Let's start with a little quiz. Of the following options, which sounds like a scenario in which the way you eat says you love and respect yourself?
A) Dining in your car spilling food down your shirt as you slam to a halt at a red light.
B) Standing up in the kitchen eating most of your meal raw as you cook.
C) Entering the kitchen starving and downing a bag of chips before you decide what to cook.
D) Scarfing down cold leftovers out of a container with your hands with the fridge door open.
E) Not eating all day to "save your calories" for dinner.
F) Waiting as long as you can to eat until you feel like you’re going to faint and then eating anything you can find.
G) None of the above.
The correct answer is obviously G, as all of the other options are pretty clearly ways to eat like you don't love or respect yourself. Sure, eating on your feet and in a rush is fine once in a while if it's absolutely necessary, but none of these scenarios are things you should make a habit of.
I'll admit that these are all examples of things I've done, ironically, when hyper-focused on following a particular diet or healthy, clean eating strategy with dogmatic discipline.
With the rise of the health movement, eating strategies, diets, and ideas about food and how to eat are becoming as polarizing as issues like religion and politics. Eating like you actually love and respect yourself isn’t up for interpretation, though. Rather, it’s something vegans and Paleo eaters can agree upon: It’s the same for everyone, regardless of belief, size, shape, weight, or lifestyle.
The universal tips below are ways you can feel good about yourself, regardless of the food you’re eating.
1. Use your intuition.
If you've been dieting for any period of time, it's likely your intuition is the last thing you're following when it comes to food choices. You're eating with rules and regulations passed on from everyone but yourself. Your food choices result from information pieced together from magazines, blogs, TV, books, and friends. But when was the last time you asked yourself what you really craved, desired, and would love to eat?
We're animals who innately know how to nourish our own bodies. We have hunger and fullness signals, as well as cravings for a reason, but too many of us learn to forgo these signals so as to focus on the advice and eating strategies of others in an effort to manipulate our bodies to look a certain way or be a certain size.
So rather than basing your food choices on other people's opinions of what you should eat or look like, try allowing whatever food you want into your diet. Simply eat without restriction until your body tells you its full. Trusting your vessel to regulate and nourish itself is eating like you love (and have faith in) yourself.
2. Breathe, bless, and chew.
We often rush through our food, eat on the go, and scarf down meals while distracted by TV or working at our desks. While this is bound to happen from time to time, taking time to breathe deeply while you eat and chew can improve not only how your food digests, but also how it tastes.
I used to eat so quickly I barely had a chance to breathe. It was like a famine was approaching and I had to get everything down as fast as possible. But I've since realized that taking the time to breathe before and during eating helps me actually taste my food and make a conscious effort to chew more thoroughly for the sake of my digestive system.
I even try to take a moment before eating to bless my food, simply saying this line I learned from Gabby Bernstein: "I love my food and this food loves me." I like this line because of its simplicity. It’s not a big prayer but a simple intention I can quickly say in my mind, grounding me in what I’m doing and trusting that the food will digest with ease and nourish me, and I’m present with the pleasure I get from the food.
3. Cut out judgment.
For intuitive eating to work, you need to "legalize" all the foods you previously restricted from your diet. It's likely this change will lead to some overeating at first, but things will level out as your body gets used to no longer being deprived. When this does inevitably happen, it's crucial that you roll with it without judgment or attack.
Judging yourself for what you eat, regardless of what it is or how much, is the opposite of eating like you love yourself. Promise that no matter what choices you make around food, you'll know they were the right ones in the moment and don't beat yourself up for them.
4. Make your food pretty.
Digestion begins with your eyes, so make your food look appetizing. Sure, if you like throwing all your leftovers into a bowl for a meal, that's cool too — sometimes food tastes way better than it looks. But every once in a while, it's nice to have a photo-worthy plate of food, no?
Think of it this way: How would you plate a meal if you were making it for a loved one? Would you put in a little extra effort to make sure it tasted and looked delicious? Give yourself the same attention. I'm not saying everything you eat belongs on Pinterest, but you'd be surprised how good it feels to take the time to take care of yourself through nice-looking food.
5. Date yourself.
If you were eating with someone you loved, you'd be sure to take them out every once in a while and cook something new and exciting now and then. You might even re-create a favorite childhood dish from time to time. So why not do those things for yourself? Allow yourself to try new, exciting foods; re-create versions of your childhood favorites; and take yourself out for a solo restaurant meal.
I used to think eating at a restaurant or cooking a special dish was only something I could do with another person. But now I know eating well doesn't have to be a special occasion. Eating like you love yourself involves random acts of kindness for yourself around food, just like you would do for a loved one.
6. Keep a well-stocked kitchen.
Intuitive eating only works if there are both healthy and tasty options on hand. If not, in a moment of hunger you’ll turn to whatever is available, not necessarily what you’re craving. Treat yourself like a long-term houseguest in your own home, keeping a well-stocked kitchen.
A person who eats like she loves herself always has options and favorite foods available so she doesn't feel the need to overindulge when outside her home. I used to deliberately keep all my favorite foods out of my kitchen, which ultimately meant that when I came near those foods, I'd go crazy and act like I'd never have an opportunity to eat them again.
Now, I can enjoy them in moderation without judgment and usually don’t feel the need to overindulge, knowing I can always have more in my own kitchen. Even if I do go a little too hard on the tortilla chips, I let it go immediately without obsessing or making myself feel bad.
And most important of all, someone who eats like he loves himself isn’t trying to stay away from food. He treats food like an ally, like the fuel of life that's necessary for his body to stay strong and his mind to be clear.
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