Delicious, nutritious, and sometimes deceiving, what and how much we eat is a mark of physical health, culture, familial ties, stress, social stigma, happiness, and sometimes addiction. Whatever the proportion and contents of your plate are though, if you’re reading this article you may still be in a daily struggle, like many, to decide between what your body truly needs to thrive and what you’re eating on top of that for reasons A, B and C.
Thankfully, I am not going to recommend that you restrict yourself to two carrots for breakfast, some celery leaves for lunch and a good breath of air for dinner. However, my own experience has shown me that it’s impossible to truly conquer your food demons if you’re continuing to consume substances that weigh on your conscience, whether for ethical or health reasons. When we eat foods that we feel uneasy about, our natural response is to try and repress the feeling by eating unconsciously. The only way around this is to be honest about what these foods really are, and to eliminate the ones that have no place in the life you really want to be living.
Eating should be a joy, food is fabulous and we are designed to eat to our heart’s content. The question is though; do you really know what your heart wants? Or are you eating to make your day better? Eating because there are highly addictive chemicals in your favorite comfort foods? Or are you eating out of pure and simple habit?
As you start or continue down this road of taking control and ownership of your choices, it’s important to be gentle, yet always honest with yourself. You may not make “the right choice” all the time, but as you raise your level of awareness and drive, your bottom line (i.e. the worst thing you eat or binge on) will begin to rise. And each time that bottom line rises, you are moving closer to satisfying your hunger for balance and truly enjoying your dinner.
Next: The Three Keys
1. Educate yourself
Everyone needs a little light to see the truth. I can give you all the little tips and tricks in the world, but without knowing the reasons why, the “how to” becomes meaningless. If you’re trying to break habitual habits, it’s important to know why you’re breaking them and what making that change will really mean for your quality of life.
A good place to start your health research is the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine. If you’re trying to give up addictive substances such as coffee, sugar, cheese, meat or gluten (bread), oils etc., it’s important to find sources that don’t have a vested interest in your addictions continuing. PCRM and other sites like it have some good articles covering these subjects, including the naturally addictive properties of many the foods I mentioned above.
It’s no secret that the majority of classic American “comfort foods” are designed to turn us into “addicts.” Did you know though that sugar acts more like a drug than a food when it enters your system, pulling you into what feels like a perpetual loop of consumption and regret? Or did you know that cheese has a concentration of opiates called casomorphins and other amphetamine-like chemicals called phylethylamine in it? If those substances sound like something you’d buy down on a shady street corner that’s because they are related. Don’t take my word for it though, go out there and do your research.
Purpose charges your reserve batteries, your willpower. The more you educate yourself about the health, ethics and the wider impact of your food choices, the easier it will be to eliminate altogether the foods you no longer want to eat, turn away when you’re full, and move past the feeling of “I want it now!” to enjoying a beautiful meal instead of simply consuming one.
Next: Six steps to stop “The Triggers that Pull You”
2. The Triggers that Pull You
While your tummy may start rumbling when you hear the sound of kernels bursting and the sweet smell of popcorn wafts into the living room, it may in fact just be a sensory trigger. We are sensory beings and when food tingles our noses, crackles at our ears, or sparkles in front of our eyes, all of a sudden we’ve popped a handful of kernels into our mouths without stopping to think: Am I hungry right now? Do I actually want to eat this?
There are more than just sensory triggers though. At times, boredom, fatigue, stress, and dehydration can all trigger us to munch meaninglessly until the feeling passes.
So, first things first: Remove the things that trigger your senses the most. The old adage “out of sight out of mind” is a powerful one. Until you’ve given your willpower some time to build, it’s helpful, as much as possible, to keep yourself out of situations that cause you to binge.
Obviously, you can’t always avoid the sights, sounds and smells that trigger you so… when you’ve eaten enough to be full, but are still eying the cookie on the table, here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
1. Has my brain caught up with my stomach? It takes 10-20 minutes for your stomach to tell you that you’re full, and many cravings pass after 20 minutes. Why not give your body the time to decide what it really wants/needs?
