My childhood was a particularly troubled time. Instead of being outside with friends, trading sports cards, I’d taken a different road. I started drinking alcohol at the age of nine, smoking marijuana at 13 and using hard drugs shortly after that.
What started as a means to fit in and be less socially awkward turned into an addiction. At 22 years old, I was thrown in jail due to drug-related charges. It was during my time inside that I decided to think about a different life plan.
Although I tried getting over drugs on my own, I ended up relapsing soon after my release. That’s when I knew I needed to join a rehab centre and get outside help.
It’s not a diet: But what is mindful eating?
In rehab, I learned many things about embracing my past and forgiving myself. Those were tough times, to say the least. But there was one part of my recovery that took me by surprise. The surprise I’m talking about was the importance of food choices and mindful eating when recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
My dietitian was the one who showed me the art of mindful eating. This was at a time when I’d gained a few pounds (as is common in recovery), and I was starting to worry. At the beginning, I had some of the same questions as you probably do. My very first one was: what is mindful eating?
According to Leo Babauta, “Simply put, my approach to mindful eating is learning to pay attention. Instead of eating mindlessly, putting food into your mouth almost unconsciously, not really tasting the food you’re eating … you notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations.”
When applying the practice, it’s important to remember that it’s not a diet. In some cases, diets will deprive you of food; and in return, your body ends up wanting more, leading to weight gain instead of loss. Mindful eating is related to appreciating what you eat instead of following a specific plan.
In my case, it’s become a lifestyle that I can maintain, and expect to enjoy in the foreseeable future. I’ve avoided replacing my old addictions with a new one, such as overeating. I’ve learned about the way food impacts my mood and how my immune system rebuilds itself while recovering. Most of all, I’ve learned about delving into natural highs instead of artificial ones.
4 benefits of mindful eating
It’ll steer you away from food addiction
In the same way it happened to me, it’s normal for a recovering addict to put on a few pounds while in treatment. The line must be drawn when a patient starts overeating, binge eating or eating for emotional reasons.
Stress and depression are common relapse triggers. Yet, if you’re focused on not touching drugs or alcohol anymore, you might be subconsciously moving towards overeating as a habit. And yes, that can also turn into an addiction. In fact, up to 35 percent of people who abuse drugs and alcohol also have an eating disorder.
An obvious result of eating too much is obesity. If you gain weight, you start to develop lower self-esteem, which might push you over your emotional limit and cause a relapse.
When I think back to my moments of stress-eating, I remember wolfing down whatever was in front of me while focusing on what was on my mind. In the end, I ate too much, too fast, without taking a breath and enjoying a single portion.
With mindful eating, I appreciate the food I consume. It doesn’t require any lifestyle change, so I still eat the same way I always did. What has changed is my ability to focus on my meal and really savour it. This has led to less quantity and more appreciation, to a more satisfying end.
It’ll positively impact your mood
Your parents were wrong. Research suggests that there’s no link between how much sugar a child eats and their hyperactivity. Even so, the types of food you eat are related to the development of your feelings.
Mindful eating teaches you to love all the food you eat, regardless of its contents.
Yes, people eat sugar all the time to avoid negative feelings. Think of the stereotypical breakup situation, in which one partner is left sitting on their bed eating a tub of ice cream. But mindful eating teaches you to love all the food you eat, regardless of its contents.
As reported by everydayhealth.com, “In a review of 21 studies on mindful eating, published in the journal Obesity Reviews in 2014, 86 percent of the studies reported less binge eating and less emotional eating when mindful practices were applied.”
So, instead of looking for a chocolate bar to make myself feel better, I began enjoying a healthy salad. Finding joy in healthy food meant less stress and depression. In turn, I ended up with a lower chance of relapsing.
It aids with immune system recovery
While I was learning to eat mindfully, there was always one word that my dietitian repeated: chew. With this practice, you chew more than you usually would, letting all the flavours flow around your mouth and tongue. You then let the taste settle and feel yourself crave the rest of the meal.
I didn’t know there was an actual health benefit that came with chewing more, until I did my research. Recovering your immune system from the detrimental effects of drug and alcohol addiction is a main focus in rehab centres, and it’s something they push for once you leave as well.
As it turns out, the human body releases an immune cell called Th17 when we chew our food. This cell protects against bacterial and fungal infections around the mouth. Researchers are now digging deeper into these findings in order to learn how to fight diabetes.
Who knew there was a scientific reason behind your parents telling you to chew your food more?
It leads to a natural high
All kinds of methods exist that allow you to substitute the highs you got from drugs and alcohol for natural ones. Yoga, writing, music and exercise are all perfect examples. The concept of a natural high is consistently emphasized in rehab. By channelling your energy into something productive, you can take your mind off your craving for the next hit or the next drink.
Mindful eating works the same way as any of the aforementioned natural highs. I turned it into my own routine: I go out and buy groceries, then I put on some of my favourite music at home and start cooking.
Once finished, the reward is being able to sink my teeth into my recipes and savour every last bit. The entire process itself can take two to four hours, which is strikingly similar to the amount of time I’d spend high before looking for another dose.
Fight cravings in your own way
We all look to different ways of maintaining our sobriety after getting through tough times. Some go for exercise and others religion, and now there’s mindful eating, too.
There are many times when I feel cravings coming on. I fight them off in my own way because I find it effective, just as other strategies might work for other people.
That being said, it’s worth it to give mindful eating a try— you just might surprise yourself!