What you are NOT asking about healthy eating but definitely should (especially if you are struggling with weight issues)

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Are you struggling to lose weight?

Are you struggling to maintain your weight in spite of watching everything you eat and making sure it is healthy and wholesome?

Are you interested in going beyond healthy foods and the right “diet” to improve your health outcomes?

If you answered YES to any of these questions then this blog post is for you

These are some common health issues that my clients face. We address these as a part of complex chronic health conditions in my health coaching practice every single day. 

One of the questions that I get asked a lot at work and elsewhere is about which foods should one be eating or which particular “diet” they should be following. Since nutrition is a major part of my coaching practice, I discuss this in great details with my clients and come up with customised food plan solutions for each individual based on what their body needs at that time to heal. 

However, what I am most certainly NOT asked is about HOW they should be eating. We all know that the right type of foods makes a huge difference in our health outcomes but what we may not realise that it is equally important HOW we are eating and WHEN.

In this post, I have decided to share with you some of the key interventions that I introduce early in my coaching sessions regarding how we should all be eating in order to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients. This is often the missing piece in terms of seeing the health outcomes that my clients have been seeking for many years. This is particularly true for those who have been struggling to lose weight in spite of being focussed on eating healthy and wholesome foods. 

When hungry, just eat

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except that many of us are struggling with knowing what to eat and when and have quite a complicated relationship with food. As infants and young children, we know intuitively what and how much to eat to satisfy our hunger. However, pretty soon as we start growing up food starts to serve many other purposes- to soothe, to distract, to entertain, to numb, to reward and even to punish. 

What was once a healthy, meaningful and simple relationship gets entangled in all sorts of thoughts and emotions many of which are not constructive.

Our simple cues of hunger and satisfaction get hijacked by our conditioning and our minds. Where we were once completely tuned in to our bodies and used our intuition to guide us to healthy eating habits and food choices, we struggle to do so once we become adults.

What we need to keep in mind here is that it is not constructive and fruitful to assign blame to people and situations that led us to this place. It is, however extremely empowering for us to realise that we have the power within ourselves to first become aware of this conditioning and then do what is necessary to change our habits and negative patterns that have become a way of life.

One bite (or sip) at a time

How many times have you sat down to eat your food while watching your favourite show or while doing something on your phone only to finish your food without any real recollection of the taste, smell and any real sense of satisfaction?

We have a cardinal rule in our house: no phones at the table. At all.

This applies to our guests and all the family members. With a 13 yo and an almost 10 yo it becomes extremely critical for my husband and me to portray what kind of habits we want them to develop while eating. It doesn't really matter how young or old our children may be, as parents we are most certainly  ROLE MODELS for our children and we need to lead by example.

The point I am making is this. Whether we are working on our own health issues or trying to inculcate good habits in our children, the process is really the same. And it all starts by developing awareness. And this does not need to extremely complicated. Start by taking a small step today.

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called."

A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 

Do this: when you have your first cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning, take your time to really savour it. Take a few extra moments and notice the colour and the aroma of the tea. Feel the liquid in your mouth and throat as you take a small sip. Notice the warmth as it goes down your throat and allow it to fill your body with its warmth and flavour. Repeat this till the cup is empty. If possible, take a moment to thank the people and the process behind the cup of tea that you hold in your hand.

 

A mind (not food) journal  

You may already be aware of the concept of keeping a food journal or using some kind of tracker to track the number of calories or even the categories of foods you are consuming. This is usually quite common in most of the traditional “diets”, especially where weight loss is concerned.  

We eat to satisfy many types of hunger beyond the obvious physiological needs that we have as living beings. We eat to feed the hunger of our eyes, our hunger for aroma, for sensations and our minds.

We eat when we are....

Lonely

Sad

Heartbroken

However, you must understand that no matter how much food we put in our stomach, it can never satisfy or ease the emptiness in our hearts. This is where a mood journal can help you to understand why you eat. While doing this it is very important to use a compassionate and kind voice and not judge yourself for the choices that you are making right now as this process can become counterproductive otherwise. Remember, this is to help you to become more aware and in tune with your eating habits.

The mood journal can be written using the various prompts given below. 

Track the foods that you are eating for a month and write down how they affect your mind, body, thoughts, and feelings

What foods do you eat when you are sad or lonely? (make a list of foods)

When you feel like having a snack or a drink in between meals, what were your thoughts and feelings just before you decided to have one?

