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Regular physical activity probably "saved" me from becoming overweight (apart from a short period after my second child was born), but I am scared to even think of the amount of sugar that has entered my body in those forty years of life.
A few years ago, with no more than ten pounds "to lose" (BMI was already fine), but tired of my relationship with food, I decided to take the bull by the horns, met with a nutritionist, hired a personal trainer, and started journaling the entirety of my food intake, every single day, for a full year. What did I learn?
I learned that I need way less food than I thought I did: portions shrank and shrank to the point where my plate looked like a toddler's, but interestingly, it did not make me hungry.
I learned to incorporate more of the good stuff (leafy greens, berries, seeds) and less of the not-so-good stuff (for me, dairy and sweets).
But more importantly, I learned to listen to my body. In fact, I learned to listen to specific parts of my body. My mouth was always up for more food, especially the sweet type. Now I learned to listen to my abdomen and to my head instead. I realized that they had a lot to tell me if I paid attention. My stomach had a message I had been ignoring: "I'm full!" (It was surprising how fast my stomach became full, long before my mouth was even considering taking a break.) My head, too, had some unheard messages for me: "Please don't eat/drink this, it will hurt!"
As it turns out, some of my favorite foods were doing me the most harm: Sugar. Dairy. Red wine. It was a sad discovery. It was also a thrilling discovery: by avoiding sugar, dairy and red wine, I felt much, much better, both in the belly and in the head. In the process, I shed a few pounds, and lowered my body fat percentage. I was full of energy, mental and physical.
I do not want to make this journey sound easier than it was: there were a lot of challenges, frustrations, and discouragement. One of my realizations was that my relationship with sugar was closer to an addiction than I had ever been willing to admit. And more often than not, my mouth tried to scream louder than both my stomach and head: "We're not done! I want more foooooooood!"
But all in all, my main victory, and the secret to the success of this endeavor, was mindfulness. Slowly but surely, I became mindful of my relationship with food, how I felt about food, how I reacted to food. I already knew that I ate some of my emotions (stress, boredom, fatigue). Now I noticed that I was often on automatic pilot when food I liked was on display (at parties, for example: I would just reach out and get it, even if I wasn't hungry). I noticed I reacted to ads about food (where else would a sudden, intense craving for a specific type of cake or ice cream come from? Once I saw an article about a power plant in France that uses cheese as fuel, and that was enough to make me crave a piece of Camembert.) I noticed that I ate too fast. Reading Thich Nhat Hanh, I learned to eat slowly, mindfully (my trick: practice with grapefruit; it takes so long to prepare that you have no choice but to slow down and enjoy). I realized I don't even like S'Mores, so why do I always have a few when I go camping? And so on.
My mindfulness toward food did not stop there. I started wondering: Where does my food come from? Is it produced locally? Ethically? Is it fair trade? In season? Wholesome? Humane? Environmentally friendly? I was already not a big fan of juice boxes and steak, but this new perspective made me even more aware. To paraphrase Socrates, I began to say "The unexamined food is not worth eating".
Mindfulness was the most important tool I used to conquer my relationship with food, and I had not invented the concept: it seems that mindfulness can indeed help you achieve your weight goals.
Mindfulness this Week
How is your relationship with food? Please share!
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