Hello Mindful Eating Family!
Hello and welcome to the 30-Day Mindful Eating Challenge! I couldn’t be more excited about the journey you are about to take with my Mindful Eating Challenge. It has taken me years to culminate and create this challenge into an effective, teachable online format to help you and others who find themselves in a complicated relationship with food. Let me just give you a bit of hope - you can totally change your relationship with food and see a profound change in 30 days. And just like diets, exercise or other changes all in the name of health, your personal results will depend on your commitment level.
But before I get started with all the Challenge details, let me introduce myself for those of you who don’t already know me. My name is Jennifer Hnat, pronounced NOT, as in “not what you think” and I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Before I became a dietitian who practices and teaches mindful eating, I struggled with an abusive cycle of chronic yo-yo dieting, punishing exercise, and negative body image. So yes, I can definitely relate to the fierce food struggle you are likely engaged in. I had a torrid and secretive love affair with sugar for almost three decades. The struggle is real and can feel like an overwhelming battle no matter what your “weight” is because one of the biggest obstacle to overcome is that nasty voice in your head (Ariana Huffington lovingly refers to as her “roommate”).
Which is why developing mindfulness is a valuable gift, if you are brave and willing to sit with your current beliefs and programming and not only make peace with that voice, but reframe your thought process around your food choices, eating habits and body image without judgment or expectation. I realize that may seem like a big ask. But if you are frustrated with how you interact with food, how you talk to yourself and your body, you owe it to yourself to explore this concept of mindful eating.
Ask yourself, "Can I fully commit to giving this challenge my full-time attention and effort at meals and snacks for the next 30 days?" I can promise you, after guiding client after client, then group after group through mindful eating challenges, it is not like any other “challenge” on social media or quite frankly anywhere. This 30-Day Mindful Eating Challenge requires a daily commitment and mental fortitude. This challenge is for people who won’t drop out when it gets tough. It’s going to get tough. You’re going to fail (that's a learning opportunity!). And you will connect to and learn more about yourself. About WHY you eat when you are not hungry. The beauty is that the struggles, the failure, the suffering is temporary and a catalyst for the true magic and transformation to happen.
Where did the food struggle come from? We all know it’s not about the food most of the time. Food can be a crutch to cope with the overwhelming emotions and feelings of shame, fear, anger, unworthiness, resentment, anxiety, disappointment, boredom, loneliness, stress - fill in the blank. Our emotions are in the driver’s seat causing us to default to our emotional cravings, old habits and less than optimal behaviors. Food just fills in the blank. Fills the void. Fills the space. Allows us to check out so we don’t have to deal with and process the feelings, at least temporarily.
But then the emotions start to compound, our eating habits get out of control, we gain weight, perhaps a significant amount, and we lose sight of a healthy relationship with food. We feel hopeless; I remember the feeling well. And quite honestly, I never saw a way out. Stuck in an unhealthy relationship with my body and food for decades, I assumed it would eventually end but I never knew how to make that happen. Then this concept of mindfulness finally started to sink in and it was like the clouds lifted and I could start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back I wouldn’t change my path because I learned SO much and I've realized that I am always, exactly where I am supposed to be. Remember that during your struggle times too. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. It doesn't mean you have to like it or can't use it as an opportunity to change, but always just embrace where you are without any judgment.
The bottom line is, we know better, right? We all know that we need to eat more fiber- and nutrient-rich veggies and fruit, eat less junky foods, drink more water, move our body daily, turn off the electronics and get to bed earlier. Problem is knowing better isn’t always doing better. You have to live like you know what you know. So what does that mean exactly? Well, if you know you need to eat more veggies, you have to physically consume more veggies. That’s living like you know what you know. If you know you need to drink more water because perhaps you struggle with constipation or dehydration, then you physically have to drink more water each and every day. That’s living like you know what you know. But in order to do that, you also have to identify the emotions, the triggers, the feelings that are causing you to avoid living like you know and turning to food (or other substance) to cope with and numb the pain, the discomfort, the ickiness. To stuff down the feelings you don’t want to feel. And what do a lot of us do when we don't want to feel? We run to the pantry, the refrigerator, into the loving arms of food.
