Reconnecting with the joy of eating
Overeating, dieting, stress-induced craving, guilt, comfort eating, dissatisfaction with body image... these experiences are much more common than one might think. Having little to do with the actual physical appearance or how confident a person might seem to others, disordered eating behaviour – be it binge eating or dietary restrictions - and body image issues affect between 4% and 23% of the population at any given time.
Another thing which has become increasingly common and very much driven by the media is applying strict ‘food rules’ that often cause more stress and negative emotions in our life, and can distort our body image. Just have a look at the headlines in women’s magazines, or articles, videos and adverts about miracle health foods, weight loss products etc. popping up on social media, and you’ll realise how prevalent this obsession with food and body image is in our society.
Stress and food
This distorted relationship with food is directly related to the increasingly fast and stressful pace of life most of us experience, which leads to a loss of connection with our basic needs. We disconnect from important bodily signals of hunger, satiety and thirst, and often begin ‘using food’ as a coping mechanism.
There are a variety of emotional triggers that lead to eating when we're not actually hungry. Factors such as stress and anxiety, suppressed emotions such as anger and sadness, as well as boredom, lack of social life, isolation and even sabotaging ourselves come up as crucial stimulators of emotional eating. Of course, this not only fails to resolve our problems, but leads to even more negative emotions such as sadness, failure, guilt, self-blame and anger directed at ourselves, which further perpetuate the vicious circle of emotional eating.
Chronic minor stressors – stressful situations that most of us are exposed to on a daily basis - seem to be the main culprits responsible for a variety of physical and emotional problems that plague our society, including the disordered eating. Studies have shown that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are not only associated with increased appetite, cravings for sugar and weight gain, but that this hormone also relocates the fat stores to our waist making us more likely to develop obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
What makes the effects of stress and emotionally-driven eating even worse is that most people go for high sugar and fat containing foods when stressed. Research shows women to be more likely than men to increase their food consumption when stressed, particularly the intake of unhealthy snacks.
Unfortunately, pressures at work, family problems, traffic congestion, financial worries etc. are inevitable parts of our life and we can never eliminate them completely. What we can change, however, is how we perceive and respond to such stressors.
Over the recent years, developments in psychology have brought about a new approach to healthy and balanced eating which very much focuses on regaining control over the only thing we can control in life: our emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
Switching off the autopilot
Our eating behaviour is often automatic, driven by subconscious influences that most of the time we are not even aware of. Mindful Eating is a new scientific technique that allows us to observe, understand and gain awareness of our eating behaviour. It is the opposite of mindless eating: automatically eating with no connection with our bodily needs, what we like and we do not like, what we want, what we feel.
This systemic approach to eating works on several levels, tackling family and societal influences, individual’s emotions and habitual pattern of responding to stress, as well as misconceptions and lack of education on nutrition. Through the gradual process of identifying and getting a deeper understanding of these underlying issues, mindful eating begins – in an almost magical way - to untangle the vicious circle of overeating (or, in some cases, of not eating enough).
One important issue that Mindful Eating focuses on is busting the myth of the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ foods or ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods. From the nutritional point of view, all foods are good as long as we eat them in moderation.
So if individual foods are not the problem, then what is? Research has shown that application of strict ‘food rules’ leads to disturbed eating as well as a disturbed relationship with oneself. This is where Mindful Eating comes in: by helping us reconnect with our body and understand our eating habits, it enables us to break that vicious cycle and start nurturing ourselves and enjoying food without guilt.
Although, as its name implies, Mindful Eating focuses on our eating behaviour, the most interesting thing about it is that it has knock-on effects on many other aspects of our life. Once we start eating mindfully, we start respecting ourselves more which, by increasing assertiveness, has a positive impact on all other relationships in our life, be they personal or professional.
with Dr Fenia Giannopoulou
A series of
6 week courses
masterclasses run by
Dr Fenia Giannopoulou,
an Eating Behaviour-Nutrition specialist and Senior
Lecturer in Exercise Physiology.
The sessions are suitable for beginners as well as for anyone wishing to practise and expand their existing mindful eating skills.
will take place at the Cornerstone Community Centre,
Church Road, Hove BN3 2FL.