On Mindful Eating

About a year ago I started this 21 day mindfulness challenge by Benjamin Foley (he writes on here). Of course, I only got halfway through. Actually, 52% of the way through so that’s great. I was looking for something to do right now and I’ve read through all my monthly stories (and now I’m sad), so I decided to start it up again.

Today’s topic was mindful eating. Sort of perfect for me. I’ve been struggling with food for a few years now. I’m still eating. I just can’t figure out what to eat. When to eat. How much to eat. Thankfully I’m doing much better than I was a few years ago. I got anxiety about whether or not I brought enough food to clinical 2 autumns ago. I was there either 3–7pm or 4–9pm and I didn’t know when to eat and it absolutely, positively freaked me out. I would bring a lot of snacks out on the golf cart as we drove up to practice, yet somehow my stomach would just hurt. I couldn’t figure out if I was hungry or full. So sometimes I didn’t eat much, or some days I’d eat all my snacks. It was dreadful.

I was eating really poorly. I was constantly going out to get food for dinner at Chipotle, some Asian places, and a new Italian place that opened up on campus. My stomach was always hurting. There was a lot of bloating. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and I felt beyond lost.

I think I got to Utah just in time. My roommate was really healthy and showed me a lot of new foods. Plus, I was pretty poor. I didn’t just have unlimited funds to do whatever. I barely had enough money to pay rent each month (beyond grateful to my parents, every day). I had to grocery shop on a pretty tight budget, and I felt like I was eating pretty healthy. Of course, there was the issue of only eating around 1400 calories a day. I’d have a small breakfast, snacks before working out, and then a large meal at 4pm, upon which I’d stuff myself. And usually a snack at 8pm. I was putting on muscle, but only because I was just starting to lift, you know how that goes.

Then I came home. I was really trying hard to eat less gluten (I’m a bit sensitive to it so I avoid it because no one likes inflammation!!), but it was difficult because there’s a lot of bread in Chinese food (both savory and sweet). Thankfully, there’s also a lot of rice flour, mung bean flour, mung bean noodles, you get it. There are a lot of options and these past few months have been a great time to figure out what’s going on. Next week after my parents leave for China (I’m not in the mindset right now to start this new diet, there’s too much going on in my house), I’m going to set myself on a gut health repair diet. Thankfully it’s nothing too different — but it includes intermittent fasting which has been working really well for me, and the basic premise is fat/protein for breakfast, salad for lunch, and some kind of stir fry for dinner.

My lunch when parents are home is usually rice, some sort of protein, and some sort of veggie (broccoli or bok choy, most times). I don’t think that will irritate my gut too much but I really want to push myself to do this, to help with my hormones and lose weight. I’ll still push myself to get enough calories, definitely enough fat/carbs but not too much, and a good amount of protein to keep this muscle. And most importantly, I’m going to slow down when I eat (I kinda just gobble it down. Our dinner takes maybe 15 minutes). I’m going to chew my food more, taste it more, and not feel a need to stuff myself. And I think that’s where mindful eating comes in.

There have been some days where I only ate because I knew I had to. I was terrified of feeling ill later on, but I made myself do it. There have been some days where I eat something I know will make my body hurt later on…and I know it halfway through eating it…but I still finish it. The thing is that losing weight is not as restrictive as we’ve been taught to be. People feel like they should restrict carbs and fat and red meat and there’s just so much out there. There are some amazing foods you can eat while trying to lose weight. And the cool thing is that occasional waffle fries from Chick-fil-a will not ruin you. It’s all about balance and giving your body what it needs. Your body needs fat to operate. It needs carbs for energy. It needs protein to build muscles. And it needs all this and vitamins, minerals, water to keep you going. And you have to be good to your body because it’s all you’re going to get.

I’ve never hated eating healthy. I’ve just been frustrated with the things I “can’t” eat (I haven’t self-diagnosed myself, it’s more so — this bothers me, so I’m going to stop eating it. It’s kinda cool that you can do that) — that I forgot about the things I can eat. And I’m very lucky to not be legitimately allergic to anything. No itchy mouth, swollen tongue, or anything of that sort. I really want to be in control of my eating experiences again. I want to be more confident and be able to help other people out too. I want to lower my anxiety about food and have it be something I can enjoy. I’m getting blood work done for my yearly physical so I thought I’d do a vitamin/mineral workup to see if I’m deficient in some things instead of doing just a general multivitamin, which I’m VERY excited about. It’s almost like I’m doing a little science experiment on myself.

This really stood out to me — “Mindfulness isn’t something you try to do or want to do; it’s a practice you commit to doing. When it comes to mindfulness, you must decide when you’re going to practice and make it happen”. There’s that word again, “commit”. You have to willingly set aside time and dedicate yourself to it. And it’s really hard. I’d rather watch a lot of episodes of Chicago Fire (I figured out if I’m awake for 16 hours on Saturday I can watch 24 episodes, but really only 23 if I want to eat and use the bathroom) sometimes, but it actually feels great to step aside for just a little bit.

Also a random thought I didn’t want to forget. I think I’m actually losing touch with the ability to be social. I spend most of my day talking to clients, coaches and people I want to impress. But then I come home and don’t really talk. I have so so many thoughts about people and things and news and I want to be able to look someone in the face and talk to them. And I want them to listen. And I want to listen to them. I should talk to my friends more. And even if I have to call them every week, that’s okay. I know the drill. But on a happier note, I guess these moments of actual thinking and not mindless TV watching are really good for me.

Lots of discoveries are going to be made over the next month about myself. My parents are leaving me here to go to China and then travel the States (and they will be going to all the national parks in Utah I wanted to go to…sigh) for all of April and then half of May. I have to water my mom’s plants…and manually pollinate the lemon tree we have (I’m actually not kidding, I wish I were)…and take the trash out and get the mail and do adult things! But I think it’ll be a perfect time to get some breathing room and be able to practice mindful eating and mindfulness without feeling…squished. And I guess it’ll help me practice for being on my own in grad school (I think I vacuumed my room once in Utah for the 6 months I was there. Oops).

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.