Mindful Eating During Quarantine

Mindful Eating During Quarantine

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast Apr 01, 2020

▶ Podcast Episode 150:
 Mindful Eating During Quarantine

I can’t tell you how many memes I’ve seen online of people joking about how their children are asking for snacks and food 20 times a day. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, we have so much to learn about our own behaviours and struggles when we look at how children are reacting to, or handling, any big change. It’s true, as adults we have many more coping tools and resources to manage our emotions and to go through difficult times, but there’s so much truth when seeing the reactions in children. If we were to look deep inside ourselves with a magnifying glass, without shame or judgement, we’d see very similar reactions within us. We’ve simply learned to push these down and adapt using our resources. This is part of being an adult in a complicated world, but it can be so helpful to acknowledge these feelings, and then use the tools at our disposal to manage them. This is a long way of saying that in a time in which we’re stuck at home, just a few feet from the kitchen at all times, going through stress, anxiety, worry, overthinking, or loneliness, just as children seem to be constantly hungry and ready for a snack, so are we.

In today’s episode, a brief interruption from our Imperfect Vegan Series, I’ll be giving you some tips, support and reminders when it comes to mindful eating and being at home under quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. This post and episode will NOT be about adding to the damaging and very dangerous body shaming and food shaming that’s going around online spaces. It will be about helping you find simple moments of connection to your body and its signals, with as much empathy and self compassion as you can muster, understanding all the while that this current crisis we’re going through has not only caught us all by surprise, but that it’s a time in which so many emotional issues are going on for us. It’s normal for our relationship with food, our bodies and our eating to have some ups and downs. I hope I can help you manage these ups and downs so that you don’t fall into a shame and guilt spiral that will NOT help you navigate a moment like this with the kindness it requires.

Mindful Eating During Quarantine | How to Practice Mindful Eating | Brownble

Remembering what mindfulness and mindful eating are

Although we’ve talked so much about mindfulness and mindful eating previously in our blog and podcast (check out episode #83 The Mindfulness Episode, and episode #76 Mindful Eating Basics), it’s always so helpful to remind ourselves of what it’s all about.

In very simple terms, mindfulness is a practice which developed over time, can help us truly live in the present moment, having awareness both with our senses, noticing what’s going on around us, and with how we’re feeling (our emotions and emotional state), as well as our thought patterns, being able to notice that thoughts are just thoughts, that we can choose to add space between them and our present moment. The general goal with mindfulness is that we have this awareness and presence in any activity that fills our day (aka we can practice mindful eating, mindful washing of dishes, mindful exercising, mindful parenting, mindful play time, mindful relaxation time). The way we practice this so that it becomes second nature and easier with time is through meditation, not by being a buddhist monk or an advanced yogi, but by taking a few daily minutes to get centered. Meditation is accesible to all of us and it’s simply the practice of sitting down, closing our eyes and practicing being in that present moment.

It’s through this practice of meditation (call it presence if the word meditation feels intimidating), that we focus on practicing this new skill of identifying feeling as feeling, thoughts as just thoughts and where we can practice sitting with full present moment awareness. In a way, mindfulness is all about adding a much needed gap or space between the stimulus we may be receiving (a situation that happens to us or a negative or hurtful thought that pops into our head), and our response (how we react to it). It’s in that gap or space where magic can happen, and we can begin moving through the world with a wider perspective, more kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others, and in presence mode rather than reacting mode.

Mindful Eating During Quarantine | How to Practice Mindful Eating | Brownble

Mindful eating stems from this, since we can practice doing anything that fills our day, with presence.

Mindful eating as we’ve discussed before in our blog and podcast, means:

  • Eating with awareness, noticing all the information provided by our senses (how the plate looks, how the food tastes, the textures, colors, temperatures, etc.).

  • Eating slowly and with attention, engaging in the pleasure and delight of nourishing and feeding ourselves, and also giving enough time for our bodies to react to our eating and give us the pertinent signals of hunger and fullness.

  • Eating taking pauses throughout the meal to gauge our body’s signals and ask ourselves questions: Where am I in terms of hunger and fullness levels? Is this food satisfying? Can I add something to make it more satisfying? Am I starting to get full or am I already past that point? Am I still hungry and do I need to eat a bit more?

  • Eating with awareness of our mental chatter: Am I caught up in negative thinking or guilt as I eat? What am I telling myself about this choice of food? Am I paying attention to my eating or caught up in other thoughts taking me away from my experience?

  • Eating with awareness of our emotional state: How am I feeling? Why did I choose to eat at this particular time? If I’m feeling anxious, bored, worried or sad, what else could help me cope with these feelings if I’m not really hungry? Understanding that it’s also a part of normal eating to sometimes turn to food for soothing. What other needs aren’t being met? Could I try to meet these needs in some way first, then check in with myself again and with my desire to eat. Has anything changed?

  • Eating with awareness that post eating guilt, punishment, restriction or exercising to compensate for food eaten, is NOT the answer and can lead to overeating and a lack of trust in ourselves. Being self compassionate when we weren’t able to be mindful is the master key to stopping this negative downward spiral in its tracks.

