By Michelle May, M.D.
Eating is truly one of life's simple pleasures. So why do so many people feel guilty about it? My mission is to make eating guilt-free. The truth is that eating should be completely natural - and since it is absolutely necessary for existence, why not enjoy it? Let's look at three key strategies for savoring food fully, and how to eat without guilt.
Am I Hungry? – Let Your Body Be Your Guide
The first strategy is to eat when you're hungry. This may sound obvious but think about how often you eat for other reasons: convenience, taste, boredom, stress, holiday time, and many other reasons. Human beings and other animals are born with a natural ability to regulate their intake to meet their nutritional needs by using hunger to guide them. When you eat for other reasons, food just isn't as satisfying. Hunger is truly the best seasoning.
Guilt Free: All Foods Fit
The next strategy is to let go of guilt about eating certain foods. Food isn't inherently bad or good; it's just labeled that way by the latest expert or diet guru. However, the rules keep changing and many people feel confused and uncertain about what they should eat. When you're in the habit of judging food, you also tend to judge yourself by what you ate ("I was so bad at dinner last night!") As a result, it is difficult to enjoy certain foods because you feel guilty when you eat them. Ironically, the guilt usually leads to overeating - causing you to feel even more guilty.
This is a vicious cycle that leads to weight gain and a love-hate relationship with food. Instead, give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you love guilt-free. According to the American Dietetic Association, all foods can fit into a healthy diet using the simple principles of balance, variety and moderation. Over time, you'll see that giving yourself the freedom to eat any type of food you want actually decreases cravings and overeating and increases enjoyment.
Mindful Eating – Eat it Like You Love It!
The final strategy is to choose to eat "mindfully." In other words, by giving food and eating your full attention, you'll feel much more satisfied. If you eat when you are distracted by watching TV, working or driving, you won't notice what or how much you are eating. Have you ever been surprised when your hand hit the bottom of the popcorn bucket at the movies?
Learning to savor your food and eating mindfully simply makes eating more pleasurable. Create a pleasant environment and be sure to sit down to eat. Appreciate the colors, textures and aromas of your food. Chew slowly, allowing the flavors to saturate your taste buds. Put your fork down between bites and be conscious of all the different sensations you're experiencing. Stop eating periodically and notice cues of satisfaction; for example, food becomes less flavorful as you get full.
Mindful eating allows you to feel more satisfied with smaller quantities of food. Once you have experienced the pleasure of eating mindfully, you may be motivated to become more mindful during other activities too. Living "in the moment" and becoming more aware can increase your enjoyment and effectiveness in everything you do.
Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle (download the first chapter free). She conducts corporate workshops and speaks throughout the country on mindful eating and vibrant living.