It’s Not Just What You Eat But Also How You Eat
For years I believed that the key to a “healthy diet” and achieving the “perfect body” was solely related to what you eat. It made sense that if you ate the right proportions of macronutrients in the right amount, achieving your optimal weight would come naturally. In the last blog post, we identified that while we're overly concerned (okay, maybe a little obsessed) with what to eat, we are missing out on some of the important ingredients that play a vital role in the nutrition equation, like who you are as an eater.
In addition to the what and who, let’s move on to the how.
How do you approach your food? Do you make meal time an activity or are you just lucky if you can inhale a protein bar in the morning? Do you spend time preparing high quality food? Do you sit down or just do a grab & go (if you even have time for that)? Do you actually taste your meals & snacks? Or are you just winging it and rushing around eating while driving, while working, while watching TV? And then, at the end of your day, are you left wondering why you have the urge to hit the pantry or fridge at 9 pm, even after eating dinner? If you could relate to any of these scenarios, you’re not alone.
But here's the hard core truth: When you eat in this anxious state (whether it's anxiety about what to eat or just the craziness that comes with living a life on high speed), your body is in stress mode. Even though this is different than the obvious stress that we experience with a traumatic event, a toxic relationship, or a major illness, we're still impacted by self-chosen stressors such as moving too fast, overly analytical behavior, rigid rules around food, negative self-talk, multi-tasking or not being present. Sadly, many of us are living with this chronic low level of stress and not stepping into our full metabolic power.
When we eat in a stressed state, we are excreting nutrients and releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which impacts muscle building and fat burning. Conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response is what enhances full healthy digestive strength, nutrient assimilation and increased calorie burning, and, in turn, helps to build muscle and burn fat. Therefore, eating healthy food is only half the story of good nutrition. Being in the ideal state of relaxation to digest and assimilate the food is the other half.
So what's a hurried & rushed eater to do?
Your first step: Come to a screeching halt and release the need for speed, especially when you're eating.
Here are some simple strategies to slow down, create awareness & enjoy your food in a whole new way:
- Breathe. Before you eat take 5 deep breaths. This calms the nervous system down and helps you become present.
- Sit down…not in a car or at your desk but in a place reserved for eating. (Try a kitchen table, for example.)
- Eat from a plate (instead of a bag, basket or takeout container), so your body has a better chance to send signals of satisfaction and satiation back to the brain.
- Pretend you’re on vacation where meal times are not only relaxing but a focal point in your day. Adopt that mindset.
- Cook from scratch. It’s a stress release, connects you to your food, and can be therapeutic. Besides, food made with love just tastes better.
- Chew…and chew and chew again. Not only is it a surefire way to ease up on the speed, but your digestion will also thank you.
- Taste the flavors. Sweet. Salty. Pungent. Sour.
- Notice the texture. Smooth. Creamy. Crunchy.
- Put your fork down in between bites. (And breathe in some oxygen.)
- Stop & smell the pesto or the garlicky green beans or the homemade cookies.
- Grow your own food. You’re less likely to wolf down a meal you tilled with your own bare hands. Start with an herb planter on a windowsill.
- Don’t tweet while you eat. Put down your phone, or your iPad or whatever device and wait to “check it” until you finish the very last bite.
- Stop all multi-tasking and…eat when eating. Set aside time for eating without any other distractions.
- Eat with your eyes. Enhance your plate with the colors of the rainbow. You get a dose of micronutrients in addition to a beautiful and inviting meal.
- Check in with your self mid-meal. And make sure you are nourishing your body exactly as it needs.
- Practice the lost art of savoring — the act of really, deeply enjoying your food and your life. Bring it back. Engage your senses.
- Challenge yourself to be the last one at the table to finish your meal…but don’t tell anyone else about the game you’re playing. (That way you’re sure to be the winner.)
- Love your greens…and chocolate, too. No matter what you're eating, whether it is a big colorful kale salad or gooey brownies (gluten free, of course), enjoy every single bite, without guilt.
Remember, not every meal will be slow. As my yoga teacher says, "It's a practice, not a perfect." But if you put on the brakes, even just a little, you’ll start to reduce any tendencies to overeat, improve your digestion, amp up the pleasure and experience deep satisfaction.
Question of the day: What shifts have you noticed when you think about how you eat and practice more mindful eating strategies? Share your insights & stories below.