Eating Consciously

Hi Everyone, hope you’re ace.

I’m still up to my pecs in book-writing, so today I thought I’d share a minor re-write of something that resonated with many (many, many) of our readers the first time around. Even if you’ve read it, I think it warrants a re-run as it’s still very relevant for many of us. Enjoy your weekend. :)


For many of the people that I’ve mentored, coached, educated and worked with over the last three decades (yep, that old), their biggest day-to-day challenge has been managing their food intake in a healthy, intelligent and responsible manner. On a practical, emotional and psychological level, it’s also been one of my biggest challenges over the years. If you happen to ‘live’ somewhere on the scale between disordered eating and eating disorder, then this post is for you.

It might be time to pay attention.

While I don’t have an eating disorder (as such), it’s fair to say that my eating has been disordered from time to time over my journey. Especially when I was a fat teenager. Who became an obsessive skinny teenager. Who became an obsessive bodybuilder in his late teens and early twenties.

What issues?

Knowing Isn’t Doing

Sure, I might seem mild-mannered, measured and disciplined from the outside but not too far below the surface lives an eating machine that’s capable of caloric suicide and dietary behaviours which belie my alleged intelligence and knowledge. Of course, I keep that guy in check most of the time, but we all understand that knowing isn’t doing so even somebody like me still has to work at being a conscious eater. Being an exercise scientist and gym owner doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to make stupid, irrational or irresponsible decisions. Or to eat my own bodyweight in cheesecake.

When nobody is watching, of course.

Nutritional Dysfunction

Many of us eat unconsciously. We eat on autopilot. We eat what we don’t need. Every day. And then we (strangely) wonder how we got fat. And unhealthy. We eat processed crap. We eat socially. We eat because it’s expected. Because it’s there. Because it’s free (wouldn’t want to waste anything). We eat emotionally. Reactively. We reward ourselves with food. And our children too. Sometimes we bribe (motivate, manipulate, control) our kids with food. “If you do… (insert task)… I’ll take you to McDonalds for dinner”. Awesome parenting! We fantasise about food. Lie about it. We eat to ease the pain. To give ourselves instant physical pleasure. To numb out. To escape. To fit in. To forget.

And then when we’re finished, we hate ourselves all over again. Until the next episode.

And the cycle continues.

So, what is Conscious Eating?

“Conscious eating is giving our body the nutrition it needs for optimal health, function and energy; nothing more or less.”

Simple huh? In theory anyway. If only we lived in the theory; we’d all be freakin’ amazing. So, what’s the most conscious and responsible question you and I can ask in relation to our eating habits?

“Why am I eating this?”

If our answer is not “because I need it” then we’re eating unconsciously. Irresponsibly. Emotionally. When we eat consciously, our body, mind and emotions are all working in harmony.

Drug of Choice

For many people, food has become their drug of choice. Their medication. Their refuge. And don’t think I’m being melodramatic when I use the term drug. Food is indeed mood altering. It can produce high highs and low lows. It can be addictive and destructive. Over time, we might need more of it to produce the same ‘high’ or feeling. It affects our nervous system. And our endocrine system. Like other drugs, it produces biochemical changes. Emotional changes. Psychological changes. It can be both life-enhancing and life-destroying. When it comes to food, sometimes the gap between ‘use’ and ‘abuse’ is relatively small.

The Psychology of Overeating

Many of us were raised in a situation (environment, mindset, pattern) where eating food that we didn’t physically need was rationalised, explained, justified and even expected. The fact that we weren’t necessarily hungry or requiring food was irrelevant. We often ate because that’s what the situation, circumstance or moment dictated. And when we didn’t eat (the food we didn’t need) we were criticised.

“Don’t you dare leave anything on your plate.”

No wonder we have food issues.

Many of us were trained to celebrate with excessive eating. That is, disordered eating. We were taught to overeat on certain occasions. It was the rule. Still is. Christmas, birthdays, reunions, anniversaries, engagements, New Year and Easter were (are) all legitimate times to abuse our bodies with food. Apparently. We were encouraged to over-ride the ‘full’ signal. To ignore what our body was telling us. To unbutton our pants and keep eating.

Such an intelligent species.

Justifiable Gluttony

I’m still amazed at how many people become defensive, emotional and even angry in my presentations, when I suggest that none of us need to overeat on Christmas day (for example). Amazingly, it’s actually possible to have a great day, maybe even a better day, without having to gorge ourselves on food that our body doesn’t need in order to reach some kind of caloric nirvana. Apparently, some people can’t celebrate that way. The date on the calendar determines the behaviour. The notion of avoiding excess calories seems almost irrational to them. This is simply another easy-to-understand example of the dysfunctional attitudes, beliefs and expectations that so many of us have around food.

