“Your relationship with food—the thing that you are so desperate about, which causes you so much discomfort, that you want to change and fix right now—can lead you to the centre of your very own life when you are curious about it.
What you eat, when you eat, where you eat and how you feel when you eat are clues to guide you home to yourself.” —Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God
The complexity of what happens when we process food isn't well understood from a health perspective.
Don't get me wrong, we know a lot of things about the process, but there's so much we don't know.
Partly, this is because food science has worked to understand how to make things appealing to you rather than to understand the health aspects. Heath is usually an afterthought. Some trait of the creation that happens to exist being highlighted because, in comparison to other features of the creation, it's a healthy thing.
Suddenly you have food marked as "high in antioxidants" and sold as healthy.
Antioxidants might be a positive choice for you. But they don't necessarily make that food healthy, or even make it a food that makes all those antioxidants available to you (remember, your body still had to process the food).
It's bloody confusing.
The thing is, no food is inherently good or bad. Food is a story. It's a script. It's information we give our bodies. It's part of the communication we have with the world. It's meals, it's people, it's community.
When you're feeling confused about all the complexity (including that which is added by all those health claims), try to remember what story you're trying to tell.
Choose food that helps you communicate that story.
If you need help starting to tell your story, I can help you get started. Reach out to me and let's get your story told!
If you feel like your eating is out of control, let's talk about how you can get that feeling of control back.
First, try doing this exercise:
Draw three concentric circles. Label the smallest circle "total control", the middle circle "some control, and the outer circle "no control".
Start filling the diagram you've drawn in.
- What in your life and eating do you have total control over?
- What do you have some control over?
- What do you have no control over?
Review what you've done. Ask yourself "how do I know I have total, some, or no control over this?" Test your evidence for each one.
Are you absolutely sure you have total control over your feelings?
And no control over your work schedule? None? How do you know for sure?
Make sure each item holds up to critical scrutiny. Then look at your diagram and see where you've allocated everything.
1. Highlight the items under total control.
Be the boss of these things! Go out there and do it - deliberately control the things you can control.
2. Think about the things under 'some' control.
Is there anything there that could move into the total control sphere? What would you have to do to move it? What pushes these things out into the no control sphere? Do you need to control these? Just think about them.
3. Let go of the things under 'no control'.
You have no control over these things! All you can do is manage and dynamically respond to these, using the things you can control from the other spheres. Let go of the things you can't control.
As you probably realise, we often have a strong desire to control that third category. How much frustration comes from that?
Feeling like you don't have control over something is tremendously disempowering.
Feeling like you do have control over something that you don't is also problematic.
The key here is understanding the realities of what is and isn't under your control.
Let me know how you go with this exercise, I hope it helps.
Our bodies are well adapted to eating whole, minimally processed foods. Eating this sort of food helps you to thrive.
In the nutrition space, it's common to say that you should avoid processed foods. It's good advice, but it's worth putting some thought into exactly what "processed" means to you.
Processing foods makes them bad. There's a conversation to be had about what processed means.
Every time you cook at home, you're processing food. How you cook it changes how you'll be able to digest it, making different macro and micro nutrients available to you.
My favourite example of this is that simply slicing or crushing garlic causes it to release a compound called allicin that has generally beneficial properties when consumed. It's not available if you don't crush or slice the garlic and the process stops in the presence of heat.
So cut your garlic first, leave it on the chopping board for 15 minutes before you cook with it.
Maybe the line should be that "processed" is okay if you're the one doing the processing.
But even this is a big line. When was the last time you milled your own grain to make flour? Or made your own yoghurt? Or minced the meat for your own sausages?
The more you can cook at home, the better. But don't get too hung up on avoiding processed foods - just be aware of the line is for you.
You don't have to give up carbs to eat well.
You will need to eat better quality carbs.
What's a better quality carb choice?
Carbs that are:
- higher in fiber (so they digest relatively slowly, giving you long-lasting slow-burn energy)
- full of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients;
- friendly to your blood sugar, hormones, and digestion;
- versatile and easily cooked; and
- whole, relatively minimally processed foods.
Choose carbs that add value to your body.
And remember, 1% better is still better.
Putting mindfulness into practice
Yesterday, I wrote about how mindfulness and simple self-awareness can change body, brain, and behaviour.
I want to tell you about a straightforward thing you can do today to help you get a better sense of your bodily experience.
It’s simple... But it’s not easy.
It’s also incredible how transformational this can be.
It’s that simple.
- Putting your fork down between bites.
- Relax. Breathe. Take a few extra moments before you pick the fork up again.
- Set a timer if you need to — start with 15 minutes per meal as a basic goal. Work up to 20 or even 30.
- Chew a few more times than you think you need to.
- Enjoy and savour each bite. If you’re eating something delicious, take pleasure in it. Notice smells, flavours, and textures.
- Eat mindfully without distractions such as TV, smartphones, or the computer. (Pleasant conversation with friends and family is, of course, welcome.)
