Dieting vs. Mindful Eating

As usual, I will begin by stating what this article is not focused on to avoid confusion:

  1. This article is not going to state that calories don’t matter. Calories do matter. Research has proven this time and time again. While I don’t believe you should dedicate your life to calorie counting and personally find macro counting to be a joke, I do believe you should avoid overconsumption of certain food groups that pose risk for your health.

  2. This article is not about discrediting diets aimed at specific diseased populations (autoimmune, type-II diabetics, etc..). In fact, I believe some of the protocols used in these populations are the most effective treatments available.

  3. This article is not meant to down-talk diets and bash trends like keto, paleo, vegan, etc.. Again, quite the opposite. If these diets help you adopt a healthy lifestyle that fits your needs and aids you in maintaining your health, then go for it.

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Okay, so now on to what I am aiming to discuss with this post. Today’s post is about establishing a relationship with food and nutrition that allows you (and your family) to enjoy and appreciate what you eat rather than food-shaming, hating, and avoiding. My biggest problem with modern diets is that they lead to us treating food as a chemical equation, a punishment, or a genuine fear. Here are a few honest quotes I have heard regarding food recently:

  • “I’m just not going to eat anymore, I give up”

  • “I can’t go out to dinner, I won’t find anything I can eat”

  • “Anything I eat will make me fat”

  • “I fear every meal, because I don’t know what to eat to stay healthy and lean”

As someone with a fairly strong understanding of the importance of obtaining nutrients (both micro and macro) from food to optimize health, performance and longevity, this makes me both scared and sad. Scared because I truly believe that many people have gotten so frustrated with failed dieting attempts that they’ve decided to give up on obtaining high-quality nutrition all together, putting their health at serious risk. Sad because food should not be intimidating, it should be pleasurable, nutritious, and enjoyable.

While I admit dieting isn't all to blame for the creation of this food environment, I do think that the obsessing over avoiding/including certain foods that comes with certain diets can do more harm than good, especially in the long-term. Further, long-term dieting has been shown to not work as individuals often gain back weight that was lost early on. I don’t think this chronic battle to find the “perfect diet” is sustainable for our physical or mental health. This brings me to mindful eating, a concept that I feel offers a better, more sustainable approach to eating and nutrition than long-term dieting. So what is mindful eating? The definition is going to vary depending on the individual (as it should). Mindful eating is learning to understand your body and your needs in an effort to optimize your diet, wellbeing, and life in general. Mindful eating is not about eating whatever you want all the time- as you all know by now, there are certain foods that we should never consume, packaged foods and vegetable oils to name a few! However, mindful eating is about determining what foods and supplements (if necessary) work best for your body and your goals and not punishing yourself for indulging from time-to-time. For example, personally, I know after years of self-experimentation and even from my blood work that I don’t do well on a high-carbohydrate diet (higher blood glucose levels and even higher cortisol levels). I simply function better off a high-fat, moderate protein, moderate carb diet. I’m not afraid of carbs and I certainly don’t punish myself after I eat a damn banana, I simply try to avoid overconsumption because I know that works for my body. This is what separates hard-core diets from mindful eating- if I were on a strict low-carb diet, every time I overdid it on carbs I would be failing, and I would feel miserable for it. Taking the mindful approach, I simply use how I feel to guide my meals, no food-shaming, no self-hate, and certainly no avoidance of foods as I fu**ing love food!

5 Tips Towards Adopting a Mindful Approach to Eating:

  1. Pay attention to how you feel before and after meals: Too often we just eat our food as fast as possible, without paying attention to our energy levels prior to and after the meal. Try noting your energy levels before eating and every half hour after to gauge how you feel.

  2. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full: Here’s my opinion on this- you don’t need 6 meals a day and you don’t need to weigh all of your food. If you’re hungry, eat a nutrient-dense meal. Once you’re full, stop eating. This is more difficult than it seems, but once you develop the skills to listen to your body, you will see a big difference in how you eat and more importantly, how much you enjoy your food.

  3. Focus on nutrient-density, not calories: Again, this is my opinion and as I mentioned above, calories do matter. However, if you focus on meals consisting of bioavailable, nutrient-dense meals (vegetables, high quality proteins, nuts, seeds, etc..), I would be surprised if you didn’t like the way you felt about your food-consumption patterns.

  4. If you eat the cookie, enjoy the damn cookie and forget about it: Most important point? Possibly. Don’t punish yourself for indulging from time to time. It happens and it’s completely fine. If you follow #3 above, these indulgences will be more scarce and less interesting but if it happens, enjoy it!

  5. Dedicate meal-time to enjoying your food: Turn the TV off, close the laptop, tell Shirley you’ll call her later and enjoy your meal. Food is too good to be overshadowed by your office drama!

As always, I hope you find this post helpful. Please comment below with any thoughts!