Here’s something I’ve never thought about until a week ago: Just eating greens and other healthy stuff doesn’t mean your eating game is strong. You have to eat mindfully, too, which means you really have to focus on what you’re eating as you’re eating. No phones, no nothing.
I don’t know about you, but learning that made me realize that I’m a pretty bad eater. Oh, sure, I’m neither picky nor averse to greens (broccoli is the best and I am willing to fight anyone who contests this), but I don’t like not doing anything while I’m eating. I always have to put on a TV show or prop up a book or talk to a friend—anything to fill up that white void that I call meal time. Ever since I started living alone, too, I often end up eating in bed while watching a show on Netflix, which I’m sure will break the hearts of many moms everywhere.
This rude awakening came to me after hearing celebrity nutritionist and fitness guru Nadine Tengco speak about mindful eating at an event I attended recently. She gave us a little thought experiment: Imagine just eating a whole bag of chips by yourself. You’re not watching TV or listening to music or waiting for a package to arrive, you’re just sitting by yourself eating that bag of chips. Could you finish that bag?
No, I immediately thought, I couldn’t. The only time I could finish a bag by myself is when I eat while I’m on my laptop and I just need something to munch on, but I could never finish one if I had to concentrate solely on eating it. If I did feel bloated and awful, and I’d roll the bag in half and leave it in the fridge, ready for the next time I get all snacky. The bloating and awfulness still came when I’d mindlessly eat, but only afterwards, when I couldn’t do anything about it anymore and the thought of all the food I consumed would eat at me. If I had just thought about what I ate, I would’ve avoided that.
“Eating healthy is about self-respect,” Nadine Tengco said. It’s not just a matter of wanting to look better or be more fit, but respecting your body enough to take care of it. Not eating healthy, which includes the two extremes of binging on too much food or purging and obsessing over every little morsel, is a form of self-harm.
And Tengco took pains to emphasize the latter. If while you’re eating, you’re counting every calorie that you’re taking in and already thinking about all the workouts you need to do later on, you’re not mindful about what you’re eating, you’re obsessed. Way too many advocates of fitness and the like focus on the people who are out of shape and maybe eat too much, but becoming obsessive about your food is extremely problematic and can lead to a serious eating disorder.
This spoke to me a lot because there was a brief period in my life when I became obsessed about fitness and what I ate. After struggling with my weight ever since puberty, I decided to do all I could to be skinny, which meant working out, starving myself, smoking, all that good stuff. And in the end, I got what I wanted—but I was miserable, still so endlessly insecure, and I hated myself. After a few friendly interventions, I gave it up, but I guess I went the other way and didn’t care about what I was eating at all.
But you need to be able to strike that balance to live a full and healthy life, and you have to stick to it. Mindfulness and wellness is a whole lifestyle; it’s not just a crash course you take for a while before you get back to eating the way you really want to. Tengco shared an anecdote about one of her clients who, overjoyed about losing ten pounds during her diet, immediately bought hamburgers and pizzas and shakes to celebrate her “victory.” If you think about your diet as suffering, and still connect unhealthy food to happiness, that’s not going to create lasting change. And if you respect your body enough, you have to continue to keep at it.
Featured photo courtesy of Melissa Belanger from Unsplash
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Writer: ZOFIYA ACOSTA