What are the Five Components of Wise Mind Nutrition?

Dr. David Wiss

January 22, 2023

FAQ

The Five Components of Wise Mind Nutrition

After ten years of one-on-one nutritional counseling, I developed a strong sense of the different topics needing to be covered during the course of typical treatment. I’ve worked with people across the entire spectrum of disordered eating, including many people in substance use disorder recovery and those with significant trauma histories presenting with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The first thing I noticed from working in the mental health space is that turning nutrition into a big math problem can create problems for some people (particularly those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies). For example, if someone is tracking calories or macronutrients, they might begin to see food as merely a metric rather than as a profound healing force. I have witnessed people become obsessed with their fitness apps and begin to make food choices based on their quantitative goals at the expense of qualitative goals. 

For example, I have observed individuals inside a Whole Foods who would steer clear of the salad bar or hot bar because the food did not come with calorie counts. Instead, they would select a pre-made meal or food bar because it contained nutrition facts they could enter into their app. I am not suggesting anything wrong with a pre-packed meal or a bar, but rather that the experience of combining various foods based on what is appealing at that moment is a much more sustainable approach to eating.

Thus, I have developed a framework for moving people toward deliberate and intentional eating methods without becoming obsessed with metrics. The roadmap is clearer than intuitive eating and much more freeing than any “dieting” approach. That is the essence of the wise mind, the convergence of the emotional and reasonable minds. 


Component One: When to Eat

The first step in becoming a wise-minded eater is to create a sense of consistency with sleep, nutrition, and exercise. For individuals susceptible to emotional and cognitive extremes, the message of consistency creates a sense of safety that can open the door to processes of healing. Consistency can lead to a sense of neutrality, free from the positive and negative charges that dominate the health and wellness space. 

Before focusing on what to eat, it is wise to develop a strategy for when to eat. Many people with disordered patterns of eating have unpredictable meal times, which can set up drastic changes in physiology (e.g., blood sugar) that are often accompanied by erratic emotional patterns.

When crafting a rough “when to eat” strategy, it’s important to think about circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. By creating a goal of going to sleeping and waking up at consistent times, the next step is to develop a meal timing strategy that distributes the food somewhat evenly throughout the day. This could be eating three or four or five, or six times, but the main goal is to eat within an hour of waking up and not go more than five waking hours without eating. While intermittent fasting has become quite popular and may benefit some people, those with disordered eating should generally steer clear of this approach.

To dial in circadian rhythms, integrating a movement or exercise at specific times of day can be helpful, but ideal times vary from person to person. I recommend stretching and breathing exercises in the evening to prepare the body for rest.


Component Two: What to Eat

After creating consistency with sleep and meal timing, the next step is to consider what to eat. There are so many frameworks that exist, and while I hold macronutrient science in high regard, I have found that focusing on counting macros can be a disservice to people in mental health recovery. 

I prefer to use a food group system based on the following classifications:

  • Fruit (F)

  • Vegetable (V)

  • Whole Grain (G)

  • Dairy or Dairy Alternative (P)

  • Protein or Protein Alternative (P)

  • Beans, Nuts, Seeds (bns)


This system encourages consumption from all food groups daily. For example, if you aim to eat all food groups twice per day across three meals and 1-2 snacks, you can be confident that macronutrient needs will be met without needing to track them. Of course, some people will eat more or less of certain food groups, depending on preferences, culture, and access to resources. 

The main objectives are to aim for three or more food groups at every meal and two or more at snacks. Once this goal has been achieved, the next step is to focus on foods you enjoy that have the highest anti-inflammatory potential. 


Component Three: How to Eat

After the when and the what, I explore how someone connects and relates to food. For many people with disordered eating, emphasizing this component often has the biggest impact. This includes concepts of mindful and soulful eating and helps to develop positive rituals before, during, and after food. This is the chance for someone to do some deep healing around their relationship with food. For example, getting in touch with physical cues of hunger and fullness after denying them for so long. 

“How to eat” also emphasizes the importance of grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. In my opinion, this is where people tend to need the most work and often overlook its importance. I have found that many people have barriers to connecting with food because of anxiety around the hands-on component of eating. I recommend getting your hands dirty!


Component Four: How Much to Eat  

“How much to eat” appears to be what most people are conditioned to expect from a nutritionist. Once upon a time, nutrition counseling used food models to teach people proper portion sizes. I was always embarrassed by this approach. It always felt like an oversimplified understanding of human behavior and reeked of diet culture to me. 

Macronutrient-focused approaches are also focused on specific amounts to eat. These approaches might lend themselves to weighing and measuring food, which many can perceive as disordered. This is not to say that some people don’t benefit from a food plan that indicates amounts. Still, a person in recovery should eventually be able to eyeball portions. 

Furthermore, prescribing specific amounts overlooks the context of the meal and the overall context of the day. There might be an instance where a half cup of brown rice is appropriate, and others where a cup or more might be appropriate. The goal of Wise Mind Nutrition is to empower people to make those decisions based on internal cues of hunger and fullness rather than being prescribed by an expert. 

In my experience, eating regular meals that are balanced in macronutrients and include at least three food groups with all food groups spread out throughout should inform the body how much to eat. By emphasizing food quality (limiting ultra-processed foods), the body can find homeostasis and regulate itself without relying on external cues of how much to eat. 

This is what we call sustainable eating patterns. In summary, by developing a meal timing strategy, achieving balance and variety with food, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and practicing mindful and soulful eating, the riddle of how much to eat eventually gets solved, assuming someone is addressing deficiencies in other areas of their life. 


Component Five: How to Think About Food

This final component is at the core of the Wise Mind Nutrition message. The emerging field of nutritional psychology addresses cognitive processes around food, which can be influenced by one’s sense of self, trauma history, exposure to dieting, and so much more.

The mind tends to love rules. Rules can be helpful. But eventually, it is much more sustainable to develop guiding principles. This removes feelings of failure from the eating process and introduces more joy and celebration into food. 

Oftentimes, addressing body image concerns is critical to making peace with food. Many people have a discrepancy between what their mind thinks they should weigh or how they should look and what the body actually expresses. This can create an ongoing rupture with food. Contemplative practices such as breathing and meditation can help sort through old ideas around food and body and help develop what I like to call “new chapter energy.”


Summary

The Wise Mind Nutrition framework is designed to strengthen the gut-brain axis, support the immune system, and encourage stress management. Deliberate and intentional ways of eating might improve the dopamine response to certain foods, particularly if those foods have been assigned more value due to addictions, chronic dieting, or erratic food patterns. 

One goal is to develop body trust, find a home in the body that you live in, and find a community of like-minded wise-minded people to journey with. All of it is designed to help you build a nutritional identity that is unique to you, is flexible to change over time, and answers the question of why. Why should I eat the food that I eat? 

While the answer varies from person to person, one wise answer is to improve mental health. Many of us reach a point where we decide that mental health comes first. If you are arriving at this place, the Wise Mind Nutrition program is perfect! Start with the food log and the free trial as you prepare for a much deeper dive into the full program. 

The program is perfect for individuals ready for a new framework and is compatible with recovery from all forms of disordered eating behaviors, including those seeking food addiction treatment. If you want to learn how to stop stress eating, eating late at night, or discovering the best foods for your mood, you are in the right place!