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Starved and stuffed? How mindfulness and spirituality can help improve your relationship with food Print

calgary_HeraldWe are a nation that is both stuffed and starved. We are surrounded by fast food, “all you can eat” buffets, calorie-laden convenience foods and portion distortion. At the same time, we are obsessed with dieting, underweight fashion models, gimmicks and the “latest and greatest” cure-all health books.

We live in a culture that is ironically saying, “Eat … but don’t eat” and as a result we are getting unhealthier and more disordered in our relationship with food and our bodies.

I am privileged to work with registered dietitian Richelle Tabelon who not only has over a decade of experience in nutrition education, but also has volunteered in West Africa and served in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve for over 10 years. Despite a very full schedule as a working mom of three young boys, Tabelon is “calm within chaos,” which she says comes from her deep roots in spirituality. Tabelon is known for her comprehensive approach to nutrition education that focuses on physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Richelle Tabelon Calgary HeraldNutrition has become so political and controversial that often people don’t know what or how to eat,” says Tabelon. She goes on to say, “we should be eating for nourishment, enjoyment and social reasons, but it seems more and more people are struggling with food obsession, dieting cycles, poor eating habits and emotional eating.”

This not only affects ourselves personally, but Tabelon believes the more critical concern is the influence on our children since children learn what they live.

“Many parenting books discuss how parent’s behaviour affects children’s development. However, a major oversight is talking about the effect of parent’s body image, nutrition beliefs, food rules and dieting behaviours. In our practice it is very common to see young eating disorder clients or overweight kids that have parents that struggle with food, body image and weight concerns.”

What is normal eating?

Although defining normal eating sounds simple, in reality it is hard to define and even more complicated to put into action. Tabelon suggests normal eating could be defined as a balance of regularity, variety, flexibility and enjoyment. I like to say that eating fully is about eating both healthfully and soulfully. One of the best longer descriptions of normal eating is by author Ellyn Satter, which is a must-read.

How can we improve our relationship with food?

Richelle Tabelon“In practice we always look at what to eat for proper nutrition and good health but I often spend even more time on how to eat because this is where I find clients struggle more with making sustainable positive changes,” says Tabelon. Mindfulness and spirituality are two of the tools that can be useful in improving an overall positive relationship with food and your body.

Mindful eating is an awareness and response to hunger and fullness so that we eat enough to be satisfied and nourished,” says Tabelon. Research shows that mindful eating can help with weight management, diabetes symptoms, eating disorder recovery and overall body image and size acceptance. Tabelon emphasizes that developing spirituality can help increase resiliency, self-love, acceptance and help define self-worth and life purpose. She also suggests “spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation can help in coping with stress and anxiety and therefore be a way to nurture ourselves without food.”

In practice there are dozens of ways to help improve your relationships with food and your body, but here is what Tabelon and I came up with as our top tips:

10 ways to improve your relationship with food

1. Ditch dieting for good. Recycle diet books. Do an electronic purge of any blogs, social media sites and information that focuses on dieting and perfectionism.

2. Food and feel journal. Awareness is key to making changes. Jot down what you are eating and more importantly why.

3. Ditch Distractions. When eating, only eat. Eat away from the TV, phone and computer. Eat at a table and minimize how often you eat at your desk, while driving and sitting on the couch.

4. Keep perspective. Food plays an important role in our lives, but it shouldn’t be the focus. Inflexibility and unnecessary rules will lead to isolation and anxiety. Avoid all or none thinking. Restricting leads to deprivation and often overeating or bingeing.

5. Select some healthy mantras. Eat fully, both mindfully and soulfully. Slow down, listen and trust. My body is strong and wise. My weight is not my worth. What do I really need?

6. Accept. Learn to accept your body (it doesn’t mean you have to love it). Focus on improving health not the number on the scale. Celebrate your curves.

7. Slow down and savour. When you slow down the pace of eating and savour each bite, food is always more satisfying.

8. Refuse to stuff and starve emotion with food. Talk to your family, a friend, dietitian, therapist or spiritual guide. Nurture yourself without using food.

9. Seek professional help. Never underestimate what you can learn from qualified help. A psychologist is like a rear-view mirror in the car to show you the things you can’t see.

10. Be still. Give yourself a time out. Through quiet reflection, meditation and prayer you can nurture yourself without using food inappropriately.

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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