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Basics of Mindful Eating

Over the past weeks, we’ve learned the basics of mindful eating and how it can help us build healthier eating behaviours.

This week, we’ll explore how we can be more compassionate towards ourselves when the journey towards healthier eating gets tough.

You Are Not What You Eat

Building mindful, healthy eating habits isn’t a piece of cake, especially if we’ve spent years trying to break out of the deprivation-binge-guilt cycle.

An example: we love laksa, but we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s a sinful “no-no”. We swear we’ll stop eating it.

But forbidden fruit is the sweetest, and depriving ourselves of laksa only makes us want it more. One day, our willpower breaks and we decide to binge eat and go on a laksa feeding frenzy, asking uncle for extra hum, noodles, and zhup (gravy).

Then, guilt sets in and we blame ourselves for being “weak” and for “failing”. The vicious cycle repeats, and we develop an unhealthy love-hate relationship with food and eating.

We can break out of this by treating ourselves with kindness.

Related: Happy with Healthier Food

What’s Self-compassion?

Instead of harshly judging and criticising ourselves, self-compassion means being kind and understanding towards ourselves when we face tough situations, or when we think we’re not good enough.

It’s also recognising that nobody’s perfect and that everybody makes mistakes from time to time.

Related: Loving and Accepting Yourself

Why Should We Be Kinder to Ourselves?

The more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the less likely we fear failure. And if we do slip up, we’re more likely to pick ourselves up and try again, rather than beat ourselves up. We’ll also be more motivated to take better care of ourselves, for example, by eating healthier.

Without self-compassion, we close the door to learning about and changing, our eating habits. We may be too quick to blame ourselves and spiral into negativity (e.g. “I’m such a pig. Why did I eat so much?” “I should just give up trying to lose weight!”).

With a forgiving attitude and a willingness to grow (e.g. “I overate this time. I can do better next time”), we can build a healthier relationship with eating and food, which could improve our overall health and cut risks of obesity and diabetes.

Related: Is Comfort Food Giving You Stress?

The Self-kindness Movement

Perhaps you’ve been trying hard to eat healthy but nothing seems to click. Or perhaps you had a bad day and, in your distress, finished a family-sized bag of murukku under 20 minutes.

Whatever it is, you feel down, and you’re about to sink into a spiral of self-judgment and criticism. Pull back, and use these mindfulness-based techniques to treat yourself with compassion.

Related: Nurturing Self-Esteem

Avoid Black-and-white Thinking

Food like laksa or murukku may be high in calories and fat, but they’re not “unhealthy”, “sinful”, “junk”, or a “guilty pleasure”.

Remember, extra calories can be offset if you choose a lighter meal after that—healthy eating is flexible and can include a wide variety of food.

And if you do overeat, don’t say, “there goes my weight loss plan out the window”, “I blew it” or “I failed”: you can still get back on track!

Related: Healthy Eating for Life

Treat Yourself Like a Friend

Imagine that a close friend confided in you that they were having trouble eating healthily. How would you respond?

You would likely encourage them to keep going and tell them that it’s human to make mistakes. You probably wouldn’t harshly scold them or call them names and mock their weight gain. Now, try to extend that kindness to yourself.

Practise self-compassion: In a small notebook, write down kind responses to your negative thoughts (e.g. “I will get better at this; I just need more practice”, or “Everybody makes mistakes”).

Practise repeating them whenever you start thinking negative thoughts about yourself—and carry the notebook with you as a reminder. Keep practising, and it’ll get easier when you practice mindful eating next time!

Related: Boosting Your Self-Esteem

Your Diet Doesn’t Define You

You are more than what you eat, and the setback doesn’t change who you are. You’re a loving son or daughter, a “super steady” co-worker, a loyal friend, a fun uncle.

Related: Building a Supportive Network of Family and Friends

Ask for Help

Ask yourself if you need extra help; you could try working one-on-one with a counsellor or psychologist for advice that’s more customised.

Here’s a quick reminder on some simple mindful eating techniques if you’ve forgotten how to practice mindful eating. Instead of mindless eating, eat slowly and enjoy your food. Start paying attention to the texture and flavour of the food in front of you, and how your body reacts and the emotions you experience with each bite. Focus on how the food makes you feel, and stop eating once you’re full.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you could even apply these mindfulness lessons to other areas of your life such as the workplace.

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