Food will never ever solve the problem.
Food can be a temporary detour from the pain, and easy distraction, but ultimately it causes more. How ironic that we default to the quick and easy solution which really creates our biggest struggle. But the way I see it... a wonderful opportunity for massive growth and change if you are ready and willing to make the effort, dig deep and do the work!
So let’s take a step back -what’s been holding you back? Why are you not living like you know what you know? With all the internet information, books, magazines, family and friends on a diet, all the information and best intentions, swearing on people’s graves, people can fail after losing weight from dieting and go back to the habits that got them in trouble in the first place. How is that possible and why does it happen?
I firmly believe that it is from a lack of MINDFULNESS.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment. It is a day in and day out practice where you focus on what is happening inside, outside and all around you without judgement or expectation. It is a powerful yet invisible process of becoming more aware and is the only way to explore the depth of your human spirit. If you don’t practice mindfulness, you don’t get good at it. So this is a crucial mental wellness tool to incorporate into your daily life to set you free. You can start with just paying attention to the quality of your breath.
Mindfulness and awareness is a deep dive and connection to yourself. To your mental thoughts, that dialog between your ears. To the emotions that drive behaviors. Especially behaviors with food. With your thoughts. With physical activity. With hydration. With sleep. With stress management. Mindfulness is the only way to replace a current habit of using food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex, shopping, gambling and any other addictive behavior to soothe and pacify the dissatisfaction, the disappointment, the stress, the anxiety, the loneliness, the fill in the blank yucky emotion in our life. Mindfulness is the answer you have been searching for without knowing it.
I realize it sounds like a simple concept. It is. And some of the most simple practices can also be the most challenging to implement. Initially, anyway. Because you are going to start to understand WHY you do the things you do, without that judgy inner critic. Without expectation. Without beating yourself up for making your decisions. You are going to reconnect with some feelings you might not want to experience. That's part of the process to heal. But you won’t have the familiar comfort of food to run to (unless you want to and that is your journey). However, it might not work the same because now your level of awareness will be elevated. Shining a light on your behaviors is not always a welcomed process. But the truth, your truth, reconnecting with the real you, all of it, will set you free. By coming face to face with your habits in a non-judgmental way and understanding why you do what you do, you will create the space to wipe the slate clean and lay down the groundwork for personal positive changes. For what you want. And then the real healing can happen. You can actually have a healthier relationship with all food. That’s right, I said ALL food. You can eat what you want, without guilt, shame or blame. It takes time, but you can absolutely have a totally different and non-judgmental experience with the food you eat.
Modern science has found that mindfulness is incredible for change and growth. And after working with this concept of awareness, consciousness or mindfulness for several years, especially when it comes to food, I was inspired to create a 30-day Mindful Eating Challenge. The results that clients experienced, reconnecting to what, when, how and more importantly, why they are eating, is nothing short of life-changing. They ate what they wanted, without judgement or expectation, and felt content. They connected the emotional dots to their feelings and food, and healed some wounds of the past. They were able to become aware of how they were abusing food and easily stop any harmful patterns. They learned to nourish their body instead of punishing it, and then getting frustrated with themselves. They learned to evolve their relationship with food which evolved their relationship with their bodies, family, friends and loved ones. They showed up, did the work, and made the commitment to really put forth the effort during the challenge so they could free themselves from their personal food prison. Some even lost weight without even trying, dieting or feeling deprived (ps: this is not and should not be your goal, because if it doesn’t happen then you are disappointed -- once you start eating in a way that is aligned with your body’s needs, it can happen but can also depend on your metabolism, sleep and stress levels).