Conscious eating is about reconnecting with our body. It’s about stopping the abuse. The lies. The excuses. It’s about slowing down. It’s about paying attention. It’s about honouring and respecting the gift that is our body. I’m not really an affirmation kinda guy (no shit Sherlock) but when it comes to this issue, I’ll make an exception.

Here’s something you might want to copy and put on your fridge (pantry, forehead) for a month or ten.

  • I will not eat food I don’t need.
  • I will not reward myself with food.
  • I will not medicate with food.
  • I will not allow situations, circumstances or other people to influence or dictate the way I eat.
  • I will not rationalise poor eating.
  • I will not be a food martyr; I will simply do what I need to.
  • I will not lie to myself or others about my eating behaviours.
  • I will not eat in secret.
  • I will not repeat the mistakes of my past.
  • I will not allow my mind or emotions to sabotage my physical potential.

I will eat consciously. :)

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm

OO OO OO OO! Mr Harper sir! I have my hand up for this one! :P

Rewarding with food? This is the thing we see daily and what we were brought up on and then visited it onto our own kids, who are doing it to our grandchildren.
“Mummy, I want a chocolate!”
“If you’re good, Craigy.”
“OK – stuff this in your mouth because it will shut you up!”

Or these little anicdotes:
If you’re good I’ll take you to Maccas.
If the team wins I’ll take you all to Maccas.
If you’re quiet I’ll buy you an icecream.

What happened to non-food related rewards?
Want some for the kiddies?
If you’re good I’ll take you to the park, cinema, zoo or play with you out in the yard etc
And a couple for adult individuals:
* Compliment yourself. What would you say to a buddy or friend who had done well achieving something? Look in your mirror and count your blessings even if you write that the sun is shining or that your hair is nice today.
* Create a trophy and engrave it.
* Send yourself your own certificate and print it out.
* Take a break away from what you would normally be doing whether this means delegating to someone else or literally going on a short walk or even a day out window shopping.
* Have a ‘rest day’.
* Have a bubble bath with the door locked. (Vaseline the handle if you have to :) )
* Put $1 or more in a jar every time you meet a goal. When you meet a big goal, take it out and indulge yourself.
* Make a scrapbook, and keep photos of milestones reached, special quotes, and any other thing that you’ve ‘earned’ along the way from this point in time. This can include emails where someone has given you a pat on the back – print them out and stick them in!
* Go to the movies on a coupon.
* Wrap some small things (earrings, soap, powder, candles, money etc) separately and put them in a nice box. When you reach a goal, reach in and get a reward!
* Buy yourself a gift certificate.
* Do something outside. Gardening, sitting in the sun etc.
* Buy something for your hobby.
* Get out the calendar and block out one full day for you and what you want to do instead of having to do.
* Make and fly a kite. Google how to do it with sticks, paper, and string or wool.

What other things can you come up with that isn’t food related but a reward that you would like?
I hope this helps someone.
Love to all who keep slogging at it and chipping away day by day. We’re all in the same boat and paddling downstream now.
Suu xxoo


Dave October 12, 2012 at 7:10 am

Great post Suu; very helpful indeed.


Maylene October 13, 2012 at 8:01 am

That’s great Sue.


side show bob October 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm

i luv this so relevant to me atm, i am gonna attempt to print this 2morrow and discuss with my fantastic dietician :) … ‘managing their food intake in a healthy intelligent and responsible manner’ such a nice sentence 4 us fatties! Hey everyone consider adding david elnore smith aka the 40 stone virgin on fb he lost oua 150 kg had the skin removed had been on worldwide tv at goal weight, then regained it all as well as that he was on wordwide tv and now is starting again, the poor dude,.chris powell from extreme makeover weight loss edition fame was his pt david is a qualified personal trainer himself too, his gf left him i think and i reckon he’d need support at this time when he needs to start again x ,


Anonymous October 12, 2012 at 4:10 am

Hope the writing’s going well. Food is something I’ve not yet got the hang of – to be honest I’d given up trying. This post has started me thinking about trying again.


Dave October 12, 2012 at 4:17 am

Hi Craig,
Today’s message is specifically what I needed; thanks. After being committed to my health for nearly six months and becoming fitter and leaner than I have been for over thirty years, I have reached a weight plateau. Consequently during the past few weeks,I have reached a stage where old habits have began to manifest and have been eating too much of the wrong things.
Thanks for the reminder….


