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Eating Well Is More Than the Food You Put on Your Fork

Here are 5 wishes for my clients concerning their relationships with food.

Key points

  • Eating well is about how we think and feel about food, not just what we eat.
  • We should eat with the intention of feeling better than before we started.
  • Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, and developing trust with our own body is an inside job.
Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash
Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash

As an eating disorder specialist for more than 30 years, I help people with more than food. After all, I’m not a food specialist but, rather, an eating specialist. Eating well is more than the food you put on your fork. It has to do with how you think and feel about food. For instance, if food is eaten while experiencing feelings of fear, it creates stress that can offset the benefit of consuming a nourishing meal.

Every client has specific goals and needs, but I have five overarching wishes for all my clients:

1. Approach food with curiosity.

Curiosity is a noun; it means having a strong desire to know or learn something. Mindfulness requires us to be present and approach without judgment. So many of us approach food with decades of conditioning and storylines from our history. Food isn’t just food for many of us. Many have food fears and insecurities. My wish is for my clients to move toward food with curiosity. Experiment with all kinds of food, including different amounts and combinations. Leave the judgment behind, and create a new set of experiences. A beginner’s mind is necessary to create a new narrative. Healing is about new beginnings. Remember: We all get do-overs.

2. Feel better each time you have eaten.

Biologically, our physical body reminds us when we need to eat and replenish. It’s uncomfortable. Eating should make us feel better and take away the hunger and discomfort. So many times, we eat more than our body needs and create physical discomfort, still not feeling better. Ugh. Some overthink and judge their meal, creating the discomfort that comes with anxiety and guilt. When you’re hungry, give yourself a nourishing meal. Feel your body relax as if to say, “Thank you for feeding me.” This contentment reinforces the goodness of taking time to care for your body. Eat with the intention of feeling better than before you started.

3. Think of hunger as a gift rather than a burden.

Media and diet culture teach us to fear hunger and squash it with appetite suppressants. Yet, feeling hunger is a signal that your interoceptive awareness is functioning and you are mindful enough to recognize it. Yay! True hunger is a gift we can respond to with proper nourishment. It should then retreat for another three to six hours, depending on what you feed yourself and your unique “owner’s manual.” I’ve also heard the saying, “Hunger is the best seasoning,” meaning hunger makes everything taste better. So true.

Cravings, on the other hand, can be relentless and burdensome. Learning to recognize the difference between hunger and cravings is key. There are effective, nonpharmaceutical interventions that can help quell cravings and restore your health to boot. Cravings are just a signal that something is out of balance. True hunger is a gift and is part of our daily circadian rhythm throughout the day. It’s nature’s way of telling us to take a break and refuel.

4. Feel safe with what and how much you eat.

Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, and developing trust with your own body is an inside job. Maintaining a collaborative relationship with food that fosters trust between you and your body takes practice and experimentation. It is achieved through a neutral lens of compassion, not of comparison and strife. One must become an objective scientist until one finds the formula for one's unique needs, activity levels, and preferences. With patience, you’ll create your own manual as to how to feed yourself to feel your best. Search inside for what gives you clarity of mind, energy of body, and self-confidence. Letting go of distracting celebrity diet plans and comparisons of TikTok bodies and embracing the peace of knowing that you’ve “got this” is worth the journey.

5. Know food is medicine for the body, heart, and soul.

Food is literally medicine for the body. It is our life force and contains just what we need to maintain these amazing bodies for a lifetime. Seeing food as a healer is healing. Science continues to reveal food’s role in our physical and mental health; it needs to be considered part of our self-care journey.

Food is also a “connector.” It is woven into the fabric of family and community. Growing, selecting, and preparing food together as well as gathering for meals create rituals and traditions that remind us that we belong. The pleasure of food is not to be missed, too! Pleasure is medicinal; it need not taste like medicine. Sharing these moments is equally healing for the heart and soul. So, when you partake in the pleasure of a special treat, do so with others, making sweet memories.

More from Kari Anderson DBH, LPC, CEDS-S
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