As we move away from diet culture and towards body acceptance I find many of my clients feeling confused. Can you still love and accept your body and want to change it? And if so, how to do this in a kind and sustainable way? The answer, is yes, you can! But first, I feel it is important to break down differences between dieting and mindful eating and learn how to find a structure that works for you.
There are two main differences between dieting and mindful eating. The first difference is that dieting relies on a set of concrete external rules such as what, when and how much to eat. Mindful eating is a practice of observing the body's sensations while eating. When, what and how much food is determined by the person eating responding to internal hunger and fullness cues.
The second difference is that dieting is primarily a results-oriented process, meaning that the goal of a diet is usually to lose a certain amount of weight or to manage certain health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Studies have shown while dieting may work in the short term that a very small percentage of subjects who lost weight while dieting were able to maintain the weight loss. Weight cycling can also affect mood, causing depression in many chronic dieters.
Mindful eating is more process-oriented, meaning that mindful eating is a long-term practice that is honed by each eating experience. According to Joseph B. Nelson in Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat, "Mindful eating is not directly linked with weight loss, however experts believe with a mindful approach, the person’s choices often are to eat less, savor eating more, and select foods consistent with desirable health benefits." Experts also believe even if the goal is to manage a certain health concern mindful eating may have better long-term results than dieting.
Sooooo what if you feel your best a few pounds lighter or want to rock a six pack for the summer? Considering females start dieting at the age of 8, jumping straight into mindful eating may be like going zero to 90. The trick is to use what we know about how the body responds to too much or not enough food to create a structure that works. Structure done well actually is freeing. We are not talking about rigid rules like only wearing pink on Wednesdays or not eating carbs after 7pm. We are talking about guidelines. Read below for some of my favorites:
Plan meals and snacks about 3-5 hours apart to prevent blood sugar crashes
When blood sugar gets too low forget savoring our bodies need food like yesterday and carbs and sugar are the fastest way to get blood glucose back up. We are also more likely to overeat past the point of comfortable fullness and in a quantity that our body can't assimilate. Whatever we can't use gets stored for later regardless if it was a carbohydrate, protein or fat.
Plan meals you like
Look I know quinoa is very healthy but I have to add so much dried fruit and dressing by the time I'm done I could have had a side of French fries and been satisfied with less. A good rule of thumb is to use the Plate method. The plate method means one half of your plate is veggies or fruits, one quarter is protein, one quarter carbohydrate. So yes one quarter French fries add a salad with some protein and enjoy.
Move your body in a way that you love at least three days a week to lower stress levels and boost endorphins
Studies have shown when we feel better we make better food choices. Also, lean muscle tissue boosts metabolic rate, exercise improves posture. Good posture makes you look taller and therefore leaner regardless of body weight. Exercise is only one piece of the puzzle so make sure you're being mindful if you're crazy hungry after workouts.
If you need help bridging structure and flexibility please email email@example.com for more information on Nutrition Therapy services. Also, if you know someone who may benefit from this information please feel free to share!
In my last blog post I set out a perfectly sensible framework for when it comes to mindful movement and healthy eating. But here is the truth: rules are made to be broken and sometimes "being bad" feels so good. Read on for how to embrace your inner rebel and look cooler than ever.
Rule #1 Plan meals and snacks about 3-5 hours apart
It's true that waiting too long in between meals can cause all sorts of headaches, poor decision making, hangry arguments and even mess with your cortisol levels. From a metabolic viewpoint the idea of eating regular meals is that when our bodies go too long without fuel we and we have used up all our blood glucose our bodies will then turn to our stores to supply energy. Muscle is easier for our bodies to break down than fat. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, constantly skipping meals then overeating puts our bodies in a vicious cycle which can slow metabolism.
Break the rule
When you're legitimately not hungry don't stress it. Look, your metabolism will not grind to a screeching halt if you don't pull off to the nearest Starbucks and have a protein plate every 180 minutes. If you know you have a meal or snack coming up in the next hour or so and you know you have enough fuel to get you there, no biggie. Also, say you waited a bit too long and had an extra piece of bread at your meal... you're not going to gain a pound of fat instantaneously. Trust your body, it knows what to do.
Rule #2 Plan meals you like
It's crazy how diet/ health foods have changed throughout the years. Remember when bagels were healthy because they were low-fat? Or when kale wasn't even a glimmer in our eye? The point is that we tend to like things because they are familiar. Because mindful eating is ultimately more sustainable than dieting it is easy to confuse mindful eating with habit. But sometimes the things that seem "healthy" or feel good temporarily aren't moving the needle literally and figuratively. This leaves us feeling frustrated, burned out and confused.
Break the rule
Time to do a meal audit. The way I do this with clients is I look at what they normally eat. Then I look at what their dream meal would be. Trail mix is healthy. Protein bars are healthy. But so are tacos. Comparatively, looking at the nutritional information you'll get the same amount of calories yet more vegetables, lean protein, healthy carbohydrates with tacos. Also, clients are less likely to overeat later in the day because they "just had a snack for lunch." Just as self-care isn't all bubble baths and face masks mindful eating isn't all pizza and doughnuts. Taking a closer look at your meals isn't always sexy but it can payoff big time.
#3 Move your body in a way that you love at least three days a week to lower stress levels and boost endorphins
This one. Exercise has so many benefits, from stress reduction to injury rehabilitation and prevention. It can decrease lower back and shoulder pain. It increases flexibility. Studies show that physical fitness is a better marker of health than weight. This means that a body that exercises regularly but is at a higher weight is scientifically shown to be less at risk for heart disease and diabetes than a smaller body that is sedentary and doesn't exercise. Click the link here to learn more about HAES principals.
Break the rule
When you are tired. When you are injured. When you are blowing off friends for exercise. When you've already worked out a few times this week and you don't feel like it. If you're looking to create that ellusive caloric deficit keep in mind exercise only makes up a small portion of your calorie burn for the day. Also, the more you exercise, the better your body gets at conserving calories. Most clients in turn exercise more to compensate for this, which in turn can mess with our body's ability to recognize our hunger and fullness cues. It's a slippery slope, so cut yourself some slack.
If you need help bridging structure and flexibility email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Nutrition Therapy services. To see what clients are saying about the Aligned program click here.
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Picture this... Its the end of the day, you're not really hungry but maybe in the mood for a snack. You go to the fridge and reach for a piece of cheese, some crackers, maybe some hummus. Twenty minutes later you've consumed half the box of crackers, the better part of the cheese and hummus along with a leftover breakfast burrito and some pasta from the night before. Throw in maybe a few handfuls of granola and a couple of protein bars covered with peanut butter because you don't keep "bad" foods in the house. You head off to sleep but maybe don't sleep the whole night through because you're waking up with an upset stomach. The next morning you feel dehydrated and puffy and not hungry at all. Until the evening hits...
During times of stress the body goes into fight or flight mode, which is basically a recipe for our anxiety to take the wheel making it trickier for us to listen to our body's hunger and fullness cues. This mode triggers our stress hormones which sometimes can feel quite addictive, giving us a high feeling that helps to numb pain and other physical sensations such as hunger. But here is the catch- what goes up must come down. When we numb our feelings of hunger we also are not able to feel our fullness. When the adrenaline high wears off our appetite seems uncontrollable. Furthermore, chronic stress can longterm elevate the hormones that make us feel hungry. This is our body compensating for the uncertainty of when the next meal or chance to rest is coming. Have you even been through a break up where you stopped eating and lost ten pounds only to quickly regain it in the following months? That's why.
What should you do if you don't feel hungry OR are ravenously hungry during the day? Follow my tips below to help manage stress. The goal is to shift our nervous system from fight or flight to rest and digest.
If we are going 100 miles an hour all day long chances are the night will come to a screeching halt right into a retaining wall made out of a giant burrito supreme, a large side of guac and chips and a quesadilla to seal the deal. Also, if you have a long day and no rest in sight mealtime may be the only semi-relaxing time built into your day. You may eat more in one sitting than you physically need just to soothe yourself.
Do schedule regular mealtimes 4-5 hours apart. Even if you only have 15 minutes spend at least one minute of that break practicing breathing exercises. I tell clients to do a five senses meditation where they close their eyes and try to identify what they are feeling. Give this feeling a smell, sound, temperature, texture and color. If you are still not hungry read a couple pages of a book or do something relaxing. Pumping the brakes regularly a few times throughout the day ensures you don't crash.
Feel it to Heal it
A certain level of decorum is required to function as an adult in this world however constantly having to "put on a happy face" or power through difficult situations is a real energy suck. When we suppress our emotions we are more likely to feel no connection to our physical hunger which can manifest as zero appetite or bottomless pit (or any combination of the two). When we allow ourselves to feel our feelings we can get clear and take appropriate action. Getting to the root cause of what is messing with your appetite is way more sustainable than constantly triaging emotions by starving them or stuffing them down.
Take a piece of paper and write down all your negative emotions, judgements about yourself, reasons why you don't deserve what you truly want. Let this be free flowing. Write about the guy who tried to negotiate your pay rate down, the friend who said you should't eat potatoes because they are too "starchy." Write about how your mom said in the 8th grade your thighs were too big to wear flare jeans or how your nose was too big to wear your hair parted down the middle. Scribble on about how you're pissed at yourself for getting that parking ticket and being late to that appointment. Let it all out. The rip it up and throw it out with the cat litter or burn it safely if that's your thing.
What we have here is a classic chicken and the egg situation. Are we unhappy because we overate or did we overeat because we are unhappy? We have established not all problems can be solved by eating or skipping meals however feeling out of control around food can wear away at our self-esteem. A better relationship with rest and nourishment affects all our other relationships and vice versa.
Now it's time to focus on what makes our bodies feel good. Continue the mindfulness tips above and set appropriate boundaries, whether is is not overscheduling yourself or cutting back on going to the in-laws if it's going to create a binge situation. Plan foods you like that make you feel good and that are easy to digest and try to work those into your regular mealtimes. Recognize that at first reconnecting with physical hunger is a process and especially if you are out of practice this may take a second. Always reach out for help if you could use support bridging structure and flexibility.
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