Mindful Eating – Keep Your Eye On What You Eat

FULL TRANSCRIPT – Season 2, Episode 65

Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to to subscribe.

T.H.: It’s Jess and T.H. here from the exEXPERTS. We’ve got a great topic for you today that’s going to help you with stress and eating. We’re excited to introduce you to Hillary Irwin of Hillary Irwin Nutrition. Hillary is a registered dietician, yoga instructor, kale lover, and mom of two. Welcome, Hillary. We’re so glad you’re joining us today.

Hillary: Thanks for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Jessica: We think this is such an interesting topic, but can you start off–we’re going to be talking today about mindful eating and how it can help reduce stress, which everybody who is getting divorced at any stage is definitely dealing with a lot of stress in their life. What exactly is mindful eating? What does that mean?

Hillary: Mindful eating is being aware of what you’re eating really, as a basic.

So many of us probably go through so many phases where you walk through the kitchen and grab something, or you eat something and you’re not even enjoying it, but you’re eating it anyway. Really being mindful is being aware of every bite that you’re taking, being aware of the food choices that you’re making, and also just enjoying the food that you’re eating. It’s really about self-care and taking time for yourself and just being aware of your choices.

Jessica: So how is that related to stress?

Hillary: It goes a few different ways, I’d say. When people are stressed, they’re often not eating mindfully, and that can go two ways. It can either mean they stop eating completely, because they’re so stressed, and they just can’t eat. And that’s not healthy. Or they’re so stressed that they just make bad choices, and it’s like, I don’t even care. I’m just going to eat whatever’s in front of me. The stress can definitely affect the way that you eat, but the way that you eat can also affect your stress level. And a lot of studies have shown that when you make better choices when you’re taking good care of yourself when you’re eating good foods, and you’re exercising, that you’re just going to feel better in general. And that is going to help bring down your stress level.

Jessica: Right. And I feel like it’s like kind of the common sense that we always hear, right? You just have to take care of yourself. I’m so curious, you said something leading up to this, how there are certain foods that can actually decrease stress? I feel if I’m stressed, I’m going for bread, macaroni, and cheese [Mhm], like all the typical comfort foods [Yeah]. I kind of have a feeling that’s not what you’re talking about.

Hillary: No. [Laughs] But it’s important to talk about that, because I think that’s what most people do. When you’re stressed, you’re not necessarily going for an apple or whole grains, but the choices that you make really do make a difference. Having stable blood sugar can make a difference in your stress levels. If you’re eating things like really simple carbs like in the mac and cheese, white pasta, and white bread, or cookies, or all that good stuff, it’s going to bring your blood sugar up, and then drop it right back down. And that up and down of blood sugar just makes you feel more stressed and doesn’t make you feel good. Whereas if you’re choosing good whole grain breads and whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, all that kind of food that just keeps your blood sugar more stable, that’s going to keep your mood more stable as well. Some other things, maybe not fun to hear, but it’s just reality, is that sugar, alcohol, and caffeine can all really mimic those feelings of anxiety and make you feel even worse. Well, when you’re stressed, you might want to grab a glass of wine and a bag of gummy bears, not your best choice if you really want to take care of yourself. I know it’s not always the easy path, but if you take some time to really think about what’s going to make your body feel better, I promise you, you will just feel better in general.

Jessica: T.H., what do you usually grab when you’re stressed out?

T.H.: Well, I have a question which will answer your question. Does that mean that I can never have a chocolate chip cookie? I can’t have dessert at dinner like banana bread pudding, that kind of thing? Does that mean that I have to eliminate those things from my diet in order to have a mindful eating plan?

Hillary: No, you definitely don’t have to eliminate those things. It’s not about always just eating salad and not having any fun with your food, but that’s also when we come back to that mindfulness. If you’re eating that cookie, because I love this cookie, and I’m hungry for this cookie, and I want to enjoy every bite, then go for the cookie. But if you’re eating the cookie because you’re mad, and you’re annoyed, and you’re just like, I don’t care, I’m going to eat this cookie. Don’t eat the cookie. That’s not the time to eat it. That’s what I mean about being mindful with your choices. It’s fine to have a cookie. You can have a cookie, but if all you’re eating is dessert and sugary foods and that kind of thing, you’re not going to feel good. Your body’s not going to function well. It’s really not going to help with any kind of anxiety or stress. 

T.H.: Having a balanced eating plan, and then you can certainly treat yourself once in a while?

Hillary: Exactly. Exactly.

