How mindful eating healed my relationship with food

Bernadette Keogh Mindful Eating

I feel so blessed to be working as a Mindfulness and Mindful Eating Instructor and Nutritional Therapist.  My career really brings together all my passions.  I’ve been a mindfulness practitioner myself for over 25 years and have benefited greatly from the practice throughout my life. I have also had an interest in a natural approach to health and beauty since a very young age.  I remember making face masks out of grated apple and honey – a recipe from one of my Jackie annuals back in the early 80s! And I love food! In this post I share my journey of healing my relationship with food and my body through mindfulness and mindful eating.

How did things get so messed up?

Like many people, my relationship with food and my body has not always been a harmonious one.  Where did it go wrong for me?  Here are some clues:

  • When I was very young, my dad would often comment on my “lovely thin waste” – giving me the signal that being thin was a positive attribute
  • Conversely, I was doing a lot of sport as a teen, swimming and running. My dad would say “stop swimming, you have legs like a rugby player”. This led me to wear long skirts and hide my legs well into my 20s
  • But even before my dad’s comments, I remember being very young (maybe 7 years old) when sitting in the school hall for PE in my shorts, I was comparing my thighs to the girl next to me. And I always felt that my thighs were bigger. I have no idea where the idea that thin thighs were more desirable, but there you go it was in my head. I remember asking my mum – why do I have fat thighs.  And she said “the body stores fat in case you get ill and it needs the energy”
  • I remember when I was about 12 years old and another child commented on how skinny my arms were – I noticed that it felt good to be told I had skinny arms

So by a teen I had a sense of loathing for my body, wanting my legs to be skinny, my boobs to be bigger, my stomach flatter. And I had terrible acne on top of this (from the age of 11 to 30!!). I look back at my younger self and feel so much compassion for her.  If I could whisper something in her ear it would be “You are beautiful and perfect and unique. Relax my love.”

Emotional Eating and Diet Culture

We unfortunately had physical and verbal abuse in my family from my father, so that made our household very stressful indeed.  My mum did a wonderful job cooking for us all (I had 5 siblings) and we always had vegetables, most days at least, with our dinner.  And fruit at lunch.  There was also always dessert (remember Angel Delight?) and lots of baking – apple pies (with apples from our won garden), lemon meringue pie, Eve’s pudding, jam tarts, fairy cakes.  As I moved into my later teens, I think there was definitely a lot of emotional eating going on to cope with the intense home environment and constant criticism from my dad, as well as just your general teenage angst.

Then around 15-years old I went on my first “calorie controlled diet”.  Ryvita was marketed as a diet food back then and when you collected tokens from their packets you got yourself your very own calorie counter.  I think this was one of the worst steps that led to a very bad relationship with food – going on a calorie controlled diet.  And I did make myself sick a few times during this period after eating food that was not deemed “good” or low calorie enough.  Fortunately this did not become a regular habit.

Healing my relationship with my body through art and self-compassion

The turning point for me in improving my relationship with my body and starting to love myself was when I was studying at university.  I started to get books out of the library on Renaissance art – and here I was exposed to more diversity in body shape and sizes and all these images of women letting it all hang out with confidence, no matter what their size.  It was LIBERATING! This exposure to more body diversity really gave me an appreciation for all body sizes and I started to feel more confident in myself.

Now at 48, I am more confident than ever and feeling very much at ease with myself, which I think definitely comes with age.  I think another key factor in healing my relationship with my body was the practice of self-compassion.  And more specifically recognising my inner critic and cultivating a kinder inner dialogue towards myself.

Healing my body with Whole Foods

At 30-years old, I had had enough of my acne and finding no answer in allopathic medicine (I did not want to take Roaccutane and risk damaging my liver). I thought there must be another answer.  So I started to study nutritional therapy.  Within 6-months of starting my studies, I was acne free and it never returned.  So I ended up studying a 3-year Nutritional Therapy diploma with the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) graduating in 2012. I learned all about the healing nature of whole foods and qualified as a Nutritional Therapist to share this knowledge and help others looking for guidance with their food choices.

Healing my relationship with food through Mindful Eating

Then finally in 2020 I qualified as an MB-EAT instructor through the Mindful Eating Training Institute (METI) and not only did this qualification complete my skills – it was also the final piece in the puzzle for healing my own relationship with food.  While I was eating in a more balanced way since studying nutrition, I still classified foods as good and bad which led to a sense of guilt around certain foods.  I was also still using food for comfort and emotional eating which would lead to overeating or “binging” on “bad” foods, which would then lead to a guilty feeling and banning certain foods or going on a cleanse or a fast to compensate.  A vicious and endless cycle.

How did Mindful Eating heal my relationship with food?

  • Making peace with food was the biggest shift – food is neutral, there is no good or bad food. I prefer the terms “whole foods” and “play foods”. This allows me to enjoy all foods without guilt and removes the charge of “forbidden” or “bad” foods – so I can consider what I really feel like eating
  • Reconnecting with and trusting my body again – honouring my hunger, feeling my fullness, recognising the difference between physical and emotional hunger
  • Self-care and self-compassion when dealing with stress or challenging emotions – exploring alternative ways to deal with my emotions other than food (although knowing that it is always my choice to eat for comfort – just doing so consciously)

Interested in finding out more about Mindful Eating or Nutritional Therapy Coaching?

Perhaps some of my story resonates with you, or perhaps you have a completely unique experience with your relationship with food and your body.  Wherever you are on our journey please do reach out if you would like to explore how I can help you through Mindful Eating or Nutritional Therapy coaching.  You can book a free 15-minute discovery call to find out more.

 

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