I’m a work in progress. Hopefully, you are too. I believe if we’re not making mistakes, changing our minds, or shifting priorities, then we’re not growing.
I never wanted this column to focus on diet. First, I’m not a scientist, doctor, or nutritionist, so I have zero formal nutrition training. Second, we are complex humans and every one of us has different needs — not just physically, but mentally. And lastly, I don’t want to be a part of a narrative that suggests how you should or shouldn’t live your life. But I do want to share a recent shift in my perspective as it relates to food in the hopes that it inspires or helps.
My eating habits needed an overhaul. I reached a point where I didn’t prioritize what I was putting into my body. My decisions were not in line with what my body wanted or needed and I made most choices without thinking of the consequences. How did I know? I could feel it. My body ached, my brain was foggy, and my mood was very meh. Instead of connecting with my mind and body, I was connecting to a routine and just going through the motions. Sure, I’d do a daily check-in to gauge what I needed, but when I’m in the cycle of not feeling top notch, I’m mentally disconnected. I didn’t need to just change what I was putting into my body; I needed to change why I was doing it. Getting real is raw and scary, and getting real is always my medicine for change.
It became clear pretty quickly what was going on. The pendulum was swinging the other way. My extreme/Type A/all-or-nothing mode was knocking at my door saying, “Hi, remember me?” I was becoming that person who was either “eating healthy” or “not eating healthy.” On the days I was, I exercised and took better care of myself. On the days I wasn’t — well, you already know. It’s unrealistic to think I’ll be spot on and balanced every single day, but balance and perfection are an illusion anyway.
I was searching for direction and answers, and in true universe form, the resources came flowing almost immediately. On a recent flight to LA, I read Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever, and listened to a podcast called We Got To Hangout that featured my friend, chef Lentine Alexis. Both said two things I’ll never forget.
- Melissa: “You are a grown-up person who can legitimately eat whatever you want, when you want. There is no guilt or shame, only choices and consequences.”
- Lentine: “I don’t follow a diet. I choose food that is the freshest and is going to make my body feel the best.”
No magic formula. No labels. Simple choices. This to me is the true definition of mindful eating. Now, this concept is new to me. In fact, I would’ve considered myself mindful and aware of my decisions, but I was wrong. In the past, I ate what I thought I should be eating based on culture’s diet standards, not what my body wanted and needed. Because this practice is new to me, I’ve had to develop an internal mantra and dialogue to help. Remember: I’m the Type A/addictive/go-hard/do-it-all-at-once type, so this kind of practice is against the grain, but so worth it. Here’s what it looks like for me:
Think about today AND tomorrow
Ask yourself: “How will I feel in 30 minutes? How will I feel tomorrow?”
Here’s what I know about me. Eating in-flight meals make me feel puffy and tired. Sugar makes me achy, and most carbs make me feel fake full. I know I always think nutrition bars are a good idea, but end up throwing them out after two bites. Dried fruit often makes me feel drunk. I know too much coffee and not enough water gives me headaches. I also know I’m 75% less likely to workout the day after drinking. I know a lot about my body, but have so much left to learn. I’m dying to get blood work done to see if there’s any science around what I really should be eating for my body. But at the very least, I try to think about how I’m going to feel immediately after I eat, and the following day. I am far too active and on-the-go to sabotage my success.
Channel a two-year-old
Ask yourself: “Do I actually want this, or is it routine? Am I satisfied?”
Have you ever watched a two-year-old eat? They’re some of the most mindful eaters on the planet, only digging into what they want, and stopping when they’re done. I put this into practice when I was in LA recently. Because I used to live there, every time I visit, I feel drawn to old routines — breakfast at Go Get Em Tiger, lunch at Sugarfish, and dinner at Gjelina. And you can guarantee I went to each place (sometimes twice!), but this time was different. Instead of ordering what I know, I ordered what I wanted. And instead of eating everything in front of me because it was there, I stopped when I was satisfied. What a concept! Most people don’t have a problem with this, but a lot do, and I am one of them.
Establish ground rules
Ask yourself: “What kind of routine will get me to where I want to go?”
I have a love/hate relationship with rules. On the one hand, I love structure. The less I have to think about something, the more I can channel my energy elsewhere. On the other hand, it doesn’t really feel like living if I have to give myself rules. Though for me, I know I’m most successful when I have some kind of plan, agenda, or framework. Here’s what my new baseline standard looks like:
- 10 minutes of meditation when I wake up — No looking at email or coffee, meditation first. I’m always more clear on my needs during and after meditation.
- 150 minutes of movement per week — Time Magazine has a few special issues out right now focusing on mindfulness and exercise. In one issue, a few doctors recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week for heart health, longevity, and to fight against many adult-onset diseases. It’s less than 22 minutes per day, and we all have time for that.
- Eat greens everyday — I started this about a year ago and it’s my surefire way to ensure I’m getting proper nutrients in my diet. I’ve gone out of my way to not miss a single day of doing this, even if it meant adding lettuce to a burger!
- Stop eating when I’m satisfied — I’m human. I’m likely going to eat something that isn’t the most fresh, probably processed, and maybe makes me feel off later. But I don’t want to sit at another meal and feel full. This allows me to have the things I want to eat and not deal with consequences I’m going to regret later.
I know that all of this can seem like a tedious checklist just to eat something, but it’s quick, and I’ve gotten really clear on what I need to do for myself. I know it takes 30 days to form a lasting habit, but this is something I will likely have to practice my entire life. If you’re on a similar path to being more mindful in your decisions, I ask that you be patient with yourself, but that you also get really raw and dig deep on why you’re making those choices. Getting to the root of any choice or emotion is an ugly and beautiful practice.