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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