To eat or not to eat...?
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Before joining SparkPeople, I never really paid all that much attention to my eating habits. I can recall periods of time where I would occasionally think about them, but for the most part I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and how ever much of it I thought I wanted.
Three years ago (just about) I joined SparkPeople and things started to change. I began tracking my food (a habit that I am still very inconsistent at) and paying attention to serving sizes. I read pretty much every article imaginable about what I should eat vs. what I shouldn't eat. I also read up on the latest fads in healthy eating.
But there was one thing that all those other things seemed to neglect addressing--the why, when, and how of eating.
A friend in one of my Spark Teams recommended that we all read this book "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat" by Michelle May, M.D. At first, I was skeptical. I read the first chapter and thought "Hoo boy...this book is so not in line with what I know to be true." It seemed like a lot of what she was pushing was an overly permissive approach to eating.
But then I read Chapter 2. And from that point on (at least through chapter 7), I have come to realize that there are many things in this book that address a key thing I have been missing in my approach to learning how to eat in a healthy manner.
All that being said, here are some of the key things I am learning:
1) It is okay to eat when you're not hungry.
Crazy idea, I know. But really and truly, it is okay to eat when you're not hungry. You just need to figure out why you're trying to eat when you're not hungry. What triggered that reaction in you? Are you bored? Are you trying to avoid dealing with something? Are you stress eating?
Giving myself permission to eat even when I'm not hungry has actually been quite freeing. I am learning to recognize those times when I'm turning to food as a basis for comfort or relief from boredom, rather than turning towards prayer or actually dealing with the issue that I'm trying to avoid.
2) Recognizing my own hunger signals.
I can now tell you when I am hungry and/or I'm about to be hungry. And usually my body regulates itself and will give subtle clues, I just have to watch for them. There's an emptiness in my abdomen, sometimes I get light-headed, I lose my ability to think clearly, and (when pushed to the limit) I get cranky. All of thes are signs that my body gives that can be trusted. They are genuine clues that it is time to eat. This is kind of expanded upon in the next one:
3) I can trust the signals that my body gives.
That has been one of the hardest things to learn in this whole ordeal. So often the focus is on what is considered forbidden foods. We tend to think that it is our body telling us that we want a certain food that is "not good" for us--but the thing of it is, our mind or emotions are typically the culprit.
Our emotions tell us that we are being deprived because we are denied that one thing. If we get even a morsel of a taste of that one thing, we start eating more and before we know it, half of it is gone...and by that point and time, we might as well finish the whole thing off because we are ashamed that we gave in and ate that thing in the first place.
Denying our bodies the things it craves can actually be more harmful than good--as countless diets and weight loss plans can attest. So go ahead, eat those french fries or try some of that dessert. Eat as much of it as you want--because chances are, if you really thought about it while you were eating it, you might discover that it wasn't what you really wanted after all. And, truth be told, it wasn't as great-tasting as you last remembered.
I can testify to this one being true in my life. McDonald's french fries were like that for me. I used to gorge on them. Good grief, I swear they laced them with something extra addictive because I was not able to stop eating them. As I began reading this book, though, and putting into practice some of the things they suggest, I began to think more about the french fries and how I ate them. Truth be told, I didn't really take much time to enjoy them and think about them. I just stuffed them in my mouth, chewed an obligatory couple of times and then swallowed. But when I slowed down long enough to actually pay attention to the texture and flavor of them, I came to realize they weren't really all that great after all.
And it wasn't just because they hadn't changed the oil recently. ;)
4) It is okay to eat emotionally--just do it within reason.
Ha! Never thought I'd see those two things together--emotions and reason. :)
On Monday, I had a really frustrating day at work. It seemed like I was constantly getting interrupted, which meant that I was thoroughly distracted, which led to me not feeling like I accomplished much of anything...and the things I did complete, I did not do my best work on--there were lots of mistakes...I left that day feeling so defeated.
All I could think about was how I wanted pasta. I didn't care what kind, just something with noodles. I knew we had leftover spaghetti pie at home, so I went straight home, threw some of it on a plate and zapped it in a microwave.
The amazing thing to realize was that, though my choice in type of food may have been driven by my emotions, the amount of food that I ended up eating was not. I had a normal portion-size and was able to enjoy every last bite of it. After finishing, I felt satisfied.
Which is huge! So many times, I tend to stuff myself to bursting before I realize that I'm never going to be satisfied with that food. Just bloated and sick to my stomach.
5) There will always be another opportunity to eat later.
I don't know why, but so much of my mentality and approach to food is that of a starving child. It's like I have been deprived of food for so long that I want to hoard it. So I eat as much as I can in one sitting--until my pants are way too tight, my stomach is bloated to kingdom come and I'm feeling borderline sick to my stomach.
When it comes to portion sizes--for some reason I have trouble remembering that it is okay to go back for seconds, should I need it. It is okay to take the smaller portion and try it out, see how full I get, and then, if I still want more, to go back for a second helping. No one is going to slap my hand. No one is going to tell me that I'm making a pig of myself.
In trying this method out--I'm learning that I actually can eat a smaller portion and feel completely satisfied. I very rarely feel the desire to go back for seconds.
When it comes to lunches, I tend to eat the same thing. A sandwich on whole wheat, wheat thins and an apple or some other piece of fruit. Today, I realized on my drive to work that I didn't have any wheat thins. No biggie, I told myself, I can figure something else out. I went to fix my lunch and was reminded, again, that I was out of wheat thins. My mind started panicking and I started worrying about what I was going to do. I actually had to stop myself in the kitchen at work, take a deep breath, and tell myself "Eat your sandwich and one of the larger apples. If you're still hungry, there's popcorn you can have, too."
And you know what? The sandwich and the apple were enough. I wasn't hungry again for about 5 hours. And by then, it was nearing time for dinner, so I munched on some homemade trail mix and was totally satisfied.
This kind of leads into the final one:
6) There is no such thing as preventative eating.
I am guilty of practicing what is called "preventative eating". Basically, it's when you eat, even though you're not hungry, but you have a feeling you will be hungry later...and potentially that "later" is at an inconvenient time. For me, this looks like when I have a meeting scheduled for after work, but I'm not hungry when I get off work. Rather than wait until my meeting is over (when I'll be "starved"), I go ahead and eat even though I'm not hungry. And I don't eat just a light snack, I'll go ahead and get a full meal.
The deal with this is, since I'm not actually hungry, my body just takes that food and stores it as something I really don't want (fat) because it has no other use for it. This, my friends, is a no good situation. I've been trying out a couple of tricks to see if they help, and I'm open to more if you have them--but here's what I am learning to do:
I've been keeping a small tupperware container of trail mix in my purse. It's a mixture of raisins, peanuts, and various other things that are yummy and filling. Eating even just a tablespoon of this stuff makes me feel better and can take the edge off my hunger until I'm better able to address it later.
I keep a variety of snacks available at work. Primarily fruit, but I do have some crackers and cheese, yogurt with granola, and popcorn (100-calorie packs) available to munch on. This is helpful when (like yesterday), everyone else is on lunch break and I'm getting hungry, but can't leave the office. And there are varying degrees of filling-ness to the foods--I may eat some yogurt with granola or crackers and cheese when I know it won't be all that long until I get to eat. I reach for the popcorn when I know it will (in all likelihood) be much later that I get a chance to eat. And they cover the basics for me--I'm a salt/sweet kind of girl when it comes to my snack foods.
All in all, I'm learning quite a bit. And I'm sure there's more to come--I've been realizing new things each day as I've been choosing to focus on what I'm eating, how I'm eating it, how I'm choosing it, and why I'm choosing it.