I have been studying the emotional connections to food and eating for such a long time, and feel like I’ve only just scraped the surface. It is a HUGE subject! Not only does food/eating have the ability to alter mood, behaviours and habits depending on our individual chemical make-ups, it can also have strong and lasting emotional associations. The act of eating is intricately connected to developmental behaviours, cultural, religious and social occasions and, very often, parental coping strategies! The classic example of the latter is rewarding children with sweets for good behaviour, or denying them for misbehaviour – very early on in life we learn to associate consuming sweets with comfort and reward, and denying sweets as a tool for punishment and a display of will-power.
The reality of this situation, which we rarely draw attention to, is that consuming or denying the sweets did not solve the issue that initially sparked the upset. As a result we go into adult life associating rewards (or ‘sweetness’) with external factors, rather than something we can manifest ourselves. Conversely, we can also punish and ‘control’ ourselves by consciously choosing to deny the things we think bring us pleasure.
It is clear to see (though tricky to admit) that consuming or denying food is about numbing or suppressing an emotional issue momentarily. Painful, unresolved emotions, ailments, illness, injuries and uncomfortable issues will keep arising until we have the courage to go into the discomfort and change the patterns. Over-consuming or denying food is not enough to silence the intelligence of our body – our bodies will keep manifesting illnesses (be it skin issues, allergies, repetitive injuries, mood irregularities, asthma, hormonal imbalances and so on) until we stop, listen, acknowledge and let go. Binge eating or food restriction is not natural, it is a sign that something in our lives needs to change.
For me personally, learning to eat mindfully was the first step in helping to rewrite the emotional connections I have with food. Bringing awareness to what you’re eating – the textures, colours, flavours – all assist in calming the nervous system, which in turn helps us to better tune into what we are truly hungry for, and when we are truly sated.
Here are some really simple go to tips to help practise mindful eating:
1. Create a calm environment – turn off the TV, laptop, phone, stereo, put away any reading material and if appropriate try to not converse with anyone(!). A busy environment agitates the nervous system and weakens digestive juices.
2. Sit down and stay seated throughout your meal – make sure you’re sitting comfortably with a long spine so your gut has space to digest (no hunching over your plate and squashing your belly and ability to assimilate your food!)
3. Take 5 slow calm breaths – this calms the nervous system and helps clean away any agitative or nervous thoughts. This not only allows to you eat peacefully but also helps break the habit of using food to block or numb negative feelings or emotions.
4. Be grateful – look at your food and mentally recite a sentence of gratitude for what you are about to eat. Practising gratitude is an incredibly strong and effective way of rewiring negative thought patterns and also helps attract better things into your life.
1. Chew each mouthful until it is liquid – this not only kick starts better digestion but also ensures you will release four times as much serotonin (the happy, stress-busting, mood-regulating hormone)
2. Put your fork down between mouthfuls – this will also help you eat a bit slower. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register that you are full so take your time!
3. . Smell, chew, taste – notice the different flavours, textures and aromas of your food. Tuning into this info will help you get clear on what foods, and therefore what nutrients/minerals/vitamins, your body is really craving. Often it is our brain that decides what we should eat rather than what we are truly craving.
4. Be aware of what your body is communicating – watch what thoughts come up for you while you eat. Pay attention to your breath, heart rate, temperature, posture, muscular tension, mood. Bringing awareness to these factors without any judgement allows you to better tune in to your deeper senses and what they are trying to communicate to help you be the healthiest happiest version of yourself! Never deny the innate wisdom within your body that is constantly trying to communicate and get your attention.
AFTER YOUR MEAL
Continue to sit and be still for at least 3 minutes after your meal – this allows everything to compute and assimilate in a mindful and healthful manner.