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Thrive Therapy & Counseling provides high quality therapy to Highly Sensitive People and to kids, teens or adults struggling with anxiety, depression or self-esteem.

5 Tips for Mindful Eating--Recognizing the emotional cycle around our food

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This blog is written by a therapist in midtown Sacramento and focuses on the concerns and struggles of highly sensitive people (HSPs) and of kids, teens and adults struggling with depression, anxiety or just trying to figure out what they want for themselves.  There's help and hope through counseling and therapy!

5 Tips for Mindful Eating--Recognizing the emotional cycle around our food

Ivy Griffin

We are what we eat, think, and believe.

It is a simple statement, yet like a ripe and ready to eat onion, it’s got layers to it. We live in a fast-paced, demanding, and overly stimulating world that requires vast amounts of energy, time, and attention. Sometimes the last thing on our minds is eating. Especially in a world saturated with ready-to-eat, fast-food, to-go options.

For most of us, it is hard to think straight when we’re hungry, or if we’ve had an emotional or stressful day. Many of us go for convenience rather than cooking something at home. Fast-food was created to be faster, easier, and everywhere. Or at least this is the justification you use while going through the drive-thru at In-N-Out in between errands. You then order that delicious double-double animal-style burger, fries and soda.

You rationalize this decision to yourself: “I don’t have anything at home to eat,” “I only eat like this when I’m in a hurry,” “I’m hungry now, and it’ll be hours before I can get home to eat.”

Then you glance down at the paper bag of smelly food, already seeing the grease stains forming at the bottom edges of the bag and take that first sip of the surgery dense drink, and pause.

We all know that fast-food isn’t good for us. There are hundreds of documentaries, books, podcasts, and TV shows on the subject. What is sometimes overlooked, is the emotional component of highly-processed junk food. The idea of comfort food is that it will makes us feel better. But does it? 

If any of us eat a ‘heavy’ meal, filled with lots of meat, grease, carbs, sugar, fat and salt—we could physically feel heavier, maybe even bloated and overly full. Then the thoughts start to occur: “I shouldn’t have eaten that much,” “Why didn’t I just have a salad instead?” “I feel so full!” “Did I really need to order the biggest size?”

We start to shame, blame and judge ourselves. The negative thoughts then create the feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and possibly even depression. Yikes! I’m not lovin’ that. The hardest part about this cycle is the last—the belief. Some of us create a belief around ourselves that may not actually be true at all, but because the feelings and thoughts are there, it must be! This belief can be, “I am fat,” “I’m disgusting,” “I will never be able to control my impulses.”

So what can we do? Here are some of my tips to help you start eating more mindfully!

1. Be mindful of this cycle. If you know that eating fast-food sends you into this berating, judgmental cycle, maybe you won’t eat it as much and have healthier options in the freezer for the nights when you don’t have time to cook. Or meal prep on a day off from work, make homemade smoothies for busy times or even just keep a stash of to-go snacks like nuts and fruit that you can grab on your way out the door.

2. Mindfully eat. Slow down and enjoy your food. Taste the texture, the flavor on your tongue and the crunch of your bite.  Stop and taste your food. It is surprising how difficult that can be at times. Many people eat mindlessly, either conversing at the dinner table, watching TV, or on the phone. When we start to eat with intention, it is incredible how much our senses open up to the experience.

3. Be gentle to yourself. We are human. You’re gonna indulge the desire for a massive slice of cake or that extra slice of pizza. And that’s okay! Beating yourself up can sometimes make those feelings of shame and guilt worse.

4. Are you really hungry? Tune into your body. Sometimes we eat due to stress or avoidance of emotions. The next time you open the fridge, pause and check in with your emotions. Are you feeling stressed? Anxious? Depressed? Are those the reasons you are reaching for food, to avoid sitting in these tough emotions?

5. What are your food triggers? If you are prone to make bad food choices when you’re feeling a certain way or when your schedule is just so—try to be aware of that! If you have that one friend with a definite Starbucks addiction, maybe go somewhere new with them instead, and try other alternatives that may be healthier.

Food can be such an amazing part of our lives, sometimes dynamic and packed with emotion. It can be addicting, comforting, bad for us, and pleasurable. As I said before, we are what we eat, think and believe. Next time you stop at your local fast-food, emotionally check-in with yourself before you order anything that can be Super-Sized or added with an extra layer of caramel.

*If you feel that your mindset around food is harmful to you, ask for help. Eating for some can be a painful process, linked with mood and eating disorders. Connect with a therapist today for support!

By Arielle Grossman