Now some participants were not ready and/or willing to do the work when it got hard. I get it. They just wanted join and be part of the “challenge” - part of the excitement of something new and interesting in hopes of losing weight. Be told what to do without having to do the actual hard WORK. And they dropped out halfway through the program because perhaps the timing was not right for them or it just got too hard to face their food demons. No judgement, it’s all about timing. And they looped back around when it was a better time. However, the others who were committed, made the effort and then some, made the challenge their priority, no excuses, they had some serious “ah-ha” personal experiences. The shifts I witnessed with the willing participants were so rewarding that it finally hit me, I need to create a 37-Day Mindful Eating Challenge Intensive to continue the mindful eating journey!
So as a Mindful Eating Family member, here is what will help you have a positive experience... to have a clear head through this 30-day process (and ideally beyond). Ask yourself, “can I commit to this part of the challenge at this time because of that requirement?” This process is going to expose your food habits and struggles (yikes, I know) and allow the healing to begin in a very loving and non-judgemental way. Hangovers and unbalanced metabolic systems make it more difficult to develop mindful skills. Trust me, I’ve tried and it just does not work. Being fully present and in a balanced state of mind is the best way for you to tackle this challenge, to end your food struggle, and stop wasting so much time dieting and dealing with food cravings. Stop the insanity of the emotional and mental struggles while allowing the space and freedom to start to build a healthier relationship with food and leading your dream life!
Mindfulness is not something that is created overnight and it takes daily practice and willingness to become habit. If you can see it as a fun journey to reconnect with your essence, then you can actually enjoy the process! Especially when you are aware of the profound personal shifts that can take place. For me to say I can have ice cream sit in the freezer for months without eating it or it tempting me is nothing short of a miracle. Now I can have tempting treats sit on my counter-top without it tempting me. But if I do want to eat anything, I follow my personal mindful eating guidelines. You will create and decide which ones work out which ones work best for you during your challenge. Ten years ago I could not have anything tempting in my house without it taunting me. All. Day. Long. Now I can take it or leave it. If I eat it, I thoroughly enjoy it mindfully, without overindulging, without guilt, judgement, expectation or shame. If I could have looked in a crystal ball years, no decades ago, I never would have believed my future relationship with food and my body. But now that I am here and continue to work with the concept of mindful eating, I am so grateful that I can’t wait to teach it to everyone else. My only regret is I didn’t work with this powerful eating philosophy sooner!
The belief that developing a new habit only takes 21 days is unfortunately, false. New research shows that it takes more than 2 months before a habit becomes automatic. In fact it takes 66 days - which is why I’ve created a 37-day INTENSIVE challenge to tack onto the end of the 30-day Mindful Eating Challenge for those who really want to continue working with their personal momentum, up the ante and create next level healthier habits for life! But let's not get ahead of ourselves! Instead, let’s get started with your 30-Day Mindful Eating Challenge. Take it one day at a time, one challenge at a time, one bite at a time. If you start to fall behind or skip a day or two, that’s okay and quite normal depending on what’s going on in your life. Just pick up where you left off and do the best you can. Some people like to do two challenges at a time to get back on track but the reality is this is YOUR challenge so if you didn’t do the Challenge Day 5 until Day 7 then that’s fine. Some challenges will be easier than others, but remember this is a challenge so make it worth your time and give yourself credit for joining the Mindful Eating Revolution I'm creating!
WELCOME TO THE 30-DAY MINDFUL EATING CHALLENGE! I really appreciate your dedication to giving this 30-day challenge your all and really working this like your livelihood depended on it. In the grand scheme of things, 30-days is a drop in the bucket of time. And speaking of time, the timing couldn’t be better to reset old food beliefs, patterns, thoughts and habits. Because you are ready so take a deep breath, dedicate this time to creating a better version of you and a healthier relationship with food and your body. You are always just one decision away from changing your life and your relationship with food. Remember, you are worth it so let's get started!!!