How Eating at the Kitchen Table Finally Helped Me Start Eating Mindfully
Let me give some background first: For years, I’d struggled with an eating disorder that entailed restricting and binging. Seeing food as just food, not as a comfort or “enemy,” was hard. Even in recovery, when I tried to eat intuitively (which basically means trusting my body to tell me what it needed), diet culture had its hands tightly around my neck, and it (still) hasn’t let go.
I was and am tired of food rules running my life and of eating past fullness because my body is scared I’ll restrict again. While I know it’s OK to eat past satiety sometimes, I don’t want to feel uncomfortably full as often anymore.
I shared this with my dietitian. She gave some advice that’s hard to follow, but undoubtedly helpful: eating at the kitchen table without electronics.
Emotional eating, or eating when you feel upset to cope or distract yourself, isn’t a bad thing or something to be ashamed of — and dietitians want you to know that. “The key to balancing this as an adult is having lots of things in your toolkit to soothe you when you’re feeling stressed or emotional,” says Sophie Medlin, a Doctify-reviewed consultant dietitian and director of CityDietitians. “Naturally, sometimes, only the cake will do!”
Now listen, as someone who’s basically glued to her phone (read: Twitter and Gmail) and finds pleasure in eating in bed while rewatching a good TV show (read: “Pretty Little Liars”), that no-electronics advice was the last tip I wanted to hear. But when I tried mindful eating, I saw her point — and other dietitians do, too.
“When we eat on the sofa or in bed and we’re watching television, we generally don’t eat very mindfully,” Medlin says. “We can easily overeat and miss our body telling us that we’re full, and we often eat more quickly than we would if we were having a meal at the table.”
When I eat while doing something else, I’m not focused on the experience of eating — the taste, how hungry or full I feel — I’m focused on the show/email/social media post, which science says can make you feel more lonely. I’ve also noticed eating in bed, even more so than the couch, makes me feel extra alone, in which I sometimes eat more than I want to. Eating at my desk or at the kitchen counter while I’m working also distracts me from eating almost entirely.
“If we can also do other behaviors that will help us feel grounded and present, we can be more present with our food,” explains Anna Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, a certified eating disorders registered dietitian with Lutz, Alexander & Associates Nutrition Therapy. “This may be eating with a trusted person, sitting at the table with your feet on the ground, and turning off the TV or other screens.”
If you don’t like the idea of eating without a screen, I hear you. I have to remind myself it can actually help me enjoy eating more. It allows me to be mindful, really notice the flavors, and feel satisfied when I finish. My dietitian also suggested trying to make new meals, because for me, it’s easier to pay attention to the taste when I don’t know what to expect.
Emotionally, realizing food isn’t your only “tool” helps. “If an individual is concerned with the way they are eating, instead of trying to stop emotional eating, which is hardwired into us, I suggest working on expanding your toolbox of what strategies are helpful when you feel disregulated,” Lutz says. For me, this looks like reading in the bathtub or on the porch, playing volleyball, doodling, and spending time with others.