Dana James is a functional medicine nutritionist and cognitive behavior therapist. In a recent article, she says, “Food is medicine, and your mind is the cure.” She believes most people do not eat poorly because of a lack of willpower, but rather because they automatically use food “as a distraction, a reward, or to placate an emotion.”
You may find find it difficult to say no to food at social occasions, concerned about appearing rude. You may have a hard time turning off the light in your kitchen at night without one final snack. If you want the vitality, clarity and radiance that a clean diet can provide, you need to dismantle these patterns, and the others that are specific to you.
Here are five mental primers Dana recommends to help you stay conscious about your food choices:
1. Change the wording.
Stop categorizing food in your mind as “good” or “bad.” Instead, think of it as effective or ineffective.
Before you reach for food, check in with yourself. Ask if that choice is effective toward your goals, or ineffective. Having this conversation with yourself helps you be mindful. That can ward off a reflexive rebellious thought of “I deserve this. I’ve been good all day.”
2. Become aware of your patterns.
Until you know your patterns you won’t be able to change them. It’s human to sleepwalk through life, developing unexamined rituals that do not serve us. Instead of meditating, you nap. Instead of sleeping, you scroll through social media. And instead of figuring out why you’re bored and want food, you just reach for something to eat.
Spend some time writing down your daily patterns. What do you do moment to moment, and what would you like to do? What changes can you make to bring your patterns into greater alignment with your desired goals?
3. Put your conscious mind in charge.
The good news is, your conscious mind is more powerful than your reptilian brain. Just because you have the impulse to eat when you’re tired or hungry or upset, doesn’t mean you need to follow an automatic response. Stop and think. Ask yourself, “Is food the most effective response?” If the answer is no, let your conscious mind override your reptilian brain.
You may be tired; if so, sleep. You may be upset; notice why you are being triggered. If you actually are hungry, only eat if you have not eaten during the past three hours. Dana James says hunger may be real, but it also may be a sign of chronic emotional emptiness.
4. Perfection is punishment.
Human beings are not perfect. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation, and holding yourself to that kind of expectation is a setup for misery. If you make a mistake, just move on. And build a weekly pleasure day into your plan. Your pleasure day can include a “clean” food like coconut ice cream, or you may want to splurge on french fries and a grass bed burger.
5. Know what your next meal will be.
It is not necessary to plan your meals days in advance, but do know what your next meal or snack will be. When you pick up your lunch, also grab your afternoon snack. If you are grabbing your morning coffee at Starbucks, pick up one of their healthy green juices for a midmorning snack.
Taking these few steps can help you reprogram your mind for success in your clean eating journey.