Suu October 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

G’day Dave
Have you thought about changing things around? Like having a main meal at lunch? Or maybe your exercise routine can be done at a different time or shake up something else?
6 weeks is commendable so keep on keeping on


Peg October 12, 2012 at 4:20 am

Thanx, Craig –

This is exactly what I needed to hear/see/absorb. The mantra’s going up on my fridge right now.


Linda October 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

Gold !! Putting that on the fridge and sharing it with my friends, thanks craig


Kirstie October 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

Thanks for the re-share Craig. Love it and so relevant. Printing it out for home :)


Leanne October 12, 2012 at 9:44 am

So true. As a child I was told “finish all your food. think of the poor african children starving to death”. Wonder why I have food issues??


Suu October 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

Ditto Leanne :)


Gayle October 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

Thanks for putting this up again. Printed and on the front of my fridge and also pic taken and sent to my phone for when I’m out to remind myself.


Jacqui October 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm

My thoughts were always…ok 1 more Cherry Ripe or 1 more packet of Corn Chips or Cheesecake will be my last one…then I wont have them ever again. Pfft….that never worked. What I do know is there will always be a million cherry ripes, corn chips, cheesecake available for the rest of my life. I can go to the supermarket or 7 Eleven 24hrs a day 7 days a week to get it. The truth is I have been known to eat 2 Cherry Ripes at one sitting (hiding head in shame) but it is never enough. Sure I feel mighty sick and bloated but the feeling that I had to have it to satisfy something is still there but I am left with feelings of guilt & shame…and all the other awful emotions that come with it. I have worked out I used to do it so my body felt the same way to how I was feeling emotionally. It kind of made me feel matched up. Sounds strange but it is the only way to explain it.

I am conscious of my eating now and even though I have the odd mouthful of not so good food, I am not bingeing anymore and haven’t done for some months now. I feel like the old tortoise…slow & steady wins the race. I will get there…one step at a time and thank goodness finally that self loathing that came with eating like I was is gone.

Thanks for a great website Craig and the time you give to us putting out posts. Your no bull attitude is fantastic.


Erica October 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Why is there no share on facebook button.. only a like?


chebbieanne October 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm

The most useful thing a certain well known, gym owning, PT, exercise scientist and generally way cool in a hot sort of way guy ever told me to do was start a food diary. I can do that I thought!My mind and body are a universe apart when it comes to efficient eating. Being a bit of an all or nothing sort of consumer my diary is now my moderator. I can reflect on what I have eaten, remind myself what I need to eat, see what effect my intake and output have on my body and hopefully use the information to learn better body management. I know I have energy balance dysfunction. How I learned it doesn’t matter really but learning how to manage it matters heaps.


Anonymous October 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Great Post!
I have never been someone who feels the need to finish everything on my plate simply because my mother never made us. She always believed that we should try everything but stop eating when we were happy and ‘full’. We weren’t given junk food or treats unless it was our birthday, guests, Christmas etc. Strangely I have continued to eat like that right into adulthood. Our upbringing makes such a big difference to the way we view food as an adult.


Natalie October 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Let me enlighten you about a woman I know who eats, and overeats and justifies her behaviour when it comes to food.
My Mother.

I have no doubt in my mind that My Mother never says to herself “Why am I eating this?” and as a result of this, she is Morbidly Obese+. A 65 year old woman who waddles side to side to the letter box and who is breathless in the process. A woman who cannot cut her own toe-nails,or play on the floor with her 1st grandchild. A woman who should be enjoying her retirement and cannot. Why? because she abuses food.

As a result of her gluttony, her mobility has deteriorated and she is restricted to what she can and can’t do in her life.

She is an example of someone who is eating Unconsciously, Irresponsibly and Emotionally.

I have challenged her about her unhealthy eating habits and the response I get ” I might as well eat everything while I can now, because when I’m in a nursing home I cannot eat what I want and when I’m dead its too late”

My response, don’t worry about getting to the nursing home, you won’t wont make it there because you’re eating yourself to an early grave first.

Is this the type of role model you want to be to your children?


Maylene October 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

Thanks Craig,
At last someone who recognises the addiction. That’s going on the fridge.


Elena October 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

Simple: thank you for the awakening.


Trolley Wife October 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

Great post Craig. I think we need to understand the addictive nature of some food in particular, and maybe different food with different peops too. Can you though, a some point address how to become non addicted, spell it out so to speak.I really believe it just is not will power or sticking those great words up on the fridge, although I am sure that can really help.
Like hard drugs we can steer clear of those foods that trigger this over eating response. Unlike hard drugs we cannot steer clear of all food in general


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