What’s on your plate? The typical American consumer is bombarded with hundreds of new diets and recommendations each year, many of them contradictory. Over the last 10 years, recommendations have moved from “high-carb, low-fat” to “low-carb, high-protein” and yet, the obesity levels in our country continue to rise. How do we distinguish the facts from the fads?
The truth is that there probably is not one perfect diet that works for everyone. A quick analysis of the hidden snack stashes of my own co-workers reveals strikingly diverse tendencies. They can easily be divided into two distinct camps: The sweet/chocolate lovers versus the salty snackers. The cravings between the two groups are so different it is easy to imagine that a diet that works for one might be detrimental to the other.
If a simple thing such as snack cravings can vary so much from one person to another, then other characteristics such as how we digest proteins, fats, or carbohydrates, what food groups make us feel satisfied, and how our bodies use different foods for energy must also vary significantly from one person to another. Perhaps being in tune to one’s own uniqueness is the most important part of eating healthfully.
Spas can be an excellent source of information and inspiration for eating well. While different spas offer different ideas of spa cuisine, there are certain principles that seem to be universal. Tapping into these universal principles of spa cuisine is a short-cut to finding a healthy eating program that makes the most sense for your body.
Quality counts. Perhaps more important than eating the right mix of fats, proteins, and carbs is knowing where they all come from. Spas promote local sources of ingredients, steer us away from processed foods and towards options which are more natural and more organic. In today’s world, it takes more effort than ever to avoid the global trend towards “McDonaldization” of our food sources.
All calories are not created equally. The old thinking was that a calorie is a calorie and a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate. Today we know that the kinds of calories we eat are extremely important. Whole grain carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and low cholesterol proteins are on the menu at most spas.
Healthful and tasteful are not mutually exclusive. Destination spa chefs realize the biggest way they can impact their customers’ health is by teaching them that healthful food can taste delicious. By picking up a cookbook from a well-known spa, or better yet, taking some cooking classes while you are there, you can learn techniques for making meals which are not only good for you, but are absolutely scrumptious.
Portions, portions, portions. The rise of obesity in America corresponds to the growing increase in portion size. By eating more and more, you are tricking your body into thinking it needs more than it actually does. By reducing portions, you will teach your body to use food more efficiently, and over time, reduce cravings.
Eat mindfully. Our habits become us, and many of our habits revolve around what we eat, when we eat and how we eat. Making yourself feel guilty for your habits doesn’t seem to help change them. But building awareness of them does. Observe your own eating patterns and ask yourself if your eating habits are aligned with your nutritional goals. If you’ve ever found yourself at the bottom of a Haagen Dazs container (Mint Chip is my weakness) without being quite sure how you got there, you probably were eating mindlessly. Spas teach us to eat mindfully. Taste your food, enjoy it, savor it, and be in tune to your body’s signals for satiety. An aware mind knows when you’ve had enough long before your unconscious self does.
Food should be enjoyed and appreciated. This is easiest when you know where it comes from, when it tastes good, and when you can anticipate the positive effect that it is having on your health. Eating mindfully means being fully engaged in the process of eating and turning off your “autopilot.” By practicing this mealtime meditation you can tap into the greatest diet around: The one written by your own body.
Jeremy McCarthy has opened and operated luxury resort spas for the past 18 years. He is currently the director of spa operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts and sits on the board of directors for the International Spa Association.
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