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....
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”
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.)