T.H.: Okay. Does it help to write stuff down? [Yeah] Because sometimes that’s what I do in order to keep track so I don’t get out of control because I could certainly forget the cookie ever existed. And so for me, writing stuff down and also putting it away, because I might actually forget that there are even chocolate chip cookies in my house until I open that freezer drawer, and I’m like, gasp bonus! Cookies!

Hillary: Yes. I would say keeping a food journal is a really, really helpful tool. It’s not something I would say you need to do all the time. The goal here isn’t to make you obsessed with what you’re eating and have that be a whole other stress that you’re adding to yourself. But keeping a journal maybe for a week or so just to see what your actual habits are can be extremely helpful. I know when I have clients that come into my office, and I ask them what do you typically eat, most people give me this perfect plan. It sounds amazing, and I’m like, you don’t need to be here. Because you forget all those little things, that’s part of that mindlessness. You walk through the kitchen and grab a cookie or grab leftovers from your kid’s plate, whatever it is. If you keep a journal, and you literally–I usually say keep it on your phone. Everyone has their phone with them all the time. Pull up a Notes app, and as soon as you put something in your mouth, write it down.

Jessica: Are you writing down your emotions at the same time that you’re trying to keep track of why you’re eating something? Or you just want people to write stuff down so that you, later on, look at it, and you’re more conscious of like oh, these are all the things I ate today.

Hillary: For both reasons. I love when people will add in their emotions, like what’s going on, in their journal, because I think that gives you a lot of information. It can help you realize like oh, my gosh, every time I’m stressed, this is what I do. Then you can figure out a different habit to put in its place. Because whether you’re going through a divorce or any other stressful experience, food and the self-care often fall by the wayside, even though they’re so important. And so finding what your triggers are, and then putting something else in its place, really helps to make a big difference.

Jessica: Oh, go ahead.

Hillary: I was going to say also with the journal, I find that when you’re writing stuff down, that also helps to make you more of a conscious eater and just more mindful, because as soon as you pick something up, you’re like, ugh, I’m going to have to write that down. Then it makes you think about whether or not it’s really worth having, and maybe it is and that’s fine, but it makes you more mindful with your choices.

Jessica: And it definitely makes you more accountable for what you’re eating. And especially if you’re working with someone like you, it’s also like, oh shit. She’s going to see that I ate this. Do I actually even really want her to know? But I’ll be honest with you, someone listening might be like, oh my god, that’s so much work, and now I’ve got to fucking start writing down everything that I’m eating all the time? What do I do if I’m like okay, this is something I want to start doing, journal aside, what am I doing to set myself up for success in my own kitchen? What am I having? What do I need? What do I not need to make it so it’s easy enough that I’m actually going to stick with it?

Hillary: Okay. I think that’s a great question because I agree sometimes adding on that journal is just like another thing that you have to do. The number one thing you can do to start becoming more mindful is drinking more water. It’s really easy to do. Most of us don’t drink enough water, and the water does a lot of great things for your body. But as far as mindfulness goes, if you make yourself drink a big glass of water before you eat any meal or snack, it gives you a moment to just slow down and think about what you’re about to do. So you’re pausing, okay, drinking water is good for my body, do I really now want to go eat a bag of chips? It gives you just a moment to be more mindful. I think that’s really helpful. Another thing that T.H. actually had mentioned earlier, it’s like this out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth. If there are things that you know are going to trigger you and you’re like oh, my gosh, if there are chips in the house, I’m going to eat the entire bag, don’t have that in the house. Or if you have kids in the house, and you want to be able to have things for them, but you don’t want them, maybe find something that they love that doesn’t excite you. Or find things in like smaller packages, because then if you were to open a bag, you’re not going to eat as much because it’s an individual size. It’s really learning what your triggers are with food and then making sure that’s not in the forefront. Put a big bowl of fruit on the counter, keep washed and cut up fruits and vegetables in the fridge in different containers, so that when you’re hungry and you want to grab something, it’s easy to make a healthy choice because it’s already prepared for you.

T.H.: Those food prep programs, like really setting it out, planning your menu for the week, having snacks ready, so dedicate a Sunday or something to do that, or before you go to the grocery store?

Hillary: I think that’s a great idea. I try to do at least once a week to come home, and it can be like whatever day works in your schedule, where you just prep a whole bunch of things. It’s like the kitchen gets really messy once. I will cut up a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I will also roast a ton of different things. I like to keep everything in a separate container in the refrigerator so that you have almost like a salad bar set up in your fridge and not everything tastes exactly the same. So you do a lot of meal prep, maybe like once a week, and then you’re really set up. Because when you’re going through something stressful, and if you’re also dealing with kids, and a lot of other things in your life, to then have to cook another healthy meal can be just another stressor you’re adding onto your plate. If you take some time, once a week, maybe even get the kids involved in helping you out and get a lot of things prepped, it’s just going to bring your stress level down just around the whole idea of eating healthy.

