Time spent with friends and family members throughout the holiday season is often inseparable from shared meals and a multitude of holiday food choices. Honoring one’s true hunger can fullness can be especially difficult during this time. For those in eating disorder recovery, eating mindfully and intuitively may be particularly challenging.
Intuitive eating, which is also referred to as “mindful” eating, guides individuals in the process of listening to one’s internal cues. It also helps those in eating disorder recovery form a healthy relationship with food. This is an anti-diet approach to eating, without rules to break or temptations to resist. Unlike meal planning or dieting, intuitive eating is not black or white. Rather, it relies on the ‘gray’ of listening to the body’s needs and not setting oneself up for failure.
To help us learn to intuitively eat, we may remember that all infants and toddlers (yes, even our own childhood selves) innately possess the ability to have a natural and healthy relationship with food. Infants easily know when they are hungry and full by the signals their bodies send. This ability exists in all of us, no matter how long we may have previously ignored it. Although tuning into this ‘intuition’ can take conscious effort and intention, with practice and patience it can most certainly be achieved. The challenge in becoming an intuitive eater is to reconnect with the already present internal cues and to learn to ignore the external ones.
Dieting is a purely external way to regulate food intake. Other external forces that can control our food intake include only choosing “good” or “healthy” foods, automatically finishing everything on the plate, or only taking the portion directed on the food label. In each of these acts we are silencing our intuitive eater. Using such external factors as these to determine what, how much and when to eat can be self-defeating and in some cases may inadvertently reinforce an eating disorder mindset because it disconnects us from our own body and sacred intuition.
In order to get back in touch with hunger and fullness cues and figure out what our bodies are asking for requires mindfulness while eating. Using our senses while eating is a great way to get back in touch with our bodies. During the holidays, many of us are rushing around, engaging in multiple tasks or conversations, and often eating food on the run. While eating in this manner, most people have trouble paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, let alone taste, texture, sight and smell of their food. Staying fully aware of these aspects of food will enhance the experience of eating, create a greater sense of satisfaction, and aid in mindfully giving our bodies exactly what they intuitively need.
Checking in with ourselves can also help us to remain mindful while eating. Below are some questions you may wish to ask yourself throughout your meal:
- Where is my hunger/fullness level?
- Am I enjoying this food?
- What would make my eating experience more pleasurable in this moment?
- Would I rather be eating something different?
- Am I staying present while eating or is my mind wandering elsewhere?
- What external factors influenced my food choices today?
- How can I reconnect to the internal signals my body is sending me?
Asking questions and checking in with oneself while eating during the holidays can be an excellent step to practice mindfulness and intuitive eating. Awareness is a vital component of change, and an important practice in the process of recovery from an eating disorder. During this holiday season, acknowledge that intuitive eating is a skill to be cultivated and a practice that may take time and patience.
We wish you a healthy and happy holiday season, with many more joyous days to come.
(some information retrieved from Center for Change pamphlet publication, October 2006).