by Lisa Podlecki, RD
As we enter a new year, our thoughts often turn to setting new goals. For some athletes, this can mean losing weight or building muscle mass. As with any goal, however, long-term success starts with a solid foundation. For some, this may mean creating a healthy relationship with your body, or with food, or even being more conscious of how you are fuelling your body. Mindfulness is the concept of being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings in the moment—and is not just for your typical yogi. In fact, athletes are particularly good at being in tune with their bodies! Let’s look at how mindfulness relates to eating.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is about being in the present moment and can incorporate all components of eating as well as our interactions with food. For example, you can be mindful of the enjoyment you get from preparing a meal. You can notice the taste, look and texture of what you are eating. You can observe, honestly and without judgement, how food makes you feel. You can be more aware of your hunger and fullness cues.
Is this another diet?
No! As soon as you feel like there are rules, you are being told when or what to eat, or there is a weight loss component, it is no longer mindful eating. The best part about mindful eating (as opposed to restrictive diet plans) is that there is no right or wrong. No guilt should be associated with it. Mindfulness invites us to be compassionate and kind with our thoughts and actions and helps us gain a healthy relationship with food and our bodies.
Mindful eating tips & techniques
If you’re interested in being more mindful in your eating habits, try the following:
- Remove the thought of “good” versus “bad” foods. This can lead to feelings of guilt and disordered eating patterns.
- Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Sometimes these can be lost during childhood when we may have been told when, what or how much to eat. Trust that your body knows when it is hungry and full. Regardless of the time of day or when you had your last meal, fuel up when you feel it is needed.
- Eat at the table. It becomes much more challenging to be aware of what you are eating or how full you are becoming if you are distracted by a computer, TV or phone. Create an inviting eating space for yourself.
- Eat slowly and fully savour the taste of what you are eating.
- Reject the diet mentality. This includes any type of calorie or macronutrient counting—basically, avoid anything that is strictly telling you when or what to eat.
- Make peace with food and your body. If you really feel like you are struggling with either of these concepts, seeking the help of a counsellor or therapist who specializes in this area might be a good first step.
How to start
There are no hard and fast rules. Do what works best for you. For example, mindful eating may mean taking a 10 minute lunch break away from your computer, enjoying the process of making a meal, or trying to remove negative and judgemental thoughts when they start to creep in. Be aware of the inner critical voice that says you could be doing better or that tries to define what is good or bad, right or wrong. Just enjoy the overall experience. If you are looking for a mindfulness or meditation app to guide you, try one of the following: Headspace, Stop Breathe Think, Calm, or Smiling Mind.
How does this relate to athletes?
Mindful eating doesn’t mean that we no longer consider the nutritional demands of training or competition, but rather we are incorporating this knowledge with a new sense of awareness and listening to our body. In other words, we are eating for pleasure and nourishment while still considering our overall nutritional needs for performance.
No two people are meant to look alike, and this includes athletes. All foods are meant to be enjoyed and the body is much more than just fat and muscle. If you believe losing weight or building muscle mass is something that will benefit your health or performance goals, I strongly suggest speaking to a Registered Sports Dietitian for advice.
Lisa Podlecki is a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist in Edmonton. Lisa loves helping individuals meet their nutrition goals in a healthy and sustainable way and regularly speaks at the Running Room training programs. For more information, visit her website at www.oaktreenutrition.com. (Bio photo: Kaihla Tonai Photography)