Yes. I’m serious. Eat slowly!
When I ask my clients to do this, they’re often surprised. “It’s too easy,” they say. Before admitting that they don’t eat slowly already.
As I said, this is simple, not necessarily easy.
Why slow eating is awesome
Slow eating does some important things!
Slow eating creates mindfulness. Mindfulness creates awareness.
A lot of people eat poorly simply because they’re unaware. They’re unaware of how to eat well, of what poor (or good) eating feels like, of how their body responds to different food choices.
The thing is, being ‘aware’ is a one-way street. Once you’re aware, you can’t go back to unaware.
A lot of people who want to lose weight know they need to eat less. And they almost always rely on external things to help them eat less. I’m talking about things like calorie counting or eating strict portions. I’ve been here - for a time; I weighed all the food I ate. And of course, as you might expect, I didn’t keep doing it in the long run. Remember the elephant?
Luckily, I learned to get the hang of slow eating and body cues so that I was aware when I overate. And you can too.
You see, slow, aware over-eating (and its aftermath) isn’t fun. You’ll notice when you do it.
Slow eating means you enjoy your food more
Eating slowly attunes you to flavours, textures, and smells of food. You’ll become more aware of holistic food quality.
Junk food tastes like shit when you eat it slowly. It’s disappointing, empty, unsatisfying - even downright disgusting.
But, real food often tastes even better when you eat it slowly.
Driven by taste, you’ll instinctively start to seek out better choices.
That emotional brain elephant is gently guided, rather than wrenched unwillingly.
Slow eating provides important information to the GI tract and gives satiety hormones time to kick in.
This might sound weird, but smelling, chewing, tasting, and swallowing food is all part of eating. I know, I know; stating the obvious.
The thing is, all of those parts of eating are involved in communicating with the rest of the gastrointestinal (GI) system. They all give essential data to the whole system.
Ever noticed how smelling something cooking makes you salivate? Well, it goes further than that - our bodies get ready for digestion by releasing enzymes and hormones and kicking off processes to get the process going. Also, retronasal olfaction (the smell that wafts up into your nasal passages via the back of your throat when you chew) is a crucial component of satiety.
If you rush, you don’t smell, taste, or texturally experience your food. Your body doesn’t notice stuff getting shoved into the pipeline until it’s too late.
However, when you eat slowly, your satiety hormones have time to work. You can stop eating naturally, earlier.
Slow eating helps with digestion.
As I alluded to above, awareness of the information your food is giving you helps your body to cue digestive activity properly, so the GI system isn’t caught off guard. Your gut will be ready to deal with something, and if you’ve eaten slowly, it’ll know more about what you ate and what to do with it.
So you’ll feel better after you eat.
You might even find that your heartburn and indigestion seem to go away magically.
Slow eating doesn’t depend on controlling what you eat.
This is a big one. You can eat slowly anywhere, at any time, with any food. Whether it’s a huge Christmas lunch, an important family dinner, or a business lunch. No matter what’s on your plate or who’s around you, you can eat slowly.
You can be doing something mindful for your health while not feeling restrictive or deprived. And we all know that emotional-brain elephant hates being deprived. You can even do this while eating a cheat meal or an emotional eating episode.
Slow eating makes your body the boss.
This is pretty cool.
Getting good at slow eating means that eventually, you won’t need to rely on external controls like weighing food or calorie counting. You’ll know what’s right for you, and even if you’re unsure at the start of the meal, you’ll be aware enough to know while you’re eating. You’ll feel much less anxious about calories and much more self-assured when you eat.
As I learned when I stopped weighing my food, relinquishing (external) control gives you much more real control.
Mindfulness is the path to this outcome.
Simple, but not easy
As I said at the start, eating slowly is simple, but it’s not easy. I listed some strategies you can use - go back and take a look if you want to give this a go!
Eating slowly is easy to understand. The ways you can do it are simple. But it’s not easy to do them. As usual, it’s not so much the ‘what’ to do, but the ‘how’ to do it that’s hard. It’s entirely normal for you to find this difficult - I know I do!
You might notice some resistance in things like:
- You don’t love your favourite junk foods as much as you thought. Be prepared for some grief and loss here.
- You are rushing and stressed much of the time anyway. Trying to eat slowly stresses you out because you “don’t have time”. Start with eating slowly just one meal a day. Ask yourself, am I really so busy I can’t take 15 minutes to eat?
- It’s hard to be alone and quiet with yourself while eating. Maybe you rushed lunch before because you were avoiding being alone. I encourage you to try for a few minutes and sit with any discomfort. Be curious about the discomfort.
Even slowing down by a minute or two in a meal is a victory. Focus on when you could eat slowly rather than when you couldn’t. You haven’t failed at eating slowly if you rushed the first half of the meal but slowed down for the second half. Once you’re aware, you can’t go back to being unaware.
I’d love to hear how you go trying to eat slowly. Let me know in the comments, or send me an email! I’m curious, do you have any other strategies to eat slowly?