You may find that some patterns emerge as a common threat across different situations that help you to understand your eating habits. In time you may also learn to make healthy substitutions and find alternatives to take care of yourself without using food as a crutch. Sometimes overeating and mindless eating are just tips of the iceberg. Food is more easily obtainable and more socially acceptable than other types of addiction and since we must eat every day it can be really easy to become a slave to our need for food.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

—Dalai Lama

The solution, however, is not to judge or criticise ourselves every time you overeat or eat foods that you know are not good for you. A very important part of changing your eating habits is to first change the way you talk to yourself. This is often the most difficult part of the journey for my clients. However, self compassion is indeed the way out to break free from the vicious cycle of overeating, self criticism and shame.

Given below are 5 steps that you can take today to practice self awareness and tap into your intuition to guide you to make healthier choices-

Sit down at the table for each and every meal including all snacks so that you can slow down every time you eat

Notice how you are eating- fast or slow? Mindlessly munching or enjoying each bite?

Stop multitasking and focus on the food in front of you (having a conversation with loved ones however, is not a distraction)

Notice how “hungry” you really are on a scale of 1 to 10 and try and eat accordingly

Bring into your awareness feelings of gratitude for those who were involved in bringing this food to your table (right from the farmer to the cook)

As you do this exercise you may notice your relationship with food changes over time. You may find that as you become more tuned in to your body, you start making healthier choices and start to develop healthy eating habits. You may also find that you are able to stop using food to satisfy your needs and are finally free to find other ways of soothing and taking care of yourself. Most importantly, you are able to let go of following a certain "diet" and start eating what is right for YOU. 

(However, in today’s modern world there are many external triggers and forces at play which are capable of drowning out these inner voices of wisdom and intuition. In the follow up post next week I focus on these external aspects of eating by redesigning our environment and putting in place some strategies that have been shown to work.)

YOU are the “expert” on your child (especially in terms of nutrition)

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As parents and as caring family members, we all want to give the best start to our children's lives by giving them a healthy start. But we tend to underestimate how often that intention gets hijacked by other subtle forces at play. My own personal experience with a child who used to be a picky eater (we have made HUGE progress in the past year or so) showed me that none of us is really immune to those influences unless we choose to open our eyes to the way that it shapes our children's health.

As a result, both as a mother of two children and as a health professional, I am quite concerned about the nutritional value of the foods that children today are having on a regular basis. There are many things that are worth emulating the Western countries for but their modern diet is not one of them. Unfortunately, as more and more international food giants look for newer markets and launch their highly processed products along with highly refined marketing campaigns in India, it is difficult to resist the allure of what they seem to be offering us. We have the same problem with Indian manufacturers peddling their processed foods products to our children.

What do these highly processed foods seem to offer us?

Convenience- YES

Taste- YES

Affordability- YES

Nutritional Value- MAYBE (or in some cases MINIMAL and/or HARMFUL)

Should you be concerned with the impact these foods may be having on your child? ABSOLUTELY!

While childhood obesity is one of the most obvious manifestations of this worldwide epidemic, there are less obvious health issues that our children are facing today and which can all be traced back to their diet (along with other causes)

ADD, ADHD and behavioural challenges

Digestive disorders

Fatigue or low energy levels

Inability to concentrate and lack of focus

Poor immunity (having constant colds and cough) and prolonged recovery from an illness

Diabetes and kidney disease

Overfed and undernourished

Do you have a child who has weight issues?

Do you have a picky eater who refuses to eat anything apart from refined and processed foods and minimal vegetables and fruits?

Do you have a child who craves for sweet foods and has them on a regular basis?

Do you have a child who has behavioural issues, digestive issues, low energy or poor immunity?

We may not realise how critical role poor nutrition plays in all of this and as a result many children today are "overfed" and at the same time "undernourished"

As you may have realised by now, this article aims to highlight and bring awareness to one of the main causes behind the poor health of many children today- their equally poor nutritional status. Most children (at least in the urban areas) are getting the requisite calories needed daily but are NOT getting the necessary ingredients that their developing bodies need to repair, grow, maintain optimal health and have robust immune systems. As a result, we are seeing many of the "consequences" of this nutritional status in our children from a very early age. Today we have seen a massive explosion in the number of children suffering from obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, other chronic conditions, neurological disorders, behavioural issues and many more.

As one of the unintended consequences, we have started normalising many of our children's health issues. Chronic health issues like eczema, asthma, recurrent headaches, allergies, digestive issues, anxiety are actually "symptoms" of underlying imbalances and one of the causes is usually nutritional deficiencies. Healthy children are pretty resilient and usually bounce back quite quickly from a bout of illness with some rest, time and proper nutrition. However, even this time taken to recover from an illness can become extended as many children today suffer from low or poor immunity. I have covered this aspect of children's health in my previous article and webinar.

