Bringing Wise Intention to Your Relationship with Food
As a behavioral scientist, I am fascinated by how our mind works. We are, at our most basic, a combination of drives and instincts aimed at survival of the species, but we live in a world where basic survival, thankfully, is nearly guaranteed. That provides us lots of room for our mind's survival drives to clash with our conscious mind and our other needs and desires.
And one place where those things come screaming into a crash is around our relationship with food.
I am a devoted yogini, trying to get to my hot vinyasa practice as frequently as I can. One thing I've heard over and over from a variety of teachers is to move with intention, not with momentum. Momentum is force gained by forward motion or by a series of events. When we move with momentum in yoga, we risk injuring ourselves. Intention is moving from a wiser space—one that considers not just the desired outcome, but the most efficacious and safe ways to reach the outcome. Intention also considers if the outcome is obtainable, and if the steps to reach it are in our best interest—basically, does the end justify the means?
Intention is resolve, determination to act in a particular way, and the product of attention aimed at a given area of life. Momentum is life happening to us without anyone in the driver's seat—stuff happens, we respond, and wisdom is out the window.
What happens when we explore our relationship with food and nutrition from the lens of intention and momentum?
When we are intentional about eating, we first have to clarify our relationship with food. It's almost like coming up with a mission statement. There's a lot of cognitive shifting and mindset work to be done in this step. Most of us have ideas about certain foods being “bad” vs “good.” “Health food” vs “junk food.” “Diet days” vs “cheat days.” It's a polar dichotomy, with the added implication that the “bad stuff” tastes good and the “good stuff” often doesn't. Add to these mindsets the fact that nutritional research can change and at various times we've been told to minimize fat, minimize carbs, minimize both, minimize neither... and we are inundated with advertising claims of the latest packaged low-fat, low-carb, such-and-such-diet-approved foods.
What if there's another mindset regarding food? What if minimizing calories isn't the main goal, and you could view foods as something that can nurture and sustain your body, giving you the strength and nutrients to be a rock star in your world?
Shifting my views around food was key in making changes with my nutrition and lifestyle, and the first step to clarifying my intentions around food.
Momentum with regards to food is hitting a fast food place on the way home because we're hungry, without thinking about whether or not the choice meets our nutritional intentions (and if it does, and you've considered it, then you go! You get to decide what and where you eat, just do it mindfully). Momentum is hitting the grocery store, already hungry, and shopping without a list. It's spending more money on impulse purchases—often of the less healthy variety, from packages designed to lure the hungry shopper. It's buying for one meal at a time—wasting money and time—rather than implementing a plan of meals for the week.
Eating with intention requires starting from that place of mindful awareness of our nutritional goals. These could vary from following a certain way of eating, to cooking more meals from home, to reduced reliance on convenience foods, or whatever it is that brings our eating behavior in congruence with our values about nutrition. When we choose foods intentionally, we feel good about nourishing our bodies as we have intended, not guilty about eating “off plan.”
If you're unclear of your intention towards food and nutrition, you can spend some time in reflection and meditation. Food has the power to fuel our bodies and to cumulatively heal or harm our bodies. If you’re not knowledgeable about nutrition–maybe you even avoid reading about it because you feel bad or guilty about the choices you make–do some research.
Rewrite the narrative that you've been telling yourself about food to one that is more helpful and allows you to make good choices. Rewrite it in how you talk to yourself, but also write it down and be clear on your food mission statement. Educate yourself about the impact of foods on your body and on the world around you, and make some decisions about what way of eating will allow you to stay in line with your intentions. Think through the problem spots and set yourself up for success—for instance, having healthy snacks so you're not tempted by the vending machines, eating a good breakfast at home so you don't hit a mid morning slump to be filled with caffeine and sugar, and plan out dinners, especially for busy nights, when you have more time free on the weekend.
Don't let that full throttle momentum train derail your health goals: take the time to get intentional about food.
Kim Dwyer Owner and Coach, Effortlessly Intentional