pay attention to what is unfolding after eating. Next, it is important to evaluate your progress over time. It can be helpful to check in with yourself after meals, then after several days. Notice how you feel physically and emotionally. You may notice that you prefer some foods over others. Conversely, some foods may cause physical discomfort. You may notice that you do not like foods you thought were your favorites, or that a preference for certain foods or ways of eating was learned in childhood. You may also observe your thoughts or feelings about your body and food change from one bite to the next or from day to day. Journaling these discoveries or sharing them with a close friend can help make sense of what you’re learning. This can help you revisit your intentions, measure your progress and help you decide on other changes.
By practicing CHEW you can begin to develop a new relationship with your body and food that is based on respect, compassion, honesty and acceptance. Instead of fearing food and feeling ashamed of your body, you can learn to choose foods that are truly nourishing and celebrate your body.
To learn more and begin your journey with mindful eating, join us on our upcoming retreat from October 26 to 29, 2018.
Dr. Susan Wnuk and Chau Du