LocalHarvest Newsletter, February 28, 2020
Becoming a Mindful Eater

It was not long ago that I loathed cooking and rarely sat down with my family for a home cooked meal. That is hard for me to admit since I consider myself a foodie and have worked in agriculture for 22 years now. I am here to come clean. Perfection has never been my strong suit anyways.

Ever since I left my family home at age 17 for college, my eating has been mostly mindless and on the go. My parents, brother, and myself ate dinner together, but the TV was always on in the background and talking was either terse or non existent. Food generally came from a can or a box or the grocery store deli, and microwave rays generally did the cooking.

Later when I was married for 13 years, meals were commonly the "fend for yourself" kind (a comical term my mom introduced to me when she would lay out a bunch of deli meats, cheeses, and breads for dinner). I would cook up a few things and lay them out on the counter for others to build their own plates and eat when or where they wanted. One or two nights a week of dining as a family was about all we managed. Breakfast and lunch were never as a group, as everyone got up at different hours, ate different things, and was moving in opposite directions. Twenty-five years of mindless eating had taken its toll on me and my family bonds.

Some of the personal repercussions of mindless eating manifested in a little excess weight around the belly and low energy. Eating late night snacks or grazing throughout the day. Eating in the car or at my desk while working. I thought my diet was "healthy-ish", being that I was an organic farmer for many years. But when I look back on it, I was mainly a "breaditarian" with a side of vegetables and meat. Muffins, scones, bread, crackers, tortillas, chips, bagels, pasta made up a large part of my diet, mainly because I could eat them while moving and they didn't require much or any cooking. They say, how you do one thing is how you do everything. My whole life was a moving blur, including eating- I literally can't even remember my 30s because I never stopped moving/doing/hustling.

A big shift has happened for me in the last two years and it has been a huge awakening to how I approach eating. It's ironic that as I have pestered friends and family for years to eat better, the the person doing the pestering (me) was just shoving food into my mouth unconsciously for years. My awakening started when I got a divorce and for the first time in over a decade, I was in complete control of what foods were brought into the house. My first hurdle was getting over my bread and processed carb addiction. I just stopped buying it, much to my children's chagrin. For awhile, there was no bread in the house. Once I got over that craving, I started buying bread again for my kids, but now I have no urge to eat it. Next up was alcohol. The last few years of my unhappy marriage led me to drink a little too much wine. The whole "overwhelmed mommy wine habit" needed to stop (don't get me started on how much they market alcohol to moms, it's abhorrent). No more alcohol in the house, period. Sugar was next. I first cut out table sugar, then honey and maple syrup, and all processed foods with added sugar. I now use a monkfruit or stevia substitute in recipes if it calls for sugar. I have even convinced my teenage daughter to use all natural sugar substitutes in her baking experiments. Now with processed carbs, alcohol, and sugar out of my diet (mostly, I am not perfect), I started to focus on when I eat. That is when I introduced daily intermittent fasting, which for me was the silver bullet to lose that last bit of stubborn baby weight from my last kiddo in 2015. It took a good 6 weeks to get used to it, but I now am not hungry in the morning and don't eat until noon. That gives my body a full 16 hours of fasting overnight to fully digest, reduce inflammation, repair cells, and lower blood sugar and insulin levels. I don't need to eat as much to feel full and I no longer get panicky "hangry" emotions when I go without food for long stretches. By changing the timing of when you eat to be more intuitive, rather than on a set clock schedule or when your kids eat, you change your whole relationship to food. You eat when you are actually hungry and stop when you are close to full but not over full. You eat to live, rather than live to eat. You fuel your body like the exquisite machine that it is.

I just started reading a fantastic book about mindful eating (Eating Mindfully, 2nd edition, by Susan Albers). It posits that by simply being mindful about what, when, and how much we eat, we would never have to go on a diet again. We would lose the excess weight our bodies don't want to carry and along with that the guilt and shame that plagues so many of us. We would create a positive relationship with food and use it to nourish our exquisite machines, rather than to punish or use food as a crutch for difficult emotions. I believe that is what has happened to me over the last couple years. I now reach for the healthiest foods that give my body energy and don't feel deprived when opting out of the junk food. If I want to eat pizza once a month, I will do it. But the majority of the time what I want is a giant colorful salad with shredded pork, avocado, and olive oil drizzled on top. Or eggs scrambled with a couple cups of baby kale or arugula, then served with feta cheese, avocado, and fermented veggies on the side. That is my new normal now, and it feels delicious, satiating, and life giving to me. It's time to treat my body like the miraculous temple that it is and be mindful of the things I put into it.

As I have made these dietary changes to what and when I eat, I have also made a commitment to eat dinner with my kids together as often as possible. I try to protect a couple nights a week from meetings or other obligations so that I can be with my kids and sit together over a nutritious, balanced, and tasty meal that they often help prepare. My cooking skills are still a work in progress and my daughter still hounds me that I don't use enough salt and other spices, but I am getting better. I enjoy the process of cooking now- it's a meditative break for me. I love looking at the colors and textures of the ingredients, smelling the smells, watching things bubble and brown. I am enjoying the process of cooking, not just the destination.

How can you be more mindful about your eating? Do you dread cooking, or do you look forward to it? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

In good health,
-Rebecca Thistlethwaite

CSA / Food Hub Management

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Recipe: Parchment Paper Baked Salmon with Asparagus Lemon and Dill

Adapted from The Healthy Foodie blog