By: Briana Salim and Joanne K Agus
I have a confession to make -- quarantine life hasn’t been great for me. My routine is messed up, my productivity goes down the drain, and my eating habits? Oof. Let’s just say I’m in need for a drastic change. I’ve recently been stuck in this vicious cycle of overeating followed by guilty under-eating. After days of snacking randomly and satisfying all my unhealthy cravings, my body finally caught up, and let me tell you, she was not happy about it -- I don’t blame her. In response to this, I took certain food groups out of my diet and ignored my hunger cues, which surely did not solve any of my problems. It was not until I came across an article on “Mindful Eating” that I remembered a conversation I had with a friend about it.
I went on a hunt to learn more about mindful eating, and this was what I found -- According to Healthline’s article on “Mindful Eating 101” written by Adda Bjarnadottir, mindful eating is about using mindfulness to reach a state of full attention to your experiences, cravings and physical cues with food. Mindfulness itself is a Buddhist concept that centers around a form of meditation to recognize and cope with your emotions and physical sensations. A few ways to practice mindful eating include: listening to your body and stopping when you are full, knowing your hunger cues, not multitasking while you are eating, and essentially, having the right motivations of eating nutritionally instead of emotionally in order to build a healthy relationship with food (you can read more about this in the links provided below!).
Although all the information online was extremely helpful, I could not find a personal story to walk me through adopting this foreign concept. So I decided to contact Joanne, an avid mindful eater and the first person to introduce me to the concept itself, to share more about her story with mindful eating. Take it away Joanne!
Hey, Joanne here! I am a first year PhD student at UC Davis studying nutrition biology, with a focus on lipoproteins and brain health.
My passion for food and nutrition came from wanting to easily answer the question, “what should I eat for <insert breakfast, lunch, or dinner>?”. We all face this challenge every day, yet only a few of us make the right choices. Whether the subjective definition of “right choices” means to satisfy our cravings, our health needs, or other needs, most of us think that choosing one is to sacrifice the others -- with this mindset, this battle will end up being one that we can never win.
Of course, when we talk about food choices, we cannot neglect how our lifestyles affect the when, where, and what we eat. For instance, I tend to spend my morning struggling to wake up, making a cup of coffee, watering my plants, stretching or following a yoga video, and rebooting my brain. During this time, if I ask myself “what should I eat for breakfast?”, I will probably think that my only options are either eggs, breakfast cereal, french toast, or pancakes. While these options are not terrible, they are also not so… Mindful. Instead, I could have started with the question “am I actually hungry” or “ is it even wise to make a decision when I’m not fully aware and barely awake?”.
Before I came across the concept of “Mindful Eating”, I thought that food choices should only be dictated by what we physically need -- the amount of calories in lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates totalled, then divided into three custom meals throughout the day. I felt the need to track everything I ate, starting from the type of coffee I drank to the time I ate my breakfast, lunch and dinner. At first, it felt good knowing how far off or close I ate to my nutrition plan; however, this regimen eventually weighed down on me and became too constricting. Instead of enjoying the meals I shared with my friends, I spent hours everyday tracking and calculating how many calories I ate for every bite I took. Don’t get me wrong, nutrition tracking has worked wonders for others and has given me so much more knowledge about the food I eat every day - this could be a good start for anyone who is new to the idea of nutrition - but integrating this to my lifestyle for the long run did not work for me.
The moment I decided to let go of this “nutrition tracking” concept, I realized that I was able to satisfy both my cravings and my health needs through these actions guided by the concept of mindful eating:
I decided to start thinking about what I actually like or don’t like about the food that I eat. Do I like the taste of pancakes because it is sweet or do I actually like the texture of it? What is so comforting about soup and why do I dislike the taste of kale?
I also started to understand that different foods contribute to different flavor profiles, and that the balance of flavor contributes to the sense of satisfaction. For example, protein sources and avocados are salty, carrots and corn are sweet, tomatoes and citrus fruits are acidic, and etc. For me, this is why I tend to have the habit of craving dessert even after eating a huge portion of salty food, which, intuitively, helped me plan out my stomach space.
I decided that eating in the morning is not for me. My brain takes a while to reboot, and most times I’m really just dehydrated.
I started eating less of one thing and more of everything. Am I craving for pasta, cake, or chips? Instead of choosing one and eating a whole plate of it, I decided to eat a third of a portion of everything.
I fell in love with creating my own meals. For me, the time and effort it took to cook my own meals made me appreciate the food that I eat everyday. Cooking makes me want to share my meals with others, savor every single bite, and maybe save some for my next meal.
Granted, the steps that I took in discovering mindful eating habits can and will look different for others, but understand that this is a life-long adventure, so enjoy the process and let your body take the time to create a better relationship with food. So the next time you ask yourself, “What should I eat for <insert breakfast, lunch, or dinner>?”, I hope you will have an easier time figuring out what you and your body need.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness and mindful eating, here are some resources that can help you get started!