People frequently wax sentimental for what they call “simpler” days—presumably times when the rules were fewer and clearer, when choices weren’t so overwhelming, when demands were less and common sense was more prevalent. Eating, of course, is no exception to this.
It’s exhausting, frustrating, and on certain days defeating. So what’s a reasonable approach in an age when anxiety too often overtakes enjoyment of eating? Of course, the problem here isn’t the intention of healthy eating itself. In our primal ancestors’ time, healthy eating was a thoroughly mindless endeavor.
Unfortunately for us, modern folks, we don’t have the luxury of tapping into the food of our immediate environs without at least some degree of reflection. We have the burden of choice and the burden of (often conflicting) information.
So, what then would sanity look like in this scenario? How do we recover enough mental space to feel some degree of ease, not to mention pleasure in eating again? Try on a few of these modest proposals.
1. Reclaim eating for sustenance
It’s common to talk about “eating to lose weight,” “eating to fight illness,” “eating to gain muscle,” “eating to prevent aging.” Let’s put the truth back in that, shall we? You’re eating to live—to survive, to allow your body enough nutrient and energy input to keep you alive and functioning. Each day, that is your main goal.
If you’ve been feeling wrapped around the goal of eating “for” anything but living, take a step back and reframe the picture. Each morning, each meal, make a point of telling yourself you’re eating to live, to enjoy time on this earth. The rest is Primal gravy.
2. Don’t politicize every choice you make
The morality of eating these days can careen a decently sensitive and conscientious person off a cliff. Organic and pastured offer in most cases substantive health benefits. Heritage breeds of produce and livestock may be more nutrient-rich. And I believe prioritizing environmentally sustainable, humane farming practices wherever it’s practical.
3. Dump the idea of perfection
Food is important. Good food choices can help you claim good health and lifelong vitality, but parsing out those exact choices, structuring intakes with precision, giving yourself no room for choice at the moment, adhering to the principles with exactitude sounds like a miserable way to live.
4. Don’t dramatize your missteps
In truth, some days people leave the “20” of the 80/20 principle in the dust. Maybe it started out as a well-intentioned gesture toward moderation. Or maybe it was always going to be a dive off the deep end. Whatever led to the “misstep,” there’s no reason to dramatize it. It happened.
Don’t give more energy to it by moaning in regret or bewailing the slip. Cheats (if we’re going to call them that) aren’t catastrophic. Long-term, repetitive behaviors are.
5. Scrutinize your motives
I’ve seen plenty of people over the years lose themselves in anxiety over their eating because they put their identities in their choices. Maybe they feel invested in self-righteousness or perfectionistic compulsion that goes back to psychic decades. Or maybe they’re distracting themselves from other behaviors or unhappiness they don’t want to own.
They impose excessive control and experience emotional anxiety with food while some other part of life feels wholly overwhelming. It’s a coping mechanism, a grounding means to feel security or authority in their lives. This is no way to live. Clean eating is a great action step, and real vitality feels great. That said, health isn’t a panacea, and it won’t ever cover for a life that doesn’t serve you.
6. Get back to the actual experience
Stop telling a story about what you’re eating and start feeling yourself eating it. It sounds so obvious, and yet this obsessive story-telling, script running, relentless monologuing is exactly what we do.
Give yourself over to the sensory experience of what you are putting in your body. Smell it. Feel the texture. Take it in visually. Get in your own body’s responses to it.
7. Be grateful for every bite you take
It’s not a huge step from mindfully experiencing your food to being grateful for it at the moment. When we drop the story about something, we can finally be present with it. There’s a lightness to the moment. We’re open to the enjoyment of it. How could we not be grateful for the chance to nourish our bodies?
If anxiety is fear of outcomes or impact, it has us in the future. If it’s unease about where something comes from, it has us in the past. Gratitude flows most strongly from the present. When we’re here in the now, when our minds are at the same time as the meal in front of us, we can, at last, enjoy that meal in peace.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Has this kind of anxiety ever been part of your story? What changes helped you? I’d love to hear your comments.
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