The muddled “science” of proper nutrition, and the disconnect between healthy foods and the choices that are convenient for day-to-day living made it difficult for me to ever make strides towards healthy eating habits. I knew I was under-informed and out of touch about my food choices. I could barely remember what I ate on any given day.
But then I started exploring what ultimately became my theory of well-being – the idea that by cultivating a close, authentic connection to our physical and emotional selves, we can transform our lives and relationships for the better. I realized I needed to at least look at the food choices I was making, regardless of whether I was willing to change anything.
I started taking a picture of what I was eating, to see what my diet really looked like.
At first, I had a lot of fun documenting my obviously unhealthy, junk food-type choices and took hilarious pictures of myself eating them in defiant poses. But then something changed. The simple act of acknowledging each meal I ate made me want to be more thoughtful about my choices and consider the alternatives available to me. I noticed I was starting to feel reluctant to eat things I didn’t want to photograph and eager to select foods I would feel proud about snapping a selfie with.
After a while, I found myself making a couple of small, good (or at least better) choices each day – for the right reasons. I wanted to feel more awake, aware and connected to myself with each choice. For the first time in my life I’d found the right “why” and so the “how” was easy.
I had learned to love and nurture my body by choosing something nutritious.
I viewed each good-for-me choice, no matter how small, as an act of self-love. This perspective helps me break the vicious cycle of bad choices when I’ve fallen off the wagon and find myself eating sugar and carbs with reckless abandon. I just remind myself to start each meal with a nutritious item, without forbidding myself anything for the rest of it. With that first healthy choice, I reconnect with my body in a loving way. And typically, that mindful reconnection makes junk food cravings just disappear.
Our relationship to food is an enormous, complicated topic that most of us struggle with on some level. Many people battle with serious behaviors such as binging, purging and starving themselves literally to death. It’s much easier said than done to heighten our awareness and connection to our food. I’ve found that the best way to set aside the decades of baggage and preconceived ideas is to simply make the intention to be more curious – about what healthy eating means to you, about what you are really hungry for, about how your body feels after a bad choice, about the kinds of nutritious eating that excite you. Curiosity shifts you into an open-minded perspective that allows you to stay connected to yourself and to your observations.
Take just a few moments each morning to visualize, in broad strokes, what you’d like your food choices to look like for the day.
Think about how your vision compares to your values and belief system around eating. By mindfully connecting with your goals of eating at the start, you are more likely to make subtle changes throughout your day to conform to your ideals. The next time you’re staring at a menu or inside your refrigerator, ask yourself whether the choice you are about to make fits with your vision – and whether there might not be a slightly better option.
Even little wins, like skipping the bread basket or foregoing dessert, can be sources of pride and encouragement. Notice how those “good” choices bring a sense of joy and satisfaction and draw you closer into a positive relationship with yourself. Paying attention to their impact helps you ride a wave of naturally reinforcing behaviors.
Use your food as a source of energy, nourishment and self-honoring, rather than an immediate, short-term comfort.
But at those inevitable times that you are not able to move past prioritizing convenience or comfort, forgive yourself. No one is perfect and that means no one – not even you – can reasonably be held to that standard. Self-compassion allows us to return to ourselves and our intentions and leave the judgement outside. It’s from that place of feeling closely connected to ourselves that we can make the food choices we need to and truly begin to live our values.