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5 Mindset Shifts To Make Clean Eating A Habit

March 16, 2016

To celebrate Clean Eating Week here at mindbodygreen we're sharing the many ways that wellness experts fuel and care for their bodies with food.

Functional medicine nutritionist Dana James shares how she helps her clients shift their mindset to create healthier eating patterns. For more great tips from Dana, check out her video course, How to Ditch Sugar.

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Food is medicine, and your mind is the cure.

As a functional medicine nutritionist and cognitive behavioral therapist, I’m privy to the inner workings of a client’s mind and behavior around food.

What trips them up from consistently following a clean diet is not lack of willpower but rather a reflexive action to use food as a distraction, a reward, or to placate an emotion.

They might struggle at social events to say no to food for fear of being perceived as a diva. Or their own kitchen may lure them under the falsehood that a cookie is needed for signing off the day. It’s these beliefs (and others) that need to be dismantled if they want the vitality, clarity, and radiance that comes from consistently eating a clean diet.

Here are five mental primers I use with my clients to keep them conscious of their food choices:

1. Change the wording.

Food is neither good nor bad, but it is effective or ineffective.

Before you consume something that will derail your clean eating, ask if it's effective for your goals or ineffective. The choice then becomes more mindful, as opposed to a reflexive rebellious response of "I’ve been good all day; I deserve a treat."

2. Become aware of your patterns.

You can only change patterns if you’re aware of them. Many of us sleepwalk through life, creating unintentional rituals that don’t support our well-being, from snoozing instead of meditating, from watching HBO instead of sleeping, and from eating when we’re bored as opposed to investigating why we’re bored.

Spend a day writing down your behavioral patterns. What does your day look like and how would you like it to look? What can you do now to move it closer to your ideal?

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3. Your conscious mind is more powerful than your reptilian brain.

Just because you heard a voice that said you were tired, hungry, or upset doesn’t mean you need to eat. Very often the signals have been crossed and you’ll hear tired means food, hungry means food, and upset means food. This is the reptilian brain at work.

But you also have a neocortex and this is where your consciousness resides. If you pause, this allows time for you to connect with your consciousness to ask, “Is food the right response?” Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re upset, look at why you’re being triggered. If you’re hungry, eat only if you haven’t eaten in the prior three hours. In my experience with clients, hunger can be real or from chronic emotional emptiness.

4. Perfection is punishment.

Perfection is for the Gods, not humans. We’re not wired to be perfect, and if we expect ourselves to be, we'll enslave ourselves. Give yourself permission to eat something for pleasure once a week.

It can be a clean treat like coconut ice cream or something that is less clean like fries, accompanied by a grass-fed beef or veggie burger. And don’t feel guilty about it. Enjoy it. Then make sure your next meal is clean.

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5. Know what your next meal will be.

You don’t need to plan your foods for days in advance to be successful. Your next meal (or snack) will suffice. When you’re picking up lunch, get your afternoon snack as well. If you’re standing in line for your morning coffee, get a green juice as a midmorning snack. Starbucks carries bottled green juice now, so phytonutrient-rich juices are on almost every street corner.

For more mind tools, check out my How to Ditch Sugar video course, which delves into the core reasons behind your sugar cravings, including biochemical imbalances and subconscious thought patterns.

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Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN
Dana James, M.S., CNS, CDN

Dana James is a Columbia University–educated nutritional therapist and founder of Food Coach NYC. She holds her master's in clinical nutrition and is trained in nutrition biochemistry, functional medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy. She believes that food should be viewed as nourishing, joyful, and fundamental to self-care. Her goal is to help women break their antagonist (and often obsessive) relationship with food and their bodies. She believes that true beauty stems from grace, dignity, and embracing our idiosyncrasies that make us unique and imperfect.

James created the "How to Ditch Sugar" video series for mindbodygreen. Check out the program here: How to Ditch Sugar.

James coaches one on one, runs workshops in NYC and LA, and holds tele-seminars on various topics that help women lead a more beautiful and balanced life. To connect more with James, check out her Instagram account and sign up for her biweekly Sunday-evening emails.

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