Conscious consumption: how to eat the way you want to eat

I recently developed a habit of buying two or three ice-creams at a time, and eating them all. It happened after work and it was emotional eating: bingey; not quite enjoyable; an attempt to distract from, comfort, or muffle some lingering sense of unease. On certain special occasions, my emotional eating can be particularly self-destructive and, accompanied by a ‘fuck it’ attitude, I will eat until I can eat no more.

While it is not the end of the world, I am not pleased about it because I know I’m not quite in control. And I fear what would happen if succumbed to it even more.

I decided to made a Survey Monkey survey so that I could analyse myself (link here, if you’re interested – feel free to add to the dataset!). The plan was, just before I felt tempted to eat badly, I would fill out the survey so that I could later understand the causes for this state of mind. 

It wouldn’t say the survey results revealed anything especially ground-breaking, but it’s been the catalyst for me looking at my eating and taking control of it. For now, it’s working for me and I feel glad. This is what I did:

1. List all the risk points

I listed all risk points for me. They include Friday evenings and afternoons on the weekend, when I often fancy some alcohol and an abundance of crisps. They include during work, when people bring biscuits back from their holiday, as well as after work, when I tend to finish early and then sit at home, nibbling before it’s dinnertime.

2. Prevent and avoid

I know it sounds defeatist, but some of the times when we eat badly are very hard to change. For example, certain social occasions leave me feeling TOTALLY emotionally drained, and I just know I’m going to binge-eat at the end of it. So as long as they’re one-offs, we disregard these times. But if bad eating becomes habitual (like my three ice-creams trick), there might just be something we can do about it…

My personal challenge was the ‘back from work’ time. Trying to reason it away simply doesn’t work – I needed to find a way to prevent/avoid it.

I am lucky enough to have flexi time, so the solution for me has been to get up early and get my jobs/hobbies done before I go to work. I am then free to do what I like in the evenings, which are also shorter as a result of the change in hours. I think previously, I was in a mad rush to finish work early so that I could have my precious free time, but work does leave us a bit frazzled, so it wasn’t really working.

3. Make a plan

There needs to always be a plan. The purpose of the plan should simply be ‘this is the way I want to eat’. And the way you want to eat should be balanced but also include some things you like, even if they are not totally ‘healthy’. There can be flexibility built into the plan, and it can change as often as you want, but you must be in charge of the rule book. And the rule book needs to be comprehensive, covering all those different moments: out with friends, evenings alone, when you go in the shop but have no idea what’s for dinner.

For most of us, tempting foods is very readily available. We also live our lives with a lot of autonomy, eating our own individually purchased/prepared meals. These are considerable challenges we face. If we want to eat well, it means being prepared, at any given moment, to make a fully conscious decision about what to consume, or not consume.

4. Eat the way you want as part of a broader mindful approach

We can take control of all aspects of our life. We can operate more consciously, maintain perspective, kindness and compassion. We can live the way we want to live right now. Find a way to incorporate self-reflection and pause into your routine.

5. Accept yourself as you are right now

This probably seems a bit incongruous, stuck at the end of the list. But it’s actually the most important bit. Before you start implementing your new thing, you must make sure that the reasons for eating well are not because you don’t like the way you look. This is because, believe it or not, it is possible to be completely content without being thin and beautiful (just as it’s entirely possible to have these attributes but be unhappy). Remind yourself of your own worth – all the qualities that you have to offer. Tell yourself that you accept yourself as you are; that you are complete. And relinquish any negative feelings about your appearance. Stop this pointless, self-punishment. Life is too short.

If you can be at peace with yourself, and remember the things that truly matter in life, it has the added advantage of making sure that your choices about what you eat are as objective as possible, not loaded with extra pressure/longing.

Nurture and nourish the person you are, and be grateful for the body gifted to you.