“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison” – Ann Wigmore, early proponent of mindful eating.
Mindful eating doesn’t stop when you swallow.
When it comes to food, too many of us consume without much thought or consideration. This contributes to chronic health conditions both big and small and problem hormonal imbalances which are rife in our society. The mindful eating movement is a great leap forwards in tackling that. But the mindful eating process shouldn’t stop when that last thoroughly chewed, bursting-with-flavour, morsel of food is swallowed. What happens next is equally, if not more important to you fully understanding how food affects your health.
How to build mindful eating food awareness
Mindful eating can equally be applied to transit of the food that we consume. To build this comprehensive kind of awareness it’s important to note the details of your diet and bodily observations in a food, mood, poop journal. This process of journalling might seem cumbersome initially, but it is the only way to build an accurate picture. And although it takes concerted effort, the dividends do pay. As your awareness builds over time it becomes more a way of life and the need to journal reduces.
This awareness is essential in providing insights. Insights into the delicate dance between your diet and your overall health, both physical and mental. This is particularly true where it has been paired with other investigative dietary work such as an elimination diet.
An anecdotal example and the tale of potato-gate
(Expectation setting: this is not a story of high drama!) It’s a Tuesday morning. Tuesday being my favourite day of the working week. My 4 year old is collected from our home by my fantastic Mother-in-law at a very leisurely 9.30am. Instead of me having to get up at 6.15, wake my sleeping girl who loves her lie-ins (guilt central!) and pack her off to breakfast club for 7.45am, we have a sociable relaxed breakfast. We didn’t even get out of bed until 7.45am… blissful!
Once the work day begins I expect it won’t be too stressful or strenuous. I work from home. I aim to work on my top priority for the day and pack other tasks in around it. It works well and I’m very happy with the progress I’m making at the moment.
But I observe something strange and out of place inside my head. A niggling anxiety. Anxious thoughts about what the coming day has in store for me; a very slight hint of impending doom. Where’s that coming from I enquire, and why? I think back. The last time I noticed this was a couple of weeks ago. At that time, I recall, I noted a hunch that it might have something to do with consuming potatoes the night before. And that is when I remember that last nights dinner, delightful though it was, was served up with a satisfying side of mixed sweet and white potato mash!
Those shady nightshades
I immediately jump on google: “Potatoes give me anxiety???” And there it is. The top spot is These 5 foods and substances can cause anxiety and insomnia, and right there on the list: nightshades which include the humble potato. Bingo! The hive mind of the internet confirms my hunch and all of a sudden I know myself a little bit better. The wonders of the internet! When I consider this nightshade link it is actually not that surprising for me. I am already aware that I have a negative mental reaction to another nightshade: tomatoes, particularly when raw.
Changes my new found awareness
What will I do with this awareness?
- Moderate my intake of potatoes. I know that even this slight affect means that potatoes are also probably not all that good for my gut. And I know how important the health of my gut is for the health of my hormones.
- Avoid consuming potato at the same time as other substances that raise my anxiety level, like alcohol.
- Choose not to consume potatoes the day or two before an important interview or meeting.
- Pre-empt this experience of anxiety ‘the morning after the potato before’ making it easier to hush the worry.
The 80-20 rule
Near the beginning of my healing journey I would have cut potatoes out entirely allowing my gut a greater opportunity to heal. Now that I am in the maintenance phase of my healing journey I know that I am able to follow the 80-20 rule with my diet. For foods that I know aren’t particularly good for me, I consume them less than 20% of the time. Potatoes will definitely be added to this category for me. There are of course some foods which I still consistently avoid because my health would suffer if I was to add these back in even with the 80-20 rule. As you get to know your body deeply through mindful eating, you collect insights of how to categorise different foods. These insights help you to give your health the care that it needs to flourish.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems. I know many people who are courageous enough to openly discuss their struggles with anxiety. But I feel like the link between food and anxiety is under-explored, and overlooked. As is the link between hormone health and food. To my mind, practices like mindfulness will always be most adept at treating anxiety disorders. But what the exploration of food does is it lays a solid foundation on which to build other treatment strategies on. It contributes to a holistic solution.
The take away
All the food we consume either contributes to our healing, or contributes to our demise. Taking an approach of mindful eating is important for our wellness and hormone health. However, mindful eating shouldn’t stop when you swallow. What comes afterwards is what’s really key in deeply understanding our individual relationship with particular foods and food combinations. Building this level of awareness around the foods you eat and their transit through your system, pays off in dividends. It can reveal all kinds of insights into the delicate dance between your diet and your physical and mental health. This enables you to make informed choices which are healthy for you and which help you to radiate wellness and live in harmony with your hormones.
During the luteal phase of your cycle, estrogen levels dip after ovulation, but begin to rise again shortly afterwards, and progesterone steadily increases, as well. Estrogen and progesterone reach their luteal phase peak in the middle of this phase, and then dip again as you move towards the end of your cycle. The hormonal ups and downs of this part of the cycle make many women feel sluggish. Research suggests that women’s basal energy expenditure may be higher during the luteal phase, which may account for the food cravings that many women experience as part of PMS (women’s energy intake tends to be higher during this part of the menstrual cycle as well).