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Mindful eating, learning a new dynamic towards food through an expert’s insights

Por: Gaby Flores23 de marzo de 2022

Mindful eating helps people reconnect with their bodies and emotions with a “no diet” approach that encourages health in all sizes.

I’m going to be honest with you. There are times, that when I crave something sweet, say a piece of chocolate, I tend to do the following: either end up ignoring my craving and continue with my activities, or I opted for an apple because “it’s the healthy option” to fool my stomach.

How many times have we not come across endless diets that promise us to have the “perfect body”? Who hasn’t seen reels or tik toks where, curiously, the pattern is “what I eat that day” and it turns out to depress you a bit because you know that it wouldn’t satisfy you, yet it makes you wonder if you should join this “healthy” trend?

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Due to the above, it has been believed that the body and food are in “a constant fight”, and that they cannot coexist peacefully. Fortunately, this misconception has been questioned more and more, where attempts are made to recover the meaning of nutrition.

In the case of Lorena Aranda, a graduate in nutrition and a master’s in Psychology of Eating Disorders, she has dedicated her professional career to helping people listen to their emotions and bodily sensations when eating.

We had the opportunity to talk to her about mindful eating, a ‘no diet’ approach that encourages a ‘health in all sizes’ thinking, how is it a new dynamic with food, and her experience with helping other people reconnect with their body and emotions.

Mindful eating, concentrating on our experience with food

Ok, first things first, what is mindful eating? “Mindful eating comes from the practice of mindfulness”, Aranda comments. “It can be known as ‘full attention, which means that one is able to concentrate your attention in the present moment and in a chosen way to what you want”.

To explain the above, Lorena exemplified it with the following scenario:

“Let’s say we’re in a class and, instead of listening to the teacher, our mind suddenly focuses on another thought. This sometimes happens unconsciously, and we don’t realize it. And, once the class is over, we’re like ‘wow, at what time did I zone out ?!’ “.

With the above, Aranda pointed out that, many times, our thoughts generally tend to ‘place us in the future’, such as when we think about the pending issues that we have to solve, or they ‘take us to the past’ through memories that happened a long time ago.

Thus, the practice of mindfulness helps us to ‘be in the present by being focused on the moment. “Returning to the class example, my mind would be attentive to the teacher’s explanation instead of thinking about other things”, Aranda says.

Now I understand the day I was completely confused in Physics since, at that moment, I was remembering the time I fell in front of my crush six years ago!

But wait, how does this relate to food?

“In the case of mindful eating, we put our attention on our food and body as we eat. For instance, if I’m going to eat an apple, I concentrate on the experience that I’ll have with said fruit. I’ll notice if the apple is fresh and round if it’s sweet or sour”.

In addition, Lorena emphasized that, when we eat, we tend to go back to other experiences, which usually condition our way of eating. For example, if we see a slice of pizza, our brain might say, “Nuh-uh! You don’t like pizza”.

But maybe it’s because, some time ago, maybe you ate a bad slice of pizza; perhaps the place where you bought it didn’t prepare it so well; or maybe you saw a post that pointed out the “unhealthy properties” of pizza. Thus, your mind generalized that “all pizzas taste bad and, therefore, don’t you like them”.

“So, by applying mindful eating, it’s as if we’re going to eat with a beginner’s mind. Because, in the end, the next pizza you order will be the first time you eat that particular pizza”, Aranda says.

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Withdrawing judgment towards food

Another aspect of mindful eating is that, in addition to fully turning our attention to our food, our eating attitude must be based on our choice and free from judgment.

“This judgment refers to the fact that I will not have negative or positive bias present [at mealtime]”, Lorena explains. “When I eat the apple, I will say if it tastes sour or sweet if it’s fresh or dry. But, I’m not saying it’s right for it to be fresh or it’s wrong for it to taste sweet. I simply connect my experience with the fruit as it is”.

This part of the experience also includes the connection between food and the body. Mindfulness can be focused on the food, but it can also concentrate in our body as we.

“An example can be if I’m feeling satisfied, the food’s texture in my mouth, how the flavor changes with each bite, whether I liked it or not, and so on”.

Hence, mindful eating will fixate on the dynamics of eating, whether it’s on our body’s response as we eat or on the food itself.

