9. Mindful Eating: Part 2

IMPORTANT: This blog represents just PART of a WHOLE journey. You’ll get the most out of it if you start from the beginning.

Thanks for coming back to read part two! In part one, I discussed the traditional Intuitive Eating system of eating (if “system” is the right word. I think it is).

In essence, mindful or intuitive eating is about honouring our body by trusting the signals it gives us about when, what, and how much to eat.  All of this is f*cking amazing advice for anyone looking to create a kinder relationship with food and their body.  If you’re just dipping your toe into body positivity and just beginning to learn how to f*ck off diets for good, then you MUST spend time immersing yourself in as much information about diet culture and its influence on our society as possible.  It’s a vital first step towards changing your life so please don’t skip this part, and don’t worry, I’ll also be coming back to the topic often. 

After reading that first book, Beyond Chocolate, I went down a rabbit hole of research and experimentation as to how to incorporate its principles into my daily life.  And while I found the concept of intuitive and mindful eating appealing, there were some aspects that didn’t quite resonate with me.  So, let me time travel a little and tell you about another amazing book I stumbled upon in 2021 that filled in the gaps and transformed my perception of mindful eating.  It shifted my perspective from seeing it as a great concept in theory, but one that was hard to completely buy into, into instead, using intuitive eating’s principles as a great starting guide from which I created my own set way of eating. 

I’ve only recently discovered that you can’t really adopt new habits unless they align with your worldview and personal identity, which explains why I struggled with many of intuitive eating principles – they just didn’t quite jive with my values.  For example, I’ve always been big on social justice and living in harmony with nature, which meant that, for me, IE’s “eat whatever, whenever” approach never sat right.  But this new book filled in those gaps for me. 

The Yoga of Eating” by Charles Eisenstein explores the relationship between food and our bodies like most mindful eating books do, but this one goes on to add our spiritual and emotional well-being into the mix.  This addition gave intuitive eating’s – IMO – very “me first” principles (typical of many Western ideas) and added some compassion for others. 

Eisenstein reckoned that when we eat, we not only need to consider our own physical needs and desires but also mental, and spiritual aspects of ourselves, along with our connection with the world around us.  At the heart of the book, is the idea that food is not just a collection of nutrients and tastes but is also a sacred part of our lives worthy of respect.  He believes that this respect should extend past our tastebuds and personal desires, to the origins of our food (including the farmers, animals, and ecosystems involved in its production), and in ensuring we prepare it with care and gratitude.  Because are they not equally important aspects of applying mindfulness to our food relationships? 

Our culture tends to know (or care) very little about our food.  Do we know about how our food fits into biodiversity, sustainability, and social justice?  Could we use the money and time resources and privileges we have to be more conscious and food choices based on more than just what we want when we want it?  Very few of us are in the position where we have to just eat what we can get, so shouldn’t it be our duty to utilise our ability to choose a little more wisely than we do? Are we able to contribute to a more harmonious and sustainable relationship with the natural world and with each other, and is it important enough to our values to do so?  Our choices could cultivate more meaningful and satisfying relationships and contribute to a more sustainable and just food system for ourselves and for future generations. 

Here’s an interview that Charles did where he chats about this idea.  And here is a really cool video short.

As well as using our food choices to participate in the creation of a different type of world, we can also use them to create a different type of self. 

Without a doubt, intuitive eating helps us reclaim food from diet culture, and its principles are great reminders that taste and personal satisfaction are important and that all foods are sources of nutrients.  But our tastes don’t just come from our tastebuds, what we want to eat is influenced by far more complex systems than just our tongue: our culture and our identity just two. 

Take chocolate, for example.  Yes, it’s all delicious.  But for some people, Fairtrade chocolate is the tastiest because it’s tied to supporting social justice, whilst Mars Bars might represent corporate greed and so be viewed with disgust.   

Intuitive eating advises us to look at all food as equal, but chocolate might remind some folks of warm fuzzy feelings of parental love from being treated with sweets as a kid.  Do we want to deny them of that association in a world often filled with a lack of support? 

Even our background and life experiences can affect how we see food.  Cheap chocolate may taste gross to a rich person with the means to buy boutique chocolate which affirms their status beliefs.  Whereas the opposite may be true for a less affluent person who relies on cheap chocolate to stop them from going to bed hungry.  To them, expensive cocoa’s pretentiousness might leave a sour taste in the mouth.  

It’s also important to remember that our culture has always told women and fat folks (amongst other oppressed groups) that they’re second-class citizens.  To those groups, indulgent meals cooked to suit nothing but their own personal desires may taste of nothing but irremovable guilt. 

One of the main principles of intuitive eating is that food has no morals.  But food always has morals.  Just not in the way that most people think.  There is of course no food that will make you a bad person should you eat it (no matter what diet tries to imply through its messaging), but there are many definitions of what’s moral or immoral that extend way past a person’s worthiness and goodness. Morality is built on the stories that our culture, identity, personal experience, future goals, personal relationships, and so much more tells us is true about our world, and whatever we choose to eat or drink either comfortably sits with those morals, or uncomfortably rubs against them. You’ll know the difference based on how you feel when you eat them. Our brains can invent stories to justify any decision to us, but our gut feelings never lie. 

Now, I’m not suggesting we all turn vegan and only buy from our local farmer’s markets but not before we see the payslips and living conditions of Farmer Dave’s fruit pickers before we hand over our cash.  I’m fully aware that each of us has our own set of privileges, levels of resources (time, money, and energy), and sets of ethics to consider when making buying decisions.  Instead, I’m suggesting two things: 

  1. Remember when I spoke about making our habits and behaviours “1% better”? This is the perfect time to try it. What could you do to align your eating behaviours 1% towards how you would like to become? And by that, I don’t mean a thinner or “healthier” you. I’m talking 1% towards the type of world you’d like to live in (personally my perfect world doesn’t give two f*cks what size a person is). Maybe go for a meat-free meal a week if you like animals but don’t want to give up all meat. Maybe buy your veg from a local seller instead of a big supermarket if you’re unsure on capitalism or excessive food miles. 
  2. Start to notice the times you eat when your food choices haven’t matched up with the type of identity or world you prefer to exist. Maybe you picked a salad when you really wanted pizza. Or maybe you chose crisps when a piece of fruit or meditation would have been ultimately more satisfying. Conscious awareness is always the first step to change but don’t worry too much yet about exactly HOW you can change. That will become clearer as we move through these blogs. Right now, I just need you to start noticing actions and feelings that you may not have before. 

And finally, grab your notebook and consider the following questions: 

What food have you always considered as being “bad”… why?  Are those reasons meaningful to you and do they support a part of your identity that you enjoy? 

What food have you always considered as being “good”… why?   Does eating that food actually go against an important part of your identity? 

What foods would support your beliefs and type of world you’d like to live in? Why? What is it about them? 

What foods could you eat less of that in doing so adds to the respect you pay to the food and your relationship to your environment and others in it? Why? What is it about them? 

I’m going to leave you with a final thought… In addition to what I’ve spoken about today, I found that traditional mindful eating techniques also overlook the role that food politics and the food industry plays in how we eat. 

Listening to our bodies and trusting our intuition to make our food choices sounds pretty appealing, but it’s not always easy to distinguish between what we genuinely want to eat and what we’re being manipulated into thinking we want to eat. And next time, this is what we’re going to dive headlong into – the politics of food.

It’s f*cking fascinating and will change how you look at food forever. 


P.S. I still love what the folks behind Beyond Chocolate are doing, especially as it now is very firmly on the side of weight acceptance, and because part of their mission to help change the world also now includes embodied movement… keep up to date with their events and resources here.

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