Creating healthy eating habits involves many layers of mindfulness. First, observing how food affects our body, acknowledging what feels good and what does not. Learning to differentiate between eating habits and needs of the body, translating the messages of our body, becoming body-aware. It’s worth spending some time, a couple of weeks, with some basic food: experimenting with salt, sugar, wheat, meat, dairy, fruits and veggies. The next step would be to learn your body’s needs during different times (times of the day and the year): what is the best breakfast for you, when is fasting a good idea with not too much resistance from your body.
Eating habits are linked to childhood experiences, messages of parents and even the cooks of the school cafeteria. It’s important to catch these messages we were given as children and see whether they’re still useful or should rather be substituted with our own reassuring sentences. Also, we’re constantly bombed with the newest dieting trends, ads about superfoods and countless articles of how to eat healthy: follow vegetarian, vegan, paleo, macrobiotic, gluten-free, Mediterranean, Atkins, raw food diet, add your own to the list.
I share with you my journey in mindful eating and invite you to follow to create your own, personal, best-suited diet that stems from you and your body.
The break from my childhood’s eating habits
I grew up in a family where traditional Hungarian meals were on the table everyday: poultry and pork, fat and sugar, potatoes and white rice. Everyone ate the same way around me, so the question to do differently did not even come up.
I rented a room as a college student and started to buy my own groceries for the first time. A month passed and I noticed that I hadn’t bought any meat. I indulged in fruits and veggies and experimented with international cuisine. Then I visited home, ate pork my mother prepared for me and I had to lay down for hours. My body was not used to digesting meat anymore. I became vegetarian.
Experimenting with food
I used this experience ever since to explore my body’s needs with regards to food. I enjoyed discovering the tastes of vegetables I only ate with salt before, and now I only have salt for guests in my kitchen. I went sugar-free for a year and learned how my taste buds are biased from over-sugared food I ate. I got used to reading the labels of processed food to know what exactly I choose to buy.
Listening to my body was the only signpost in my exploration: I intentionally ignored new dieting fashions, I didn’t read articles about superfoods and did not count calories. I was only paying attention to my body and what messages it sent me. This resulted in suspending being a vegetarian in my first trimester and the ninth month of pregnancy. I craved meat and believed that my body needed meat in that state, so I ate meat. There was a period a couple years ago when I was basically vegan, I could not stand eating dairy, then this phase was over, I eat cheese now.
Overcoming imprinted messages
I also investigated childhood messages about eating:
“I have to eat everything on my plate.”
“I should not drink while I eat.”
“I will have a huge belly if I drink too much.”
“All meals should contain meat to call them a meal.”
For me, all these sentences proved to be wrong. I eat until it feels good and sometimes it means overeating and sometimes I get it right (I don’t eat too little). But the size of my plate doesn’t define my capacity anymore.
I learned that my liquid needs are above average. I usually drink 3-4 L (0.8–1 gal.) a day that went up to 6 L (1.6 gal.) when I was breastfeeding. My body immediately signals if the amount is insufficient: I get a headache and feel dizzy. So I drink constantly, even while I eat and my belly does not grow.
I don’t cook meat at all, my children are used to meals without meat. They’re not banned from meat, since my partner eats meat regularly, but they know there’s no point nagging mom for a chicken broth.
The timing of eating
Many diets aim at creating habits of when to eat particular food. I also found that different periods of the day my body needs different food. I start my mornings with green tea and a smoothie to avoid the constipation of my teenage years. I learned that my body only takes solid food well from around 9 a.m. and I’m an early riser (5 – 6 a.m. weekdays).
I eat something about every two hours, sometimes just some snacks (fruits, nuts, veggies), otherwise the level of my blood sugar can drop abruptly. My body likes hot meals, so lunch and dinner are cooked. I very much like to close my meals with something sweet, but never fruits, because that usually doesn’t feel good.
Questions for you to explore:
It took me approximately 10 years to figure these out and I still have many unknowns: what would be the healthy ratio of raw and cooked food for me? Does gluten and lactose affect my digestion, and if yes, how? So be patient with yourself and start your investigation small:
» Choose one type of food and experiment with it for a couple of days: add it if you haven’t eaten it before or avoid it if you have been eating it. Try eating them at different times of the day. Observe the changes in your body. It helps if you take some notes, or create a food journal about it.
» Continue testing other food and watch your body’s reaction. Make a list of those that feel good and summarize your findings as a personal diet.
» Recall any messages you’ve been given in your childhood (or later) that you’ve accepted. Write them down and observe in your body whether they serve you or not. If not, create your own reassuring sentence to replace them.
My body awareness had some great benefits over the years:
» When I notice some extra weight building up I can take action to remedy it early enough, making drastic measures unnecessary.
» My health is impeccable.
» Eating became enjoyment after years of feeling guilty about it.
» Having a healthy body created space that allowed me to turn my attention to creating a healthy mind.
Read more on this topic in BODY TALK: Your food is killing you»