2. Am I eating to pacify some emotional turmoil? This is a big one. Almost everyone does it from time to time. Be honest and loving with yourself, but remember that food is only a distraction, and unfortunately, when the last bite is through, you’ll have a tummy that’s overly full and still have life to deal with. When this feeling arises, find something else to help you process what’s going on – write, go for a walk, or call a friend. Do anything and everything healthy you can think of to let yourself move forward.
3. Am I bored? If you’re wandering around the house and keep circling back to the kitchen, it might not be a snack you need as much as some entertainment. Again, give it 20 minutes and see what happens.
4. Did I drink enough water today? Very few people drink the recommended amount of water that they need during a day. And sometimes, when our bodies are asking for water, the message gets a bit mixed up and we read it as request for more food rather than hydration. Try drinking a glass of water an hour before you normally eat and see if this helps you make better food choices.
5. Am I eating because I’ve trained myself to do so? Something sweet after dinner, a soda at 3 pm, a bowl of cereal after your fruit salad, etc. etc. We are creatures of habit – break the pattern, break the habit.
6. Am I looking for energy? When that 3 o’clock slump hits, we tend to reach for the nearest snack and power through it. If you need a snack, that’s no problem, but try and go for something healthy and naturally filling like an apple or a handful of nuts. Sometimes though, it’s not so much a snack we need as a break from eating. Digestion is tough work and after a big meal your body slows down as it tries to process all the different foods you’ve given it to deal with. You may also find that you experience these slumps as you give up sweets, coffee, or gluten and your body begins to detox.
Often simply drawing attention to your choices will help you decipher what is coming from a real need, versus habit and addiction.
Next: From Stripes to Spots
3. From Stripes to Spots: Changing Your Pattern
Again we are creatures of habit and one of the habits that many of us have, which can lead to food addiction, is eating unconsciously. Do you get to the end of a meal and wonder where all the food went? Did you grab a bite of that piece of bread without even realizing you were doing it? Break your old habits and your old routine by creating a new ones.
1. Give it up. If there’s a particular food you’re trying to moderate in your diet – such as sugar (dun dun duh!), try giving it up for a while. I’m not saying go cold turkey and never enjoy a cinnamon roll again. Just try three days without it.
Up until fairly recently, I never thought I could do a fast. Heck, I didn’t even see the point. Now I’ve done fruit, raw and water fasts (get some good advice on all three before you jump into one of these). These experiences gave me the opportunity to see the potential pool of willpower that we all have the capacity to draw from. Instead of going to extremes though, try giving up your food demons for three days to start. It will help break the cycle and give you a glimpse of your own inner strength.
2. Shift when you eat and how much. Drink a glass of water when you get up in the morning, eat snacks throughout the day instead of a big lunch, set a time of night after which you won’t snack (two hours before you go to bed is a good mark.) Whatever you do, do it in a healthy way that keeps your body nourished and throws your old routine out the window, or at least off kilter a bit. A challenge to the old, even in small ways, is an invitation to the new.
3. Pay attention to your utensils. If we let them forks and spoons turn into mini shovels. Try chopsticks, a smaller spoon or fork –something that draws attention to the motion from plate to mouth. Set your utensils down after each bite, try taking smaller bites; it’s not about denying yourself, it’s about drawing attention to your habits and deciding which are healthy. (Note: Don’t be surprised if a bit of anxiety arises when you slow your meal down. Thankfully your food won’t run away from you and you’ll still get full.)
4. Chew your food. It’s a cliché and a rather motherly thing to say, but very few of us actually properly chew our food. It may surprise you how the taste and pace of your meal changes when you give each bite its due respect. Besides, chewing properly is better for your digestion and it gives your body more time to realize when it’s full.
5. Stop distracting yourself. Don’t watch TV, talk on the phone, or look at the computer while you’re eating. If you need to, eat on your own for a bit. When you’re thinking about other things, you can’t really taste your food, and you can’t properly enjoy the texture, the smell and the flavor.
I encourage you to eat a meal like you normally would, perhaps typing blog comments in between bites, then eat the same meal chewing slowly, setting the fork down after each bite, and simply taste the difference.
You may well be shocked by the realizations that arise simply by eating consciously. Above all, I wish you the joy of eating, of savoring each bite, of knowing that your choices are your own and that you have an immense, perhaps, untapped source of willpower within you.