Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem.
Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food.
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”Michael Pollan
Rule 1: Pay attention. Try to feel hunger and satiety. Connect what you eat to how you feel.
Try to feel when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. Do no eat because you just woke up, or because it’s 12:30 in the afternoon and that is lunch time. Hormones circulate throughout our body and occasionally cause us to feel what we label as hunger and satiety. This is the clock which we should be eating on. Three square meals a day is nothing more than a product of society and culture, and has zero connection to how the body actually works. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” is no more than a brilliant marketing ploy from someone selling you breakfast. Eat when you are hungry. Stop eating when you are full. Don’t listen to the other bullshit.
However simple this sounds, it is not simple to accomplish. You are just beginning to push back against the artificial patterns and routines that have directed your life. You can bet that if you have been eating at 7 AM, 12 PM, and 7 PM for years, you will have created a pattern your body is accustomed to. You are likely to feel a strong sensation, that you would label hunger, just before 7 AM, 12 PM, and 7 PM, as you have programmed your body to prepare for digestion at those times. However, there is no law of the human body demanding we eat three meals a day, and we are all aware that if we were forced to skip one of those meals, we would be just fine. This tells me that those hunger pangs we get around our scheduled eating times are very much artificial – at least biologically artificial, in the sense that they do not denote your body actually needing food. So I challenge you to one small experiment. Simply skip one of your regular scheduled meals (preferably the first or last, more on this later), and PAY ATTENTION to how you feel. When that sensation of hunger arises, acknowledge it. What does it feel like? Where do you feel it? Does it change your mood? How long does it last? When it passes, how do you feel? This is a simple exercise to become more conscious of when and why we are eating.
Let’s jump to our meal. We need your attention again. Before you take a bite, take a breathe and bring your awareness to the food and the people you are eating with. Try turning off the television and putting away the cell phones, if only for the fact they detract our attention. When our attention is divided, it makes being able to detect the feelings of hunger and satiety much more difficult. Have you ever wondered how you can eat the whole box of popcorn or the entire container of ice cream and not feel anything until the movie has finished? When we are focussed on something else, it is easy for eating to shift to autopilot, outside our conscious awareness. If you have trouble with portion control, try eliminating the distractions around your meals.
Lastly, let’s move to after the meal. Again this will require your attention. I hope you see the obvious theme here. We have eaten, so the taste of the food has come and gone. It is now time to sharpen our skills of examining how food actually affects us. How do you feel? Energized and sharp? Lethargic and ready for a nap? Bloated and gassy? Running to the bathroom as fast as possible? We often ascribe these characteristics to “this is just the way I am,” when our body is actually sending distress signals to us on a daily basis. I met a patient in the emergency room recently who told us she has diarrhea multiple times a day, everyday, but that was just how her body works. This is not how our bodies work. This is your body screaming something is wrong, begging for your attention. In this particular lady’s case, I have no idea why she had diarrhea. It could be anything, but the point is we need to pay attention to the signs our body is giving us. If you have consistent swings in energy around your meals, examine that. Maybe you are eating too much at once, maybe its too many carbohydrates, maybe you need smaller and more frequent meals, or maybe you just aren’t eating enough. This is not meant to get into the diagnostics of what is going wrong. The first step is simply paying attention to how food makes you feel.
More Food Rules to come. Thanks for your attention