Inner Strength Focus: Using Curiosity to Heal Emotional Eating

 
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If you are striving towards greater happiness, inner peace and contentment, developing the inner strength of curiosity will help you approach challenges in life with more ease and awareness. Increasing your knowledge and growing wiser all throughout your lifespan allows you to feel as though you have options and opportunities to shift your perspective to any circumstances.

Here at Wholistic Food Therapy, the primary focus is on supporting and uplifting those who struggle with emotional eating, so the examples given to grow this particular inner strength are directed towards this personal challenge. However, if emotional eating, managing food cravings and body image are not your focus, you can apply the same intention to your own areas of struggle—all challenges we face are usually metaphors for how we approach attempting to manage, control and make sense our internal experiences and our lives.

Applying curiosity to emotional eating is allowing yourself to grow in your knowledge base—and more importantly—becoming wiser surrounding your body, food choices, and judgements. When you struggle with emotional eating, you may feel out of control or powerless to food and therefore need a diet, a plan or something external to create a sense of control and willpower. This is a lie sold to you by the dieting (and now wellness) industry! Being curious about your own body, its specific needs for nutrition, movement and relaxation is all about being mindful and intuitive in how you approach not just what you eat but how you eat it. It is not about what the next best fad exercise program you should try, but about what makes you feel energized, healthy and vital. It is not about finding that perfect diet that is sold to you in a way that makes you believe it will somehow create happiness through weight loss, but really about being curious as to what foods, portions and combinations make you feel your absolute best—physically, emotionally and energetically.

When you are curious about how what you eat makes you feel, you can apply mindful and intuitive eating techniques and grow in your knowledge, awareness and therefore develop body-wisdom. When you are truly guided by your inner wisdom, you no longer question your choices, or live in regret, punishment, deprivation and judgment—nor do you resist what is best for you (aka self-sabotage).

Emotional eating is what happens when food cravings arise from a subconscious attempt to repress emotions. Being curious about what the feeling is about and growing in your knowledge of emotional intelligence can allow you to be truly wise. When you understand why an emotion has arisen, you no longer attempt to avoid it through suppression with food. When you understand why it is there you can make a choice about how to respond to it, rather than eat in an attempt to avoid, soothe or delay the emotional experience. Emotions are valuable information about our experiences, when avoided we avoid our lives.

For this week, if emotional eating is an area that you are working to grow and improve, I recommend following a mindful & intuitive eating practice for at least one meal or snack per day. Allow this to be a moment of being fully present with your food and your body. Make a conscious choice as to a specific meal or snack that you’d like to eat. Approach the opportunity to be curious about your experience with being truly present with your food (and yourself) in the following way:

·      Ask yourself what you want to eat.

·      Ask yourself what you truly are hungry for (emotional suppression or nourishment/something tasty).

·      Ask yourself why you want that particular food.

·      Ask yourself what the food has to offer you.

·      Ask yourself how hungry you are in this moment and allow that to guide your portion.

·      When you are prepared to eat, first notice the aromas and site of the food and notice your reaction internally to this meal or snack. Does it bring you pleasure? Are there feelings coming up for you about the food (not good enough, anxiety about calories, worried about how healthy or unhealthy it is)? If so, try to release these feelings and become mindfully aware in the present moment and let go of any judgmental thoughts.

·      Allow your environment to be as calming as possible without distractions such as TV and cell phones.

·      Tell yourself that you deserve to eat what is nourishing and brings you pleasure.

·      Notice your breath and relax your body.

·      Be grateful for your food.

·      Begin to eat.

·      Chew slowly and thoroughly.

·      Notice the taste.

·      Place the utensils down between bites or food down if eating with your hands.

·      Check in with your full cues.

·      Stop when you are satisfied.

·      Thank yourself for taking this time to be mindful and present with your food.

·      Notice how you are feeling.

·      Take time to journal if it feels as though it would be useful to continue to grow in your knowledge of what is right for you when it comes to food choices, portions, nutrients and mindful eating.

How’d you do? Developing curiosity about your own body’s needs and not what some random dietary theory says is the most valuable way to be truly body-wise and to grow in awareness of your own personal needs for nutrition, movement and relaxation. When you are learning from your own inner wisdom rather from an external source you will have a deeper respect for your body and make choices that serve you—you will choose you rather than choosing a temporary moment of pleasure or restriction.

