When people find out I’m a dietitian/nutritionist, people often assume right away that all I offer are meal plans. While this IS sometimes true, my real work with clients in their journey to healthy eating is focused much more on the thought processes in our mindset that drive our behaviours, more than simply on nutrition knowledge.

Mindset and Mindfulness

The thoughts in our heads – our “self-talk” – has a huge influence on how we feel, how we behave, and the decisions we make! While this concept is so important, it is almost always overlooked when it comes to nutrition.

We often focus on the surface of what we are doing – eating cake, exercising (or not), skipping meals. Why do we believe that this will help us achieve a “sustainable healthier lifestyle” in our daily food choices?

It sort of made sense, when I thought about it – not only do we know ourselves best, we are also our own worst critics. Plus, nobody can lay on a guilt trip like our own psyches!

That said, we are also our own best motivators. We know what we like and what we don’t like. And whether we admit it or not, we also tend to instinctively know when a certain “diet plan” is not a good fit for our individual lifestyles and attitudes. This is why we want to shift the emphasis away from external cues like “meal plans” and begin to tune into our bodies’ inner wisdom to guide our decision making around food.

What if we first focused on our mindset and on our thought processes? What if we mentally moved past the self-criticisms and self-imposed guilt trips and started concentrating on realistic approaches to health and wellness?

“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on”. Dr. Brian Wansink, Food behavior and Psychology Professor, Cornell University

How to move past automatic negative thoughts and linear thinking:

“If I have even a taste of this cake, all hell breaks loose, I’ll eat the whole darn thing. I’ll gain weight and no one will love me.”

Does that sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many times a client has described statements like that to me! It hurts so much to know that thoughts like these are pervasive in our society!

The example above is what’s called an “automatic negative thought”, which is a form of “linear thinking”. If you’ve been on even just a single diet, you know that expectations go in one straight line. There’s a starting weight, a goal weight, with nothing in between.

Here’s the problem with linear thinking – we tend to tie our own self-worth to the perceived success of staying on this line. While the example might seem effective by preventing you from eating that dessert today, the self-criticism that comes with this thought process often results in guilt-ridden frustration and low self-esteem.

Over time, this rigid self-imposed deprivation can easily lead you to give up and “give in” and beat yourself up for a perceived lack of “willpower” when inevitably faced with a piece of cake.  (Plus, what kind of life is it without your favourite treat!?)

It’s all about sustainability…

Linear thinking about nutrition and food choices is not a sustainable way of achieving our nutritional goals! Linear thinking is more external in its focus on how others perceive you instead of how you feel about yourself and it bases food decisions on the fear of negative results. This is a recipe for disaster.

Instead, let’s strive to eat for the enjoyment of food, taking care of your body, feeling more energy and for the sake of a more fulfilling life. Wouldn’t it be so much more satisfying to enjoy an occasional treat guilt-free, and enjoy every single bite of it?

Free Your Mind and Body Image with Process Thinking

Remember, we’ve cognitively trained our minds to think these automatic thoughts in our heads countless thousands of times! So, it takes real work and effort to begin re-framing them into more positive ones!

Process thinking emphasizes the journey, preparation and practice over outcomes or results. This involves replacing the negative thoughts we have about ourselves with more positive, present reality-based perspectives.

Making food choices based on process thinking fundamentally shifts our attitudes towards thinking about food in its own right. Adopting a process thinking approach to our nutrition choices re-focuses our minds to the present. It encourages us to consider the foods we’re eating now, not the fears we all have about what some foods may (or may not) do to our future body images. Process thinking gets us to think about food in the context of the here and now. We must understand why is it we want something, and if this food will serve our “why” and needs. This, is a core concept behind Intuitive Eating, but we’ll get to that in a separate blog 🙂

In simpler terms, process thinking fosters intuition in mindful eating. A process thinking-led approach to intuitive eating is a way more sustainable attitude. Adopting this nutrition strategy will have each and every one of us feeling satisfied in eating great!

Want to know more about taking the process thinking approach to your food choices? Learn more about our intuitive eating programs or get in touch here!

– Written by Calgary dietitian Evelyn Cheng, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor.

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