Listening to your body can help you have a healthier relationship with food and can help you feel better mentally and physically.
The benefits of mindful eating
Manage cancer treatment side effects
“If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you want to listen to your body,” says Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “If your body is lacking in something, it may have cravings, like more fluids or saltier foods.”
She also recommends paying attention to which foods make you feel good and which ones make you feel worse, particularly if you’re in active cancer treatment.
“If you’re going through chemotherapy, you may have side effects like constipation or nausea,” she says. “If you continue to eat higher fat or fried foods, that may worsen your symptoms or cause an inflammatory response in your body.”
Recognize food allergies and intolerances
“A lot of us have intolerances and allergies to foods, so it’s important to pay attention to how foods make us feel,” says Tolbert. “If you’re eating a certain type of food and not feeling well, that’s a sign you may need to eliminate it from your diet.”
Help your body function at its best
Considering how foods make you feel can help you give your body what it needs to function at its best. You may notice you have more energy after certain meals than others.
“Eating foods high in fat may trigger reflux or make you feel tired,” says Tolbert. “If you don’t listen to that, you could be causing damage to your body. The body may experience an inflammatory process, which could lead to chronic diseases and damage.”
For example, if you have reflux and keep eating foods that trigger it, that could cause damage to your esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.
Mindful eating tips
Now that you know the benefits, how do you go about eating in a more mindful way? Here are some tips.
Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues
Learning your body’s hunger and fullness signals is essential to honoring your health and giving your body what it needs. If you’re hungry, you may notice your stomach rumbling or you may feel tired or cranky. If you’re thirsty, you may feel lethargic or notice that your mouth feels dry.
It’s also helpful to pay attention to your fullness cues. Ideally, you want to stop eating when you’re satisfied, but not uncomfortably full. It can take time to learn when this point is for you. Aim to stop eating when you’re about 80% full.
Be present during meals
Start by minimizing or eliminating distractions during mealtimes. Avoid reading, texting, scrolling or watching television while you eat. Instead, eat slowly and focus on the flavors and textures of your food so you can really enjoy it.
“You can feel full just by the act of eating food, but you also need to be satisfied and have that mental sensation,” she says. “If you don’t have both, you’re going to be more apt to keep eating just to feel that mental sensation.”
Ditch the dieting mindset
Tolbert says labeling foods as “good” or “bad” can be hurtful.
“That mindset sets you up for depriving yourself or bingeing,” she says. “When you say something is good or bad, you’ll associate the ‘bad’ food with guilt or shame. All foods provide something for your body, whether it’s calories or certain nutrients. If it’s something that’s not as nutritious, just try to keep moderation in mind.”
Honor your cravings
Finally, it’s OK to indulge in cravings from time to time, says Tolbert.
“You’re more apt to stick with healthy eating if you take a balanced approach,” she says. “I love cookies, frosting and cake. If someone has cake, I’m going to eat it. But I don’t eat it every day. If you deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy, you’re more apt to binge and overindulge. You can have whatever you want as long as you keep moderation in place.”
Check out more nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.