What Yoga Taught Me about Healthy Eating

Trying to eat healthier foods can be a practice in itself. This week, Erica Rodefer Winters explains how her yoga practice has helped her make healthier food choices -- one bite at a time.

It can take years to work up to an advanced yoga posture. In the process of trying you might fall a thousand times, experience injuries that set you back, or just go through times when you're distracted by other work. I think most yoga students accept this. But for some reason when it comes to food, we believe we should be able to wake up one morning and by, will power and determination, become clean eaters. (Juice cleanse, anyone?) Like my yoga practice, I've learned that healthy eating is a process—there are many ups and downs. And, like those really challenging poses, I have my whole life to work on it.

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I still have a long way to go, but I'm sure that I'll get there eventually if I keep trying. Here are a few tips that have helped me go from takeout and junk food to a more healthy, mindful way of eating.

Commit to one little change at a time. You know those weight loss shows on TV where someone comes in and cleans everything out of the refrigerator and replaces it with healthy food? I've tried this before. It sent me running to the closest restaurant because I felt deprived, exhausted and overwhelmed by trying to change everything at once. Instead, if the goal is to cut out processed foods, start with adding one unprocessed meal a week into the mix of your normal meals. If you're trying to go vegan, try one new vegan recipe a week. In a few months, it will seem like second nature, and then you can commit to two meals a week.

Make it REALLY easy. You know how it's best to schedule your time on the yoga mat at a time when you know you'll feel like practicing? Set yourself up for success by planning your menu for the week. That means shopping in advance. When I can, I wash my fruit and chop my vegetables for the week on Sunday afternoon so all I have to do is throw a few things in a pot when it's time to make a meal—you'll see that it's just as easy as popping an over-processed, store-bought frozen lasagna in the oven and even easier than take out (you don't have to go anywhere!).

Be kind to yourself when you fall short of your goal, and have a backup plan. It's OK to skip the Chaturangas in yoga class sometimes and take Child's Pose instead. Allow yourself some wiggle room in your eating practice, too. Last night, the thought of eating the uber healthy veggie jambalaya I had planned to make made my stomach turn. So I put one of those processed, store-bought lasagnas in the oven instead. It wasn't the healthiest option, but it was better than takeout. I was glad I had a backup plan. Today, I will make jambalaya.

Oh, and don't forget! -- A cupcake or a small bowl of ice cream once in a blue moon isn't going to kill you. When I indulge, I make sure it's something super yummy (not just any old they have at the check out line at the grocery store), and I eat it slowly, savoring every single bite. Eating can be a meditation practice, too.