T.H.: I noticed that Hillary did this really cool thing with her kids. Because it’s one thing if you’re alone, and then you shop for yourself, and it’s fine, but the kids want goldfish and the kids can have certain snacks, and then I’m like the cleanup crew. Oh, you’ve left three goldfish. We shouldn’t throw those out. Those should be consumed by me immediately. So Hillary did like a chef’s challenge with her kids and gave them all the ingredients and they had a cook-off. It was a game, which was great. You see all these different online cooking classes and master class and everything now, so,

I don’t know, I thought that was really great.

Jessica: I want to hear. I don’t know anything about this. Hillary, I missed that somehow. Tell me more about it.

Hillary: We’ve done it with a few different things. Some of them were not as healthy as others, but I think, honestly, getting your kids in the kitchen, in whatever capacity you can, is such an awesome thing. The first one we did, this was like the beginning of quarantine and everyone’s going a little crazy, we did like a Black Tap milkshake cook-off.

Jessica: I actually did see that on your Instagram. I saw the results of that.

Hillary: Yes, so I, of course, went to Whole Foods and bought all of the diet, free, organic versions of everything, but it was still ice cream and junky stuff. But it was a lot of fun for them, and it got them excited to cook. And now, even my son who’s almost 12, who really never spent any time in the kitchen, loves making potatoes in the air fryer, and he has his special kind of eggs that he makes all the time. The kids together, I have a daughter as well, and they’re like can we make our own lunch? And then they’ll come in the kitchen and they’ll make eggs and cut up fruit and do like simple things, but they’re getting involved. They’re like, we don’t want you in here. We want to do it ourselves. I feel the younger you get them involved, it’s fun for them, it might be easier for you to get them to try other different foods, and it can also take some of that prep and job off of your shoulders and give it to somebody else.

Jessica: Do you talk to them at all–obviously, your kids eat super healthy because you eat super healthy, but this whole concept of mindful eating. I mean, I think for us and for people here listening to the exEXPERTS, it’s because they’re in a certain phase of their life where we need to be more mindful of things to be able to reduce the anxiety that we’re all going through, adding on, as you said, kids and quarantine and work and just all of the things. Do you talk to your kids about the idea of mindful eating or you just kind of lead by example, and that’s not specifically a conversation? I’m just wondering for people who have kids too, is this something to involve them in, other than the eating healthy part, the actual conversation of being conscious of what you’re eating and that kind of thing?

Hillary: Yes. I think it’s so great to start talking to kids about things like that from an early age, just to set up good habits. During this whole time of quarantine, I’ve done a lot of talks on mindful eating, and it’s made me even more aware of how my kids behave at the table. Sometimes they’ll eat slowly and engage in conversation, and sometimes they’re shoving it in because they want to get on to the next thing. I will tell them let’s all try to take a bite, put your fork down, don’t pick your fork up until you’ve actually swallowed what’s in your mouth, and enjoy the food that you’re eating. I’m okay whether it’s a dessert or dinner, my kids still love to eat a lot of–I would love it if they just ate fruits and vegetables all the time, but they do like a lot of like regular kids’ stuff and junky food. But I’m like if you’re going to have something like that, it’s fine, but just enjoy every bite. Don’t try to just get it over with or do it really fast so that no one sees you eating the cookie or whatever it is. Enjoy every moment of it. I definitely talk to them about that on a regular basis.

T.H.: That makes it a team effort too. If I’m trying to be mindful about my eating, and they’re having a free for all, they’re going to mess me up. So it’s all about me, and it starts with me, and then you have to get everybody else on your team, including your significant other, husband, boyfriend, whoever, so that they don’t mess you up. I guess you have to start with you, and then kind of, you know.

Hillary: And it works well too to ask for them to support you, and be like, I need you to help me with this, because then it kind of takes that pressure off of, oh, you’re making me do another thing. Instead, you’re like, I need you to help me be able to do this better, and I think that works really well.

Jessica: Yeah.

T.H.: So it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice.

Hillary: It is. Honestly, if you make these kind of lifestyle choices of just being more mindful with what you’re eating, slowing down with what you’re eating, making good healthy choices, everything will probably just fall into place. It’s not about restricting yourself and being on a diet. It’s just about making good choices that make you feel good. I think most people will realize that when you feel good, and you feel just good in your body and then good mentally, things really come together a lot more easily.