Relevance of mindful eating

Now that we know a bit about mindful eating, why not explore how it’s relevant today?

“In my opinion, one of the reasons why the practice of it is important is because it gives us a slightly fresher experience of things [as it would be in the case of our nourishment]”.

“I guess it cleanses us a lot of the prejudices that exist, right? When thinking about the preconceptions that exist around food, [mindful eating] can provide a lot of well-being to society because we remove the bias towards food as to ‘which one’s good and which one’s bad “.

This sounds logical if we analyze the labels that we usually give to a certain type of food!

“[Those labels] give us a lot of discomfort at the level of our eating experience because then we are putting a moral burden on food, which does us a lot of emotional damage”, adds Aranda.

“If I eat a food that is seen as ‘bad’, I could experience anxiety, restlessness, feel as if I did something wrong. Sometimes, [those labels] can generate guilt. And then, our relationship with food begins to lose its nature, causing us discomfort”.

That’s when the practice of mindful eating comes in:

“By removing those preconceptions, we can connect with food from its nature—it gives me vitality, it nourishes me— or from a neutral position, such as noticing how much I eat without feeling sick. Thus, it no longer goes from a place of guilt of whether it is right or wrong to eat such food, and it does not prioritize certain types”.

Breaking down food ideologies

The way to break stigmas and ideologies is a complex task. Still, in order to do so, the practice of mindful eating relies on individual experience.

To explain the above, Lorena mentioned the following:

“Traditional nutrition is based on science, and science is based on studies testing a general population. So, if the majority in the study show a result, there will be a minority that is not being represented in the results— and I can be part of that minority.

For example, now that you asked me about “fasting and detox”, I could do a fasting study whose results could show me that 80% or 70% of the population likes said diet; hence, I’ll explain all the reasons as to why it’s good. But what about the 30% or 20% of the minority of the population who do not benefit from fasting?

So, the invitation from mindful eating is to find out if those ‘trendy diets’ suit me or not, as long as they don’t put at risk my health and well-being”. That’s precisely what this practice is about.

There may be a study that supports that most people dislike such food. However, the question is, does that apply to me? Because there’s absolutely no general rule of thumb for anything— including food”.

So, from the practice of mindful eating, the way of breaking down these stigmas around food is by living your own experience without any pre-established rules of certain diets.

Reconnecting with our body and emotions

Going back to the topic of preconceptions, once we remove these judgments towards food and we can connect with its quality, we can also nourish the body in a much more balanced way.

“If we’re led by these biases, we might develop an internal battle towards food, and even with our own bodies. This obviously causes us various damages on a physical, psychological, and emotional level.

Thus, if we remove these judgments of eating, we can nourish the body in a much more balanced way”, Lorena mentions.

Not only does [mindful eating] helps our physical health, but it can also benefit our mental and emotional well-being:

“By connecting with food from a place that makes us feel emotionally safe and free of guilt, this allows us to stop fighting with food and also stop fighting with the body. In mindful eating, the intention is that we can reach a reconciliation between the body and food. How? By listening to my body to see if it’s hungry or not, if it has a need for food or not”.

Furthermore, Lorena also points out that this practice goes hand-in-hand with boy acceptance, for many of the reasons why our diet is sometimes affected is because we want to have a certain body.

“In that search of wanting to modify the body is when we begin to demonize food, such as ‘this will lead me to have a specific figure’ and ‘this will not. So, in order to be able to respect my hunger and respect my satiety, I also have to respect my body as it is. That’s the main point: Being able to reconnect and respect my body as it is will allow me to feed it with its needs”.

One final piece of advice that Aranda would be that, for those who identify themselves in this situation, they should seek help from a specialist to be able to reconnect with their signs of hunger and satiety, since each case is particular in terms of their nourishment treatment:

“They should know that they’re in a place where they can feel safe because sometimes connecting with those signals feels very threatening. There are people who have lived different kinds of ‘diet trauma’. Mindful eating is not always the starting point in those scenarios. Rather, it might be a tool that can be used in the future when the person regains confidence with food.”

We must remember that eating should not be seen as the enemy; instead, it should be seen as an activity that allows us to obtain the energy needed to be able to live.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress and give professional aid and resources for crisis situations.

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