  • Eating with awareness and knowledge that labelling food as good or bad can also have a negative impact in our relationship with food, and that beginning to see foods as neutral and eat them with awareness and that mind body connection is much more helpful, especially in times of stress.

  • Eating mindlessly sometimes (because we’re humans and imperfect), but being able to navigate the feelings that come afterwards with presence and compassion. What can we learn from what caused this experience, not the experience in itself. Remove the focus from the action you judging (the overeating or emotional eating), and zero in on what caused it instead. Was it loneliness? Boredom? Stress? Something someone said? Are we watching the news immediately before meals? What can we change about our environment before and during eating so that it’s calm, peaceful and very inviting of that mindful presence.

Mindful Eating During Quarantine | How to Practice Mindful Eating | Brownble

So what is normal during quarantine?

Most of us are living through these trying times for the first time and hopefully the last time in our lifetime. While we navigate through the many new aspects of living in quarantine, including working from home, homeschooling children, having to cook more or all meals at home when perhaps family members ate at school or work before. Going through loneliness or anxiety when experiencing quarantine living on our own. Navigating the loss of customers, clients or our jobs. Uncertainty of when this process will end, living with family members who we have strained relationships with, being cooped up inside when we are extroverts who thrive on human contact, being at home and in an abusive relationship, navigating illness or the virus ourselves or in others, going through loss or grief of loved ones lost. It’s important to understand that things will change slightly. So what’s normal when it comes to our eating during these times? It’s normal to experience a change in what is our sense of “normal” eating.

This can mean some of us are eating more frequently.

This can mean some of us are engaging in emotional eating.

This can mean some of us are having the desire to snack at all times or many times throughout the day.

This can mean some of us are worried about how this new normal will affect our body.

This can mean some of us are eating meals that don’t hit the satisfaction spot perfectly because we’re trying to limit our trips to the store, and that means we’re missing some ingredients or usual foods.

This can mean some of us are struggling with the effects of emotional restriction or lack of certain foods, and this is manifesting in overeating when a food becomes available again.

This can mean some of us are eating a larger number of comfort foods.

This can mean some of us are less hungry because of anxiety or stress, while others are hungrier than usual.

This means you’re normal.

You’re a normal human being navigating a very difficult and strange time, and I’m here to ask you to hit the pause button on any shame or guilt you might be experiencing, on any negative self talk or poor body image.

Going into a space of rigid and restrictive rules or regimes right now to try to manage this period of adaptation to a new situation, will not bring you to a happier and gentler space. It might in fact cause more problems down the line, it corrodes trust in us being the only ones in charge of taking care of our bodies and what they need, and it damages our relationship with food. 

Mindful Eating During Quarantine | How to Practice Mindful Eating | Brownble

I do get though, that having all these feelings can lead us to over worry constantly about what, how much, and when to eat. I have always found that the solution for this is being mindful. Instead of focusing on the behaviour itself, focusing on staying with awareness. If we couldn’t do it at breakfast, we practice it again at lunch, if we were able to eat with presence and listened to our bodies’ signals and eased emotions with other coping tools, but were unable to do this at dinner, that is also part of being human and normal. We have 3+ opportunities to practice it again the next day. If this can be the only point of focus in the weeks to come, you’ll find that not only are you strengthening a daily habit that will serve you for life, but you’re being kinder to yourself and others, making this time a little bit easier on yourself. By bringing this awareness into your daily practice and life, you’re also strengthening a very important muscle that few of us talk about and that is so important in improving our relationship with food: the trust muscle. The development of trust that you can gently and with kindness, understand what your body needs, the many hues this can take from one meal to the other, and how to best take care of yourself.

As I said, although mindfulness is meant to express itself in all aspects of our lives including eating, beginning a meditation practice and getting deep into the understanding of why it works can be so helpful. For this I highly recommend the FREE online course Palouse Mindfulness which is how I took years of failing at meditation into a daily practice that I loved and that transformed the way I experienced the world, improving my relationship with food along the way.

Please be kind to yourself during these times, don’t add to the pressure and stress we’re all feeling by adding negative self talk to the mix. It’s normal for things to be off right now, and I’ve found that focusing on having presence and taking it one meal at a time, one snack at a time, repeating to yourself that if things didn’t go as planned you have another opportunity in 2, 3 or 4 hours, is a fantastic place to start. Many of us are worried because we don’t know how long this situation will last, but we also forget the incredible resiliency and ability to adapt we have as human beings, and although some aspects can get slightly uncomfortable as the days go by, we will also be strengthening new routines and habits too. Slowly building up a new routine, that will get easier and simpler, even if it isn’t the ideal one right now. Here’s hoping that we can all use this opportunity to get better at kindness, understanding and presence while we have all of this time to reflect and strengthen a new way. I hope that things go back to normal soon so that we can have these new lessons learned and the joy and gratitude we’ll all feel as soon as this difficult stage is over.

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