People worldwide will celebrate Eat What You Want Day on this Wednesday, May 11.
A quick web search shows most posts from previous years recommend we do two things in honor of it.
Give yourself a break from diets and weight worries today, and
Enjoy all those luscious goodies you feel guilty about eating the rest of the year.
I'd like to propose a different approach.
Let's make Eat What You Want Day the beginning of a healthier approach to eating year-round, one that gives you a permanent break from diet rules and guilt.
Eating What You Want Can Help You Eat Better
Chances are, hearing advice to eat what you want scares you.
Many of us fear that if we eat what we want, we'll end up eating nothing but chips and candy.
Or bread and ice cream.
Or pasta and French fries.
Or whatever food floats your boat and that diets have told you are off-limits if you want to avoid gaining weight.
The trouble is, that's exactly the kind of advice that causes you to gain weight instead!
Depriving ourselves of our favorite foods actually makes us want them more. And when we do give in and eat them (which we inevitably do), we tend to overeat them.
That's where mindful eating comes in.
Mindful Eating Helps You Make Smart Choices
Mindful eating is about being in touch with your needs when it comes to food, and meeting them in a way that truly satisfies you in the moment and after you finish eating.
It helps you make choices that feel good now and later.
It helps you eat what you want in a way that makes you feel well.
Imagine you're at a birthday party and the cake comes out. When you're a mindful eater, you consider whether you really want the cake or not.
You might ask yourself questions like:
- Is it homemade or from the grocery store?
- Am I hungry?
- If so, will it satisfy me, or would I do better eating something else?
- What would it feel like if I don't eat the cake?
- Will I feel deprived and then go home to eat more than I would have if I'd just had the cake?
Your answers to these questions help you figure out what you really want.
Sometimes it is the cake. Sometimes it's not.
3 Steps to Mindful Eating
Ready to dive into mindful eating? Here are three steps to get you started.
1. Eat when you are hungry.
You come equipped with built-in signaling system that can not only tell you when to eat but also what and how much. The problem is, trying to follow diet rules turns that system off because we ignore the signals it sends us. Instead we listen to what other people tell us about what and how much we should eat.
Bring it online by starting to listen to yourself again, like you did before weight worries interfered.
Before beginning to eat, explore whether you feel hungry. Symptoms include a growling tummy, feelings of emptiness, or even just starting to think about food when a moment before, you were engrossed in what you were doing.
If you're unsure, this hunger scale can help.
Many people also find that regular meals and snacks help, too. When we skip meals or go too long in between them, we can get too hungry. That's a set-up for overeating.
Aim for a mix of foods that contain protein, fat and carbohydrates throughout the day, too. Those nutrients help balance the hormones that govern your appetite.
We all eat sometimes when we are not hungry. That's okay because food plays many roles in our lives, such as the cake at a birthday party. But for health, make hunger your primary signal that it's time to eat.
2. Eat what you want.
If you don't, you'll likely find yourself on the search for food.
Feelings of deprivation can keep us hungering for food even when we're not hungry.
When you first begin eating what you want, it can seem that all you want are the richer choices. So it can help to eat them as part of a larger meal or snack.
For example, at lunchtime who doesn't love a Cobb salad with blue cheese and bacon mixed in with the lettuce and other veggies?
Try ending that meal by enjoying your favorite ice cream, rather than having it by itself at snack time when it might seem it just makes you hungrier for more.
3. Eat until you've had enough.
This one might be scarier than the thought of what you eat. But, again, stopping before we've had enough can keep us longing for more. It's another form of deprivation.
If you're used to eating until you're uncomfortably full, experiment using the hunger scale.
Realize, too, that everyone overeats at times. We just don't want to make a habit out of it.
Healthy Eating Is So Much More Than Eating Your Vegetables
Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. And pleasure is good medicine. The trick is to eat in a way that feels good in the moment and after you finish eating.
So on this Eat What You Want Day, I encourage you to mindfully enjoy some of your favorite foods.
Savor each bite without worry about calories or fat or whatever other diet rules that may be planted in your brain.
When you enjoy your food mindfully and without guilt, you may find you don't want as much as you thought you did.
For over three decades, Marsha Hudnall has taught women how to eat what they want and feel good, too, as part of the pioneering program at Green Mountain at Fox Run, the Vermont retreat for women who struggle with eating and weight.
Green Mountain is pleased to announce the opening of its new Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating.