Cultivating a positive, healthy mindset about food requires paying attention to your mindset in relation to food and what role it has in your life. A healthy mindset is one that is focused on the nutritional value of the food you consume and its role as fuel for your body’s optimal physical healthy and functioning.
Understanding what your current mindset is will help you decide what, if any, adjustments need to be made to support a healthy relationship with food versus one that is conflicted and possibly restrictive when it comes to your food choices. The mindset you adopt plays a significant role in the success or failure of any long-term changes you make in your eating habits and your perception of yourself.
While strategic dietary restrictions as part of a well-formulated eating plan can certainly support better health, excessive dietary restriction can also promote unhealthy eating behaviors and anxiety around food. Cultivating healthy eating behaviors and a flexible mindset around food can help you escape the vicious cycle of dieting and nourish your body optimally over the long term.
The modern world is filled with temptations, distractions and stress, and eating has become a type of soothing mechanism, a path to instant gratification or a brief moment of relief. It is important to know that even by adopting a few basic yet monumental shifts to your perspective and daily habits you can create an environment where you can create an intuitive awareness without turning to food as a coping strategy. Cultivating healthy eating behaviors and a flexible mindset around food can help you escape the vicious cycle of dieting and nourish your body optimally over the long term.
Eat (Mostly) Real Food
Focus the majority of your food choices around your Paleo principles – eat real, whole, unprocessed, well-sources animal proteins, naturally occurring fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. There are times when you might choose to eat something with slightly lower nutritional value (like enjoying the occasional indulgence, whether a Paleo-based treat or not), without guilt can add significant pleasure to your life experience.
Connecting with local farmers, going to farmers markets, practicing seasonal eating, and starting your own garden are great strategies for cultivating a deeper connection with and an appreciation for your food, and may support a healthier mindset around food.
This approach to eating will support your physical health and mental well-being.
Skip The Diet
Unfortunately, most weight-loss diets are only effective in the short term with a small minority of adherents able to maintain their weight loss. This inability to maintain weight loss is not a personal failing. Rather, excessive dietary restriction creates a complex set of physiological and psychological pressures in the brain and peripheral tissues that slow the metabolic rate, perpetuate inflammation, and increase hunger. Eventually these factors allow weight gain to begin, potentially even exceeding the original body weight.
People on diets for health, as opposed to weight loss reasons, face their own dietary struggles. Many have been told to follow a specific therapeutic diet, with little to no ongoing guidance. This leads to feeling overwhelmed and either an inability to maintain the protocol or continuously following a path of increasing restriction.
It goes without saying that certain dietary restrictions can be very therapeutic. However, a strict diet mentality can also have adverse effects on some people, making them more likely to constantly think about and binge on certain “off-limits” foods later.
Adopting a more flexible approach to eating can be an ideal solution for many. This involves following your Paleo diet combined with intuitive and mindful eating behaviors, self-compassion, and lifestyle habits that support a healthy brain and body.
Note: If you do need to follow a restrictive diet for health reasons, it may be wise to work with a professional who can guide you through the process and help you avoid the potential mental health and behavioral pitfalls of dietary restriction.
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that encourages you to follow your internal sensations of hunger and satiety to gauge when and what to eat, and when to stop eating.
Becoming more aware of your internal body sensations can help you better understand how certain foods make you feel, guiding you to make smarter food choices. Intuitive eating also focuses on learning to cope with your feelings without using food, rejecting the cultural focus on weight loss and instead focusing on the health of your body.
Some feel that intuitive eating includes giving yourself permission to eat anything you like which in turn will help learn how to self-regulate your food intake. Unfortunately, this advice tends to fail in the context of the highly rewarding, hyper-palatable processed foods that stock the grocery store shelves. These foods hijack your internal systems that regulate appetite and satiety, and are designed to make it impossible to eat in an intuitive way. Eating these foods regularly may lead to overeating and other unhealthy food behaviors.
Studies suggest that abstinence from hyper-palatable foods, or foods that cause you to eat more than you want or need can ultimately reduce cravings for these foods and promote healthier eating behaviors. Dietary restrictions can be helpful and improve your health, as long as they do not become rigid and oppressive. This is why you have chosen your Paleo lifestyle!
Savor Every Bite
….Not only the first one.
Mindful eating, or the practice of being mindful during meals, has been found to retrain your brain’s response to food. This supports you in being able to distinguish between hunger cues and emotional arousal, thereby reducing unhealthy eating behaviors such as stress eating.
There are several steps you can take to eat more mindfully:
- Chew slowly
- Enjoy the texture and taste of every bite
- Put your attention on your food, not the television, computer, or book
- Once accomplished and confident at eating mindfully, share your eating experience with others. It will enhance your mood and the food will taste better (as long as you don’t lose sight of your healthy intentions and shift your focus from eating mindfully to eating mindlessly!)
Mindful eating shares some similarities with intuitive eating, but there are also important differences between the two. While both strategies cultivate an internal awareness of a healthier relationship with food, mindful eating is about being present during each eating experience and intuitive eating focuses on rejecting unhealthy diet ideology, supporting whole-body health rather than simply focusing on weight loss.
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Ditch The Scale
If you have a strained relationship with food, especially for weight reasons, stop weighing yourself constantly and consider getting rid of your scale altogether.
While some practitioners recommend daily weight-in’s, frequent weighing can be slippery slope leading to body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem.
Instead of weighing yourself each morning, do a mental “check-in” with your body. Ask yourself how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Did you sleep well? Did you perform well in your workout? Were you on top of your game mentally at work? These are better gauges of your overall health than your body weight, which can fluctuate as much as five to six pounds over a single day.
Be Mindful With Technology
Diet and fitness tracking technology can be a beneficial tool for helping people take charge of their health. However, in the wrong hands, food and fitness tracking technology may lead to obsessive eating and exercise behaviors.
If you have a very anxious or perfectionistic personality, be careful with your use of fitness tracking technology. Research has found that in people who tend to be more anxious, tracking technology worsens mental health and causes feelings of disempowerment whilst those with less anxiety and a reduced predisposition to mental health issues, feel empowered by using fitness trackers. Diet and fitness tracking technology is not inherently harmful, but some people may be better off avoiding it.
Choose Your Words
So many people use the word “can’t” when it comes to food.
“Can’t have carbs.”
“Can’t have dairy.”
“Can't have snacks.”
“Can't eat certain hours of the day.”
This language is not coming from a place of love and respect for your body, but rather from a place of physical, emotional, and mental restriction/deprivation. This language also insinuates that you have no power of choice, which inevitably leaves you feeling helpless and out of control with food when you “slip up.”
Instead of focusing what you “can’t” do or have, replace those thoughts with what you can CHOOSE to do or have. Here are some examples of things you could say to yourself:
- I choose to eat a Paleo diet because it makes me feel great
- I choose to add nutritious, filling, delicious food into my diet at each meal.
- I choose to replace processed, sugary snacks with "healthier" versions.
- I choose to intentionally enjoy my favorite dessert rather than mindlessly binging on something I don't even like that much.
- I choose to limit my dairy intake because it makes me feel bloated, not simply because some diet said so.
When your choices become actual choices instead of blindly and arbitrarily following a diet, you will feel empowered and excited to decide what works for you and what makes you feel your best.
Creating a healthy mindset around food comes with time, and practice. Whatever behavior is consistently practiced and reinforced will become more ingrained and more resistant to change…make your eating habit a healthy one!
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com