By: Marsha Hudnall MS, RDN and Susan Albers PsyD
For weight worriers the world over, Valentines Day is one that's both anticipated and dreaded. Do either of these statements describe your feelings about this day of chocolate celebration?
"It's Valentine's Day. That means I can have chocolate!"
"It's Valentine's Day. I'm going to have to be extra strong today to avoid eating chocolate."
Marsha Hudnall MS, RDN, president of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a Vermont retreat for women who struggle with weight, asked participants whether they were going to have chocolate today (yes, they serve it).
Here's a smattering of the comments that she got. They illustrate well the journey to learning how to eat chocolate in a way that truly feels good. Take a moment to see where you fall in this spectrum.
Will You Have the Chocolate?
Early Phase -- The Guilt Ridden:
"No. I will feel guilty if I do. I've gotten a good start and if I eat chocolate, I'll blow everything." -- Kathy
Kathy is early in her journey away from the diet mentality. She hadn't learned yet about all-or-nothing thinking, or grasped how the diet mentality that says we should only eat certain foods can set her up for struggles. Marsha did an impromptu counseling session in which she talked about how to Kathy could change how she talks to herself, to put herself in charge of deciding what she eats instead of feeling vulnerable to what's around her. And understanding that a piece of chocolate wouldn't ruin her self-care efforts. In fact, it could help if she learns to give herself permission to eat what she really wants.
The Fix: Mindful eating can help, says Dr. Albers. If it is too difficult to practice with chocolate, choose a different food to eat slowly, smell it, savor, enjoy. Then, when you are ready try a food that is more difficult to eat mindfully. Building up your confidence is key!
Phase -- Not Now:
"I hope I can do that some day. If I eat it now, I'll just keep eating it. I don't feel strong enough right now to challenge myself with chocolate." -- Joyce
Joyce a perfect example of being aware of where you are in your journey to mindful, intuitive eating, says Hudnall. Joyce is making a conscious decision not to take on more than she can handle right now while at the same time looking towards a future where it is possible to eat chocolate without feelings of guilt or failure.
The Fix: That's okay! As Marsha indicated, it's a journey, not a destination. The good news about mindful eating is that it isn't all or nothing but a process, states Dr. Albers.
"Yes, in moderation. I learned that I can eat what I want, as long as it's in moderation." -- Nancy
"Here's the big picture of what I try to communicate," said Hudnall. "If we eat what we want as part of a well-balanced plan for self-care, we'll likely find that we don't want more than a moderate amount most of the time. It's also important to understand that what's moderate can vary on a day-to-day basis." Telling ourselves that we can eat what we want "as long as it's in moderation" imposes a limit that doesn't come from how food makes us feel. When the limit does come from that place, it's intuitive. And that makes it easy to stop.
Goal! -- The Mindful Eater:
Here are some examples of how you know you're a mindful eater.
"I don't deprive myself. I've found that if I know I can have something, I often don't want it." -- Clare
Exactly! Clare, by the way, said she probably won't eat it because she's not a big fan of chocolate.
"Yes. What I've learned is that one does the trick. I used to have to have five. I eat it slowly now, savoring, and find I'm satisfied with one." -- Allison
Allison was talking about having a chocolate bar at the movies. She's looking forward to a chocolate treat on V-Day because she knows she can enjoy it, then move on to other pleasurable things in life.
"No, I'm not a big sugar person. I really don't want it." -- Sue
Another great example of being clear about what you want, then making your own decisions about food. How many of us often feel impelled to eat something just because someone gives it to us? Mindful eaters don't fall into that trap.
So, will you have the chocolate today? Why or why not? Remember if you feel guilty about eating chocolate, try mindful eating. If not, that's great. We hope you enjoy your chocolate this week.
Susan Albers is a psychologist and author of New York Times Bestselling EatQ Download the free Mindful Eating Pledge: 5 Ways to Ditch Dieting and Start Making Do-Able Changes.
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, is president and co-owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a residential healthy weight loss program that pioneered the non-diet approach to healthy weights over 40 years ago. You can read more about Green Mountain's approach on their blog A Weight Lifted.