This article is part of a series on the process and benefits of conscious eating. If you want to receive the additional articles in this series free by email as they’re released, click here.
Right now, your relationship with food is like a radio that’s blasting static. White noise. It’s not tuned in and you’re missing out on the connection it could be providing.
In The Missing Link I described how we’ve managed to mis-tune this radio and disorder our relationship with food. There are more ways our relationship with food has grown unhealthier, but right now I want to focus on the consequences. I also want to start providing some action steps for putting conscious eating into practice.
When we’re not tuned in and connected to food, a range of predictable things happen.
Have you ever heard the advice, “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full?” Of course you have. And you think it’s impossible advice to use.
It’s impossible when you have a disordered relationship with food. Overeating is not a problem, it’s a symptom of the disconnect.
Do you eat emotionally or otherwise feel triggered in certain ways by food? After working with hundreds of clients, I’ve identified eight common triggers that men and women both struggle with. The disconnect amplifies these triggers and gets in the way of healing them.
Do you know which foods truly nourish your body and which foods break your body? When you’re not tuned in, it’s hard to connect the dots. Your body is sending you signals, but all you hear is static.
The disconnect makes food unenjoyable. And our judgements create anxiety that further drives the disconnect. Weight gain, digestive issues, nagging ailments, joint pain and anxiety are all seen as problems. I want you to see them for what they are: symptoms of a bigger issue.
You can focus on what you eat and solve many of these symptoms through nutrition and lifestyle adjustments. You get that. But, you’ll never achieve full healing until you address your disconnected relationship with food.
Conscious eating is how we fine tune the dial so the static goes away and the signal comes in loud and clear. It’s how we repair our relationship with food. And it provides the fastest route to healing.
Listening to your body is a good place to start.
Eat when you’re hungry.
I want to show you how to put that impossible advice — “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full”– into practice. Keep in mind that this entire series is a “101” series. If you want to dig deeper, you’ll have to wait for me to release a full course (hint hint).
If you’re going to eat when you’re hungry, then you need to know what hunger feels like. Most of us don’t because we’re trained to pre-emptively strike hunger. “Eat 6 small meals a day!” “It’s time for your lunch break!”
When you eat six small meals a day, you’re never hungry. If you eat when the boss says it’s time for lunch, you’re eating because of a random external signal and not an intuitive, internal one.
There’s a good chance that you subconsciously avoid hunger as well. Many people who struggle with emotional eating avoid physical hunger because it represents emotional hunger. If you can avoid feeling hungry physically, it means you’re doing well medicating your unmet needs. Hunger, then, becomes the enemy. I want you to see hunger as a gift.
It doesn’t stop there. The “diet” you’re following and your mainstream lifestyle is full of foods that screw up your hormones. Instead of hunger gradually creeping up on you and being bearable until food is found, you go from zero to hangry. That’s hunger mixed with anger, by the way.
Take action: Don’t eat on a schedule. Don’t eat because the boss tells you it’s time to eat. Don’t eat because you’re anxious or because you’re not sure if you’ll have access to food when you do get hungry. Allow yourself to feel true hunger. Then, make sure it escalates to a 7 or 8 before you eat.
Stop when you’re full.
This one is where people get most tripped up. Here’s the typical advice:
- Use a smaller plate (so you take a smaller portion).
- Eat protein the size of your fist.
- Just take a little and go back for seconds if you need to.
I’m sure there are more, but you get the point. None of the suggestions teach people how to connect with food and their body. Tricking yourself into eating less isn’t a solution, it’s a struggle.
Stopping when you’re full is a three step process:
- Trust that your body will signal when it’s full.
- Identify the signal.
- Act on the signal.
Tricking yourself by using a smaller plate or measuring out food shows a lack of trust in one or all of the three steps I just listed.
Now, there could be a legitimate problems. If you’re leptin resistant, you may never get a signal. We need to correct that. A leptin reset is part of Total Body Reboot Stage One, by the way. Tricking yourself won’t fix your leptin resistance.
Another issue is that the way you’re eating can cause you to miss the signal. This is where conscious eating starts to correct the problem by reconnecting you to the food and the process of eating. When you’re tuned in, you don’t miss the signals.
Even if you get the signal and identify it, you may not listen to it. This happens all the time in people dealing with unaddressed eating triggers. Again, conscious eating helps speed up the healing process.
Conscious eating is about finely tuning your radio so the static goes away and you achieve a clear signal. Your body craves a connection to food and the process of eating, so your job is to make that connection. Every. Single. Time.
Here’s eight things to think about as you approach eating going forward:
- Don’t eat unless you’re legitimately hungry. See above. Wait until you’re a 7 or 8 on the hunger meter before eating to fine tune your hunger cues.
- If you’re preparing food, do so without distraction. Remember in part one I talked at length about the process of acquiring and preparing food. While you won’t be expending a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy hunting or gathering, you can still tune in to the process of preparing food. Clear all your distractions and engage your five senses throughout prep and cooking process.
- Clear all distractions from the process of eating. Just as you clear distractions from prep and cooking, clear them from eating as well. No devices, no newspapers, no nothing. The only exception is other human beings.
- Always eat sitting down at a table. The antithesis of conscious eating is eating in a rush, in a car, on the couch, or on the move. I get that you’re busy, but you need to invest time in yourself and the relationship you’re building with food. If you truly want to be in touch and in control, it’s something you need to put at the top of your list.
- Approach food as love and nourishment for your body. Food is not the enemy. Your body is not the enemy. Doing battle against these things will leave you bloodied and bruised and no better off. Eat to nourish your body and soul — this connection will also lead you to make better and better choices for what to eat.
- Engage your five senses. Touch your food, smell your food, look at the details of your food, try to discern the different individual flavors, and listen to the sounds around you. A focus on your senses will keep you present and connected.
- Savor every single bite. Part of hunger and satiety is taste. The first bite always tastes the best because your taste buds are designed to signal you to keep eating. As you get full, the taste buds dull and it becomes harder to savor each next bite. This is another signal that you should listen to.
- Take your time. In the next part of this series I’m going to talk about eating speed, stress, and the impact on digestion. For now, just try to slow down a little. Spend a little extra time savoring the food and you’ll be right on track.
“But, I hate wasting food. And my mom always made me clean my plate. I can’t just stop when I’m full.'”
Putting the fork down needs to be an exercise. This is another reason why I don’t recommend tricking yourself with portion sizes. Just as you lift weights to get stronger, you need to pump your brakes to develop mental and emotional strength in your relationship with food.
By telling you to clean your plate, your mom helped exacerbate your disordered eating. That’s a good thing to realize — maybe you won’t do that to your own children.
The best part of stopping when you’re full is having leftovers. When you consistently hit the brakes when your body signals you’re full, you’ll always have more food for later. That’s less meals to think about — a plus!
Right now, you’re using your mom and the concept of wastefulness as excuses for not exercising your braking system. There are no excuses allowed at The Rebooted Body — lose ’em.
Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.
Conscious eating will teach you a lot about yourself. Some things might be scary to face and that’s why conscious eating is important. The work is calling you and it won’t stop until you answer. This is the real path to putting yourself back in control and creating a lifestyle out of healthy eating.
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Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.