T.H.: Everyone’s commenting on the glow of your skin, you look happy and bright, and those pants look fabulous on you.

Jessica: Yeah, right. Exactly.

T.H.: We all love that.

Jessica: Hillary, so your website, you have a great blog, you have lots of awesome resources on there. Someone who’s working with you, what does that look like? What do they expect when they come in and are learning this and the other techniques that you offer?

Hillary: Okay, typically when I see a client for the first time, we spend like about an hour together and just go over why are you here? What are your goals? What’s your nutritional history? Your medical history? Are there things that you crave? Things that you hate? Do you like to exercise? Are you traveling all the time? Are you dining out? Do you like to cook? Kind of anything and everything that affects your current eating. Then together, we work on a plan that uses the foods that they already enjoy, and that they’re already eating, but just puts a little healthier twist on them. Not everybody’s on the same plan. It’s not some like everyone’s on keto or whatever the craze is. It’s just a good healthy eating plan that you can sustain because anybody can really lose weight or make a change for a short period of time, but if you’re looking for something long term, it has to be something that you feel I can just do this forever. This is a lifestyle. That’s the goal. And then I typically have clients keep a journal and just text me every night with their journal just to keep on track. And I’m really nice to people. I don’t yell at you about your journal. I’m like, this is not a punishment.

T.H.: Suuuure.

Jessica: Suuuure.

T.H.: Oh, no! I have to call Hillary now.

Hillary: I mean, I’ve had so many clients that don’t send me the bad journals, and I’m like, I really don’t need to see the journals that are perfect. I need to see when there’s an issue. It’s all about just being supportive and figuring out if something went wrong, why, and how can we fix it. I also teach yoga, and so I really am a huge proponent of meditation. That makes a big difference with being mindful, just like in every part of your life. I often encourage clients to just start off with even a five-minute meditation every day. If you can start your morning off with that, it really makes such a huge difference. When we were in the middle of all this homeschooling craziness, the days that I would have my kids do a five-minute meditation before we started schooling, they were like different people. It really was amazing. I find for myself too, it’s like you’re just more centered. You can stay in the present moment and just feel so much more grounded. That kind of thing is another great tool to add in that will affect your eating, but it also just affects your entire life.

T.H.: How old are your kids?

Hillary: They are nine and almost 12.

T.H.: So you’re not strapping them down to the seat to meditate and sitting on them? [Laughs]

Hillary: No. Sometimes I feel like I need to. There are days where they’ll do it and other days where I’m doing it with them, and then I open my eyes and they’re laughing at me on the floor–

T.H.: [Laughs]. They’re on their phone?

Hillary: Anything. It’s not perfect by any means. But one of the concepts that we learned when I went through yoga teacher training, which I think is so great, especially for moms to hear, is about being perfectly imperfect, and that nobody’s perfect, nobody. We’re human and things go wrong and we make mistakes and not everything is in this little perfect package, but you just learn and grow from it. If it doesn’t work for the kids one day, hopefully, the next day it’ll work and you just keep getting up and starting again. That’s really all you can ask for.

T.H.: So what is your favorite treat that’s like a legit treat?

Hillary: A legit treat… I do like a really good cookie.

T.H.: A regular cookie?

Hillary: Like a regular–although, I even do like a really good vegan cookie, but a really good regular cookie. We actually went out to dinner with friends this weekend, like the first time, it was a big deal. For dessert, I got this it’s called like a sweet and salty sundae. [Oh my god]. I could eat mostly plant-based 95% of the time, and then if there’s a really good dessert, I’ll let it go. So it’s ice cream with chocolate stuff, and pretzels, and popcorn. It’s like everything in it that does it for me. Every once in a while, you have to let yourself–you only live once. You want to enjoy your life. What I always tell my clients, part of really being happy is feeling good and feeling healthy, going into your closet and pulling out your skinny jeans and putting them on and just feeling amazing. And part of being happy, it’s going out to dinner and having a glass of wine or making cookies with your kids and it’s all about a balance. It’s not all or nothing, but it’s finding that balance in the middle that really is the most important.

Jessica: Amazing. Awesome. Well, thank you, Hillary, so much for sharing all of that information with us today. And for anyone listening, if you want to reach out and contact Hillary, you can click the link below or go and find her online at Her company is Hillary Irwin Nutrition. Be sure to join us next week for our next exEXPERTS podcast. Follow us on social media at @exexperts and until then, just breathe.

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