The Health Benefits of Nutrition, Nourishment and Mindful Eating

 
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Over the last couple of posts I’ve covered some less obvious areas of wellness within the eight essential areas of wellness for vitality. The first two included encouraging examination of your relationships in order to improve and grow in your support systems. Have you been considering how you can grow your social support network and working on strengthening your close core relationships? If you have, have you noticed an impact on your overall wellbeing? Now that those elements have been discussed, I’ll return to a more fundamental foundational element of wellness and one of my favorites to talk about: Nutrition!

When your body is well nourished through nutrient dense foods it functions optimally. Nutrition is one of the most impactful ways to improve your vitality and wellness. However, if you are stressed, anxious, lonely, hiding your true self and unsatisfied, the food you eat, even if it is the healthiest in the world, you will not be able to receive its full benefits within your body. Deepak Chopra says, “You can feed the healthiest food to stressed out person and they will only make poison of it.” When our bodies are in a state of stress, it is not engaging in the ability to properly digest. The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When we are stressed, anxious and dissatisfied with life, the body does not divert the same level of energy to digestion. In order to improve your nourishment received from the nutrients your food contains, it will be helpful to address how you cope with the stress in your life.

This is an element of nutrition and vitality that is essential, that you not only eat well, but that you feel well as you are eating. These are my (very) general nutrition recommendations:

-       Eat your vegetables and fruits
-       Have more than 50% of each of your meals be comprised of colorful veggies and fruits
-       Eat food that is unprocessed—or at least minimally processed
-       Make sure you can pronounce all of the ingredients on the ingredients list on the processed foods that you do eat
-       If you can, choose organic
-       Drink plenty of filtered water
-       Minimize/reduce your sugar consumption (approximately 24 grams added sugar daily for women and 36 grams added daily sugar for men)
-       Keep alcohol and caffeine to a reasonable minimum, unless they are a problem for you, in which case eliminate them all together
-       Take a high-quality multivitamin or other supplements that will support any areas of possible deficiencies in your diet

So that’s a very basic place to begin with nutrition. They are simple but not necessarily easy, just like everything else that comes to taking care of yourself.

It is not only about what we eat when it comes to being properly nourished, but also about how we eat it. I am using this opportunity to talk about the importance of nutrient density as it’s related to vitality and overall wellness but I want to also address the patterns of stress and stress eating, so I will interject the importance of mindfulness and mindful eating here as well.

If you feel as though you eat healthfully and yet still feel a little crummy, you most likely want to take a look at your stress levels. If there are emotions you have not addressed and they are lingering internally, this can cause a low level of stress much of the time. To address how you eat, let’s take a look at mindful eating. Here are the how-to’s of mindful eating:

-       Begin by engaging your senses (pay attention to what your food looks like, smells like, tastes like)
-       Have a space free from distractions (no social media, internet, TV—this allows you pay attention to how your food makes you feel)
-       Take small bites
-       Chew thoroughly before taking another bite
-       When you are eating, just eat
-       Place utensils/food down between bites
-       Check in with your body to notice hunger/full sensations
- Notice the impact that certain foods have on your mind, body, energy and mood
-       IF you catch yourself judging your food (thoughts such as: too many calories, this food is good, this food is bad…) remind yourself that it is food, just food

When you eat in this way, you create a positive environment for your food to be enjoyed. Your body can properly assimilate the nutrients your food provides for you. You can also notice the impact your food choices have on your mind, body and spirit. As you continue to grow in your practice of nourishing yourself through high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, pay as much attention to the practice of eating itself. Notice the impact on your overall wellness and vitality. As you integrate these practices for your mind and your body you will begin to feel the positive effects of being well nourished in all areas of your life.

The Snack Solution

 
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Do you spend time wondering or worrying about snacking? Snacking is something that is necessary if you are indeed hungry and can be tricky if you struggle with emotional eating, stress eating or strong food cravings. Your body wants to be in balance. When you have a craving, it is a message from your body. (I have written about food cravings a good bit so I won’t go into the specifics here, but you can check out one on identifying food cravings here, emotional food cravings here and creating a three-step protocol to manage them effectively here.) The information here today is all about honoring your body, your cravings and allowing your relationship with food to find a healthy balance. 

Snacking can get a bad rep and can feel confusing as to what to snack on when you are truly hungry. Snacks are a great place to identify what your body is craving and why it is craving it. If you are able to identify that it is not an emotionally driven craving, then you will want to indeed have a snack. Once you have identified that you are hungry and in need of something to satiate and satisfy you, you can think about what you really want. What would be enjoyable and create health and wellbeing in both your mind and your body?

