Mindfulness is awfully trendy at the moment. Everywhere you look, someone’s touting being in the moment, experiencing the fullness of life, and learning something new about themselves.
It’s a great buzzword.
Before you write it off as “touchy-feely” or a little too spiritual for you, the phrase became trendy for a reason. Awareness is the core of it all, and the idea, once understood, can be applied to any aspect of your life. The practice is particularly useful for monotonous or repetitive tasks to bring a new meaning and significance to them.
As the mindfulness movement grew and evolved, an obvious opportunity for application appeared: food prep. Mindful meal planning was originally intended to help medical practitioners combat the growing obesity epidemic by having participants examine and redefine their relationship with food, the enactment of which has so much more potential than weight loss.
Meal planning in the fitness sector gets a bad reputation, especially for those who assume it’s all chicken and broccoli. While it may not be quite that bad, it certainly isn’t an exhilarating experience. Mindfulness can upend that.
Reevaluating your experience with food can help you to understand your meal planning more comprehensively. By identifying how you relate to food and how your experiences have informed your eating habits, you can find ways to make meals sustainable and more interesting.
Identify Your Current Approach to Food
Start by considering your current relationship to food. Why do you eat the way you do? Beyond just keeping track of your nutrition for athletic reasons, understand what drives you to make food choices the way you do. It can be easier to undo a bad habit if you know where you got it from and why you return to it.
Is you diet culturally informed? What were meals like growing up? Is food merely a functional part of your day, does it serve to control a medical condition, or do you enjoy the ritual of preparing food and eating? For many, especially those who religiously meal prep, food simply becomes a tool to get the results they want, rather than a culinary experience or a creative outlet. When you place strict rules on your dietary intake, you limit the conventional cooking experiences available to you.
Food is a highly emotional and psychological experience for just about everyone. There’s no way to get through life without it, and in many cultures, a family meal (or lack thereof) is an important part of childhood and adolescence. In order to fundamentally change eating habits, regardless of motivation, you must understand where your current habits come from and what emotional ties they hold.
Food as Fuel
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, if you’re a serious athlete, you’ve put time and energy into learning something about nutrition. Without understanding how your body uses food and nutrients, you can’t make informed decisions to put your body in peak physical condition.
The “If It Fits Your Macros” diet is currently a popular way to focus on macronutrient intake without fully restricting the diet to impossible standards. In contrast, mindful eating allows you to incorporate a similar mindset towards “cheat foods” without settling for a system that can be easily exploited.
When using mindfulness to build your meal plans, the easiest place to start is by identifying what foods you’ve precluded yourself from by virtue of your experiences. Sometimes, this is as simple as realizing you don’t eat brussel sprouts because you’ve previously never enjoyed them, but the reality is that you’ve never had them prepared in a way you enjoy. Other times it’s more complicated than that. You may have cut yourself off from a food group because of the traditions you were brought up in, where you source your food, or your own cooking abilities.
Once you identify what you don’t have in your diet, you can set about solving problems — and making compromises. When you find groups of food that you’ve historically dismissed, examine what you’re missing out on without that source in your diet. This allows you to find substitutions for nutrients you may be missing or open up a new creative outlet by learning news ways to prepare food. Similarly, you may find new reasons for foods that always make you break your rules, along with a newfound appreciation for the role they play in your happiness.
Creating an Informed Routine
The importance in understanding your proclivities and motivations in regards to meal prepping leads to one very simple result: you are better able to achieve the results you want.
Using the information you gleaned by examining your current relationship and your historic upbringing with food, make assessments about what foods you want to incorporate into your diet, what you’re not willing to sacrifice, and how your mental state changes with different types of fuel.
From there, you can make decisions that balance enjoying your food with the logical requirements for your physical activity. When you try to eliminate the emotional element of eating, you’re removing a fundamentally human aspect of your diet; even if you adhere to your regimen strictly, there is room for more joy within your meals.
Using macros as a guideline, plan your meals out and try to incorporate previously eschewed foods. You might include a new way to prepare a previously hated vegetable because the micronutrient payoff is worth the extra effort. Or, you might work a favorite dessert in on occasion because the psychological lift you get from consuming it makes it easier to push through the hard days.
This isn’t an invitation to get rid of all your restrictions and eat as you will. You still need to make wise decisions if you’re going to meet your goals. Sticking to food restrictions is one of the most universally challenging things humans undertake. For some, it may be easy, but if you struggle, it may be worth working through the steps of mindful food prep to understand where your hangups are originating — and to combat them.
The connection may seem tenuous at first, but with practice an persistence, your relationship with food will become more complex — in a good way.
Alyssa is a lover of words and movement who happily resides in the Pacific Northwest. If she’s not at the gym or out playing pick-up games, she’s probably feeding her favorite humans something stealthily healthy or devouring her latest bookstore find. She’s passionate about making health and fitness accessible to anyone, regardless of their situation. Tweet her @arobinsonwrites.