Submitted by Dani Renouf, RD, MSc, CDE
The past year has posed challenges for many individuals living with a chronic illness. As a health care provider and a partner in the care journey of kidney patients, I am keenly aware that the anxiety, stress, and isolation they experienced is reflected in their eating habits.
Improving our relationship with food is important since joyful eating can keep us healthier in difficult times while also inspiring better self-care. The reason some people have struggled with weight loss is because dieting and restricting have disrupted their body’s ability to properly use the food they eat. However, with practice, there is a way to free yourself from unhealthy eating habits and stay in tune with your body’s needs.
What is mindful eating?
The concept of mindful eating involves being present and focused while eating. This means moving away from restrictive habits and relearning how to listen to your body’s hunger cues so that you eat slowly and stop when you are full.
How can I practice mindful eating?
When you feel ready to embark on the journey of mindful eating, consider the following guidelines:
- Assess your appetite. If you have just had a meal and are still having cravings, they may or may not be related to hunger. Before turning to food, wait to see if you are truly hungry and ask yourself if there are other reasons as to why you want to eat again.
- Understand your triggers. Do you eat when a) bored b) happy c) sad d) anxious e) lonely? None of these emotions may necessarily be related to hunger so consider exploring ways to express them that do not involve food. If an activity enhances your happiness, engage in it; if you are sad, ask for the support you need.
- Use a food journal. Sometimes patients feel embarrassed sharing how much they eat or what they eat with a dietitian for fear of being judged. A food journal does not need to be shared with anyone other than yourself, but recording your patterns or intake may help you address gaps and deficiencies to keep your body healthier. As well, people who are used to dieting are often not eating enough to have sufficient energy for a productive day.
- Eat when hungry. Delaying food intake can cause overeating later in the day, lead to lower energy levels, and possible nutrition deficiencies in the long-term. Extended periods of fasting can also cause metabolic and weight disturbances.
- Treat yourself with compassion. You deserve to enjoy your meal as all of us do. Like life, food is meant to be savoured, therefore eating should be about checking in with yourself at that moment, listening to your body, and making balanced decisions for your well-being.
The path to mindful eating is not about achieving a perfect diet or a perfect weight; it is about giving your body the right fuel at the right time, and about understanding that food is more than just nutrients. Additionally, it is about connecting with people and your environment, having novel culinary experiences, testing new recipes (Kidney Community Kitchen Recipes), and sharing them with others.