One important nutritional point—when it comes to snacking—is that in order to feel satiated for a longer period of time your snack needs to contain protein and fiber. The second important point is that your snack actually tastes good to you so feel truly satisfied. How often have you forced yourself to eat something dry, boring or unsatisfying in the name of dieting? Food is supposed to provide pleasure. You just don’t want it to be your only form of pleasure in your life! Try not to overthink snacking, just ensure that you are practicing mindful eating and remain aware of the impact of your food choices on your mind and body. 

As you find what foods allow your body to feel nourished, satisfied and healthy and at the same time allow your mind to feel at ease, you will embrace snacking in a way that feels good to you.

If you’re still not sure about what to eat, let’s break it down a little by taste and texture. You may prefer or crave something sweet, salty, creamy or crunchy. You might be craving something cold or warm or spicy.

Sweet and Nourishing Snacks

-fruit with granola and/or yogurt
-yogurt (just be sure to read the labels—sometimes yogurts contain a ton of excess added sugar) topped with diced fruit, granola, chia seeds, nuts…-granola (read the labels!)
-homemade power balls (delicious recipe below!)
-dates and nuts (stuff a date with a walnut or pecan and yum!)
-nut butters with fruit (apple or pear slices with almond, peanut or cashew butter…)
-chia pudding with nuts, seeds and/or topped with fruit

Salty, Crunchy and Nourishing

-veggies (cucumber, peppers, carrots, celery, broccoli, squash, zucchini…) and hummus or a salad dressing you enjoy
-nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds…)
-rice crackers and cheese
-kale chips (recipe below!)
-olives
-hard-boiled egg with diced red peppers, tomatoes and avocado with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt

No matter what you choose, allow yourself to eat it mindfully, enjoying the flavors, textures, aromas and derive the pleasure from eating that you deserve. When you are eating, allow yourself to remain in a nonjudgmental state. Do not label your food as good or bad based on calories, perception or otherwise, it is just food. You can always ask your food what is has to offer you, and so long as the decision is not emotionally based, eat and enjoy it!

Here are a couple of super healthy and delicious snack recipes to try, enjoy and make your own.

Happy snacking!

Recipes: 

Homemade Power Balls

 
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These power balls are super tasty, filling and contain both protein and fiber as well as many other energy providing nutrients. They appeal to a craving for something sweet and chocolatey with the tasty dates and cacao powder. You can also roll them in chia seeds, dried coconut or crushed nuts for a little crunch too! Try them and see what you think. I have been experimenting with a few combinations and this one is a delicious, nutritious and satisfying one for sure!

Ingredients: 

2 cups walnuts
1 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
¼ cup cashews
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 ½ cups medjool dates, pitted
¼ cup or so raw cacao powder

Optional: crushed nuts, chia seeds and shredded coconut to roll exterior for garnish and crunch

Directions:

1.    Using a high-powered blender or food processor, place walnuts, cashews and coconut together and blend for about 30 seconds or until well combined.
2.    Add in remaining ingredients EXCEPT the cacao and optional ingredients and blend until smooth, about 45 seconds.
3.    Be sure not to let the mixture get too warm--it can get a little drippy, if it does just let it cool for a bit before preparing.
4.    Scoop out a heaping teaspoon of the mixture and roll into balls.
5.    Once formed, roll into the cacao until covered. Roll into optional ingredients at this time as well.
6.    Line a container with parchment paper, adding rows on top with parchment paper between as needed.
7.    Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before eating. Can be stored in the freezer as well! Usually they last for up to 5 days in a sealed container in the fridge or longer if in the freezer.

Makes about 20-24 power balls. Enjoy 2-3 balls as a healthy, satisfying snack.

Lime and Sea Salt Kale Chips

 
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Kale chips are a great, healthy option when you are wanting something crunchy and salty. This recipe has a hint of lime, making them extra delicious!

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale, stems removed and torn into bite size pieces
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of ½ lime
Coarse sea salt, to taste
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Toss kale in just enough olive oil for a light coating.
3. Sprinkle lime, sea salt and sesame seeds onto the Kale, lightly massaging them into kale.
4. Lay kale in a single layer on the lined cookie sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes or unit crisp. (Check regularly in the last ten minutes, as kale chips can go from not-quite-done to overdone super quickly).
5. Eat immediately once cooled. Store any leftovers in an airtight container to keep them crisp for about 1-3 days.

If you give these recipes a try I’d love to hear what you think!