(You can view my previous article on this topic "Is your child's immune system at risk?" by clicking HERE and the webinar by clicking HERE)

Even if you are not sure whether this is really the case for your child and irrespective of whether he or she has any health issues as of now, would you really like to wait to find out? 

OR

Would you like to become more proactive by taking full responsibility for your child's health and therefore her nutritional status as a parent and do what is right even if it means being sometimes "unpopular"?

Today, as parents we have become far too lenient with our children's health. We have confused being a "good parent" to being a "popular one". Somehow we have come to believe that our children should be never unhappy or uncomfortable and that it is our duty as a parent to ensure the same 24X7.

Do we all want what is best for our children? Of course we do!

Does it mean that they will be happy with whatever decisions we make for them till they are ready to take that responsibility? Not always!

A toddler or a 5 year old does not know what to eat that it is nourishing for her, yet we let them decide every meal. Even a 10 or 12 year old will not fully comprehend why they need to eat the nutritious foods that we give them, but they need to eat it anyway. So does a 15 year old for that matter, but the conversations that we have on this subject will be different and will depend on their age. (This is exactly the reason there is an age restriction when it comes to smoking and alcohol and driving, we know our children are not yet capable of making these decisions on their own, they need us as parents to guide them).

As far as food is concerned, as we have become scared of saying NO to the things that are affecting our children's health, in effect we are saying YES to processed and nutritionally depleted foods which will have long term impact on our children's health

And childhood is the time when their little bodies need the MAXIMUM amount of highly nutritious foods as their brains and other organs develop, the foods that they eat now will lay the foundation for their health for the rest of their life. This is equally true of their eating habits and preferences. So if we have not helped our child learn to develop a taste for vegetables AND other nutritious foods, learn to be adventurous in trying new foods and develop good eating hygiene, chances are that is exactly what they will still be like when they are 40 years old!

YOU are the "expert" on your child 

As parents, we need to educate ourselves and protect our children by making healthy choices FOR THEM. 

We are the "experts" on what is BEST for our children in terms of nutrition and everything else. And we simply cannot outsource that responsibility to other people, organisations and corporates!

Being the parent of a "picky" eater, for a while I lived under the illusion that my child was somehow to blame for preferring to eat fewer vegetables and unprocessed foods and prefer breads and other such refined foods. Once I realised my folly and started to take back responsibility for my child's nutrition, I started to make changes which were necessary all the while keeping the bigger picture in mind. It has not been an easy process, but we have made much progress and it all started with me realising this need to make changes.

The one other thing I would like to point out is our need to celebrate special occasions like birthdays with a menu comprising solely of what we would otherwise call "junk food". Somehow it has become acceptable that children's birthday menu reads like a fast food chain restaurant's menu. Instead of the concept of "treats" which we were raised with and looked forward to occasionally, our children are being raised on a daily diet of foods like pastries, cakes, fries, candies etc which have crowded out other wholesome and natural foods.

 

 

 

"Our bodies are hardwired for sweet"

We all need to be aware that children have a natural affinity towards sweet as a part of their nature to ensure survival when they are born. The sweet receptor as an important part of the taste system enables their bodies to make the decision of whether to accept a particular food (and hence ensure survival) and also to prepare the digestive system about the foods coming in. Sweet also acts as an analgesic towards pain and helps calm down babies and children. It is this basic biological mechanism that is being exploited by an onslaught of highly refined, sugar laded foods that are luring them to choose these foods over other healthier options that they actually need to grow.

Food is both nutrition AND enjoyment and we need to teach our children to choose options which satisfy both these needs. 

This is what I have learned over the years BOTH as a parent and as a Health Coach

We simply cannot give away our responsibility of providing proper nutrition to our child to "experts" no matter who they are!

We need to stop making excuses about what our child "likes to eat" (read junk and processed foods like pizza, soda, chips) and take back our power as a parent from the clutches of the food industry

We need to educate ourselves about the foods that we are giving our children and the impact it is having on their health, our ignorance can cause our children harm in the long run

We can choose to celebrate special ocassions like birthdays with healthier dietary options without compromising on taste 

We have to model the behaviour and preferences for a healthy life and eating hygiene ourselves; we cannot expect our children to follow something which we are not embodying at home

We owe it to our children to give them as healthy a start in childhood as we possibly can even if it means going against popular societal trends at that time and being "unpopular" at times; we are not here to win a popularity contest

And most importantly, we are not "depriving" our children by doing all of this, we are actually giving them the gift of long lasting health