A healthy diet that regulates mood certainly does reduce risk of depression, anxiety and bipolar episodes, but nurturing mental health through food isn’t just about proper nutrition. Mindful eating is another important tool in a woman’s wellness arsenal.
From our youngest days we are taught to clean our plates and not leave a bite of food behind. We are encouraged and rewarded for doing so without thought to whether we are hungry or not. While it is certainly good to feed our bodies, doing so without regard to hunger signs begins a lifelong ignorance of the body cues meant to keep us healthy.
Then when we are sad, we are soothed with comfort foods like hot chocolate, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, whatever dish became an expression of love from our families. Unfortunately, this transforms food into a balm for the emotions that can trigger emotional eating or coping mechanisms that revolve around bingeing or the restriction of food.
Women with depression or anxiety can lack hunger cues altogether, depriving the body of essential nutrients needed to maintain mental health.
The longer these types of behaviors persist, the worse they become. Women can become so out of touch with hunger cues that they spend a lifetime yo-yo dieting, going back and forth between deprivation and overconsumption. They are left feeling hollow, depressed and hopeless.
Diets don’t work, but healthy lifestyles do. Beginning a habit of mindful eating is the first step toward fixing our relationship with food.
At Brookhaven Retreat, women experiment using all their senses to experience what they eat. Mindful eating begins with savoring the sight and smell of food. Then, women eat slowly and focus on the texture, temperature and flavors of their meal. Doing so routinely develops healthier eating habits and a connection with the food we put into our bodies.
Good nutrition replaces the foods that don’t nourish the body. Foods that are “fat free,” “diet,” and so on are empty foods that do not provide the beneficial nutrients or satiety that whole foods do. Not all calories are equal: fat is healthy and necessary to our wellness; it is the kind of fat that matters. Carbohydrates, too, are critical to our health, but whole grains benefit our bodies while processed starches contribute to inflammation.
Mindful eating develops our perceptions of what we put into our bodies: what it is made of, where it came from and how it interacts with our cells. It begins with slowly experiencing each bite of food, but ends up shaping our nutritional choices and perceptions.
Healing our relationship with food heals our relationship with ourselves. The body benefits from increased consumption of healthy fats, whole grains and proteins. The mind feels more alert, and experiences a reduced risk of depression and anxiety. Healthy eating is a type of self-care that boosts self-esteem.
Try creating an awareness of your connection with food. Listen to your body and take care of its needs without fear of fat, carbohydrates or “diet wisdom.” Savor food. It is amazing how refocusing such a simple part of our day can so quickly renew our connection with both mind and body.