Taking Back The Meal
It’s 1:00 pm and I haven’t eaten since 6:00 am.
It is 1:00 pm and I have not eaten since 6:00 am. I have been running around the hospital seeing patients, talking to families and attending rounds. I finally have a chance to sit down at a computer and settle in with my lunch so I can begin to work through the eighteen notes I need to write. For some reason, I think that I’m able to type, click, dictate, and eat all at the same time. In reality, this is impossible. Instead of eating a peaceful lunch at a table, I shoveled my lunch into my mouth between clicks. I didn’t enjoy the food and I barely accomplished anything on the computer. I shrug it off and am just grateful to not have to eat again for a few hours. Now I can get my work done and maybe get home at a reasonable time.
Does this resonate with you? Please tell me I’m not the only one! Pre-COVID this might have been your reality. Post-COVID, you might be still doing the same thing as you care for patients on the frontlines (but with 10x more handwashing) or it may have the struggles of working from home intertwined.
For me, this habit started in medical school after my first child. I felt I had to prove I could do as much work as a man who didn’t have any other responsibility and wasn’t nursing. I had two more children during training and these habits now feel like a well oiled machine. I remember sitting in the pumping room after my 3rd child; it was around 2pm and I was pumping hands-free, talking to a nurse on speakerphone and eating lunch.
I did what I thought I had to do to get through. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Actually it shouldn’t be this way.
Mindful and intuitive eating are essential to achieve complete health. Many times with our busy schedules we think of eating as a task that has to be checked off the list. We attempt to do this in the fastest way possible. This may even be making a shake so we don’t have to chew (yes, I’ve tried this too). But this approach is all wrong. Eating should not be considered a mundane task. It is how we nourish our bodies and minds so we can take on the challenges of the day. This mindset is part of the problem with the health of our society. We go through our day and often never experience the food we’re eating. We eat what is necessary for life so we have the stamina to complete the next task; whether that food is nutritious is another discussion entirely.
We long for the day of having a nice quiet meal with our significant other. But we tell ourselves stories to prevent that from happening:
• I’m not in that phase of life
• This is not the job for that
• That luxury is for other people
What if I told you mindful and intuitive eating could transform the way you see food and your body? It’s true, it can. When you begin to eat mindfully, you reestablish hunger and satiety cues that guide your body in what it needs. You begin to enjoy the food you are consuming.
Intuitive eating and mindful eating are two slightly different things.
Intuitive eating is paying attention to when you are hungry and when you are full. It is getting in tune with your body’s natural drive for energy. When we are in alignment (stress management, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep) our hunger and satiety cues are quite accurate in determining how much and what we should be eating. Mastering intuitive eating is quite challenging at first. After all, it has been silenced for decades. Think about a young child. Some days they can go without dinner, other days they can’t stop eating. This is because they are deeply in tune with their hunger and satiety cues. They listen to their body tell them what it needs. Imagine what the health of our country would look like if we did this one thing.
Mindful eating is more about being present in the experience of eating. This means no distractions. When you put something in your mouth, you are aware of how much and what you put in your mouth. You savor each bite. You pay attention to the textures and flavors. You legitimately enjoy the food that you’re consuming. Allowing ourselves this pleasure actually reduces the craving we feel later. This is the piece that’s often missed on a day-to-day basis.
This brings in an important topic of cravings. The guilt and shame associated with eating something that we feel we shouldn’t eat prevents us from actually enjoying what we eat. Think about the infamous Halloween candy. Did you happen to sneak a piece or two? Why did you have to sneak it? Why couldn’t you just decide you wanted a piece? Why didn’t you take a piece, sit down at the table, open it up and eat it over 2-3 bites, enjoying each bite? There shouldn’t be shame around eating something delicious from time to time. When the shame is removed, the coping strategies for dealing with the shame also go away. That means binge eating, mindless eating and emotional eating are eliminated. Instead we’re in tune with our bodies and we do what we naturally know is right.
Here’s my challenge for you - are you ready for it? I want you to commit to 1 week of mindful and intuitive eating. You won’t be a professional by the end of the week. But I am very confident you’ll notice a difference in how you feel and how you approach food. And every week it will be easier and easier. In a month, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of this sooner.
Are you ready to begin to experience this radical transformation of eating? Here’s how to get started:
1. Learn about the hunger scale. You can google this or check out a handout I made on my website for free download (nutritionhealthlife.com/free-stuff). Basically 0 is starving, 5 is neutral, 10 is stuffed.
2. Keep a hunger and satiety journal. You can print off a handout for this from my website at the link above. You can also keep a little notebook or a note in your phone. Date the top and list out each meal with a letter (B, L, D, S - for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack). Next to each letter put the number for hunger before eating / number for hunger after eating. For example, B 3/8.
3. Turn off all distractions
4. Use your senses while you’re eating. In addition to flavor, pay attention to the texture. Notice the nuances of the flavors. Smell the aroma of the food. Visually notice the differences in the various items within the dish. Really be present while eating. We can understand when our body needs nourishment. Through intuitive and mindful eating we can become confident in our bodies and begin to love them for how amazing they are.
Want to learn more? Check out my podcast called Medicine for Life. It’s all things lifestyle medicine presented in a realistic and relatable way to help empower you to reach your health and wellness goals through small, sustainable actions. 1
Some parts originally published on SheMD -https://www.shemd.org/post/taking-back-the-meal
More ways to get in touch:
Women’s Only FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/womenbecomingwhole/
Dr. Lynn Stiff is a dietitian turned family medicine physician on a mission to empower individuals to implement realistic and sustainable diet and lifestyle choices to prevent, treat and reverse disease. She is passionate about demystifying nutrition, addressing weight bias, and moving past diet culture to achieve complete wellness. She believes health can be attained by all regardless of size and past choices. She works full-time as a physician and started her online education platform, Nutrition Health Life LLC, in September 2019. When she’s not working on her passions, you can find her enjoying the beautiful state of Colorado with her husband and 3 spunky and sweet children, ages 1-5. She is an avid runner, hiker, home DIYer and brewery explorer. She can be reached at this link: