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.)

Selfcare- Getting to know yourself (Take back the power to heal yourself Part 3)

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This last post focusses on self-discovery which is an integral part of taking care of yourself. If you do not really recognise who you are any more, how can you expect that you will be able to accept the person that you are today? Not ten years ago, not twenty, but TODAY. Whether we realise it or not, we are all shaped and moulded by our life experiences and we are constantly changing. This is nothing to be scared of as it is a completely natural process; on the other hand, it is something to embrace!

Without this self-awareness and self-acceptance, we rarely find the strength to prioritise self-care.  As you go on a journey to rediscover yourself, you start becoming comfortable in your own skin and learn to show up as you are, without feeling the need to don any masks.

“As you become familiar with yourself once again, you may find within yourself what you have been seeking from others”

In many ways, this has been the most important lesson that life has taught me over the recent years of my struggle. I have had to confront the reality of who I am and initially, I had trouble accepting those parts of me that did not live up to my expectations. For me, it was a combination of expectations around what I SHOULD have achieved in terms of my professional life and my feelings of GUILT around my daughter’s health issues (whether it was justified or not is not the point). It will be different for everyone as we all have our own demons.

But, over time as I have consciously spent time with myself in different ways (solo breaks, meditation, relaxation) I have learned to accept myself as I would another person.

I have learned to forgive my imperfections and embrace who I have become and what I stand for and be proud of it. Isn’t it wonderful and liberating at the same time to become comfortable in your own skin? I invite you to do the same!

This means that you may need to

get over the fear of really connecting with yourself even if it means facing those parts of yourself that you are not comfortable with; these are usually our feelings of fear around shame and unworthiness. Please show yourself the same love and compassion much as you would a child or someone who is hurting, maybe these hidden and neglected parts of you have been waiting for your attention all this while

say “no” to situations and people that don’t serve you well at this time; this also makes it easier to say “yes” to those things that really matter in your life and you would like to pursue

find a meditation practice that will help you to practice paying attention; attention to your life, your body and your relationships with everything around you. Being mindful helps you to take part in your life fully and accept all feelings of joy, gratitude, anger, shame and love without any judgement

let go of expectations as you start on this journey of self-discovery; you may even feel the need to forgive and many times you may find that the person you need to forgive the most is yourself

become curious about your likes and dislikes; when was the last time you did something that you TRULY enjoyed doing and not because you had to do it or it was expected of you? Do you still enjoy hobbies, activities and even play like you used to? Find out what your likes and dislikes are at this point in your life by trying out different things

find a way to recognise your strengths so that you can consciously and effectively use them to enhance your life and overcome challenges; (you can use the “best possible self” narrative or even a survey like the VIA character strengths- I will be writing more on this in another post)

meet yourself with a sense of humour; everything in life does not need to be an emergency, you may need to learn to laugh at yourself or at situations at various points in time

explore the reasons behind your need to be “busy” at all times; is there something that you are trying to avoid facing in your life?

As you get to know yourself, you may also realise that

you are “whole” and worthy of being loved just as you are

the love that you desperately seek is right there deep inside of you. And as you start accepting yourself unconditionally, the craving for respect and approval that you seek from others loses its hold over you and social media becomes just another tool for connection and nothing more

your self-worth is not linked to anyone else or any external circumstances (which are usually not in your control); it has been there with you all along, you just needed to find it

you are and always will be a unique “work-in-progress” and that’s ok; so is everyone else! The “perfect” body/job/partner is an illusion that we need to recognise and face up to  

With time, the compassion that you show for yourself can turn into unconditional self-acceptance. With this, we realise that most of the times, we need to find the strength to simply show up and be ourselves and know that IT IS ENOUGH. When this happens, we feel connected to ourselves and to everyone else in a way that ultimately gives our life meaning and helps us find our purpose.

As we become comfortable with who we are, we turn outwards because we feel that we are a part of a bigger whole; a realisation that makes us stop feeling isolated and lonely. This is a liberating and joyous realisation and makes life truly worth celebrating. This feeling of being connected to ourselves and others can help us in many different ways. We can find the strength to focus on healing ourselves in more ways than one even if our condition is beyond a “cure”. And sometimes, we may find that through our own struggles and pain, we can ease the pain of others.

So I invite you to join me on a journey towards self-discovery. And if you have a need for it, this path that will ultimately lead you towards self-care and healing.