Two things have happened in my life recently that have had me thinking about weight loss, eating healthier and all the contradicting and confusing information out there regarding these topics. One of those two things, was listening to a renowned nutritionist and fitness expert talking about all the diets that are out there and the only real two pillars of healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight. She was talking about different cultures, comparing diet crazes, and answered the question of what we need to do in order to lose weight and keep it off in the clearest way possible. Once you hear it, you're going to say "well, obviously! We all know that!", but I want to challenge you to really think about it for a second. For this expert, many people have success on the many diets that are out there, not because diet A is better than diet B, but because when you dig deep, they all go back to the two pillars of health and weight control: quantity of food and quality of food.
It's not that eating no carbs after 4 is the magic bullet, or that eating only protein is the secret solution, it's that almost all diets out there rely on reducing the quantity of the food you eat and improving the quality by eliminating things like processed foods. In a way, this would tell you that any diet that you choose to go on would work, and yes, in a sense, this is true. This is why there are glowing testimonials for no carb, low fat, eating within a time window, high protein, high carb, no oil, no fruit, high fruit diets. Someone somewhere has had "success" on these diets because of the quantity/quality factor. What's the downside? These diets are all temporary due to the amount of restriction they ask you to adhere to, which means the results are also temporary.
So what if we found a natural way to hone in on these two principles without the added stress or strict rules of traditional diets? That's exactly what I've been doing and it's quite literally changing my entire view about food and my body.
When talking about quality, I want you to read last week's post where we talk all about centering our diets on whole plant foods and transforming them into the delicious dishes we all know and love (i.e. focusing on quality). Today however, we're going to talk about quantity.
A more natural approach to portion control
Forget about scales, forget about measuring, forget about serving food on tiny plates or eating it with tiny forks. I'm going to invite you into your body's own natural mechanism for portion control. My second story was one of those magic coincidences, and it has made the biggest impact on my eating habits. A few days after I had listened to that fitness expert talking about quantity and quality, I had a group of friends over for dinner, and we ended up talking about veganism and health for hours. One of our guests was a nurse, and he began talking about portion control and how he simply advises his patients to start eating slower, and to put their forks down between bites, and allow your body's natural response of satiety (knowing when it feels full) to kick in. This little piece of wisdom was coming from such an unexpected source that something in me was really listening. When the dinner was over, my husband Carlos immediately started talking about what he had said and vowed to start trying it. Our friend's wise words are what we call mindful eating.
We've all heard and read this before right? Set the table when you sit down to eat, don't do it in front of the TV, focus on your food and its colors, etc. None of these things had ever worked for me because these are simply the superficial aspects (although great tips too) of mindful eating. What really helped me after that conversation was my husband reminding me before every single meal to "eat slowly". I started putting my fork down, taking sips of water, talking with him, taking another bite and slowing down. The first two days I was about to have a nervous breakdown because it felt utterly ridiculous and against my gobble down nature. After a few days though, just like you feel after a good yoga class, or when you wake up feeling completely rested, I started seeing what all the fuss was about. I was enjoying my food even more than I usually do, lunchtime turned into an incredibly blissful moment I couldn't wait to get to, and this time it wasn't only because of the food. I felt relaxed and rested at the end, instead of stuffed or lethargic.
It was magic.
I soon started seeing how I would naturally feel content and full with much less and we started having a ton of leftovers! On the one occasion I forgot to do it, a night out with friends, I ate what I would normally eat in that restaurant and felt so full I almost couldn't walk. Our bodies are so wise and incredible that they will know how to balance things out if you just listen. It can take over 20 minutes for the brain to receive signals of satiety from the stomach, meaning we eat non-stop and way more than we're supposed to, and suddenly, usually while we're already doing the dishes, our tummies say "whoaaaa... what did you do to me?! When's my nap?". This was always my case, since my big problem with food was always eating very large quantities of it. As a young girl I could eat much more than my grown uncles and grandfather, and I was praised for it. I was very petite and tiny, so everyone thought it was hilarious that I could eat so much and never said no to any foods. The minute I hit puberty I started gaining weight, and a serious knee injury when I was 15 made things even worse. I grew up as an "all you can eat" adult, and my body wasn't happy. I even suffered for two very painful years of very serious gastritis and stomach problems, with the most horrible stomach pains you could imagine and absolutely no relief using the standard medication.
Mindful eating is a very sweet way of saying, "let your body do the talking!" and I can already tell you it is changing my complete outlook on my time at the table. It is what I now firmly believe is the secret to managing that second pillar: quantity.
Here are my top tips for starting to incorporate a mindful eating practice every time you sit down to eat.
1) Every time you sit at the table, repeat, like a mantra; "eat slowly". Make this a requirement before you start eating, similar to saying grace if this is a tradition in your home. This brief reminder will completely focus you before you start mindlessly gobbling everything in sight.
2) Remember that the food isn't going anywhere, and you can have it again any time you want.
3) Remember to breathe, and I mean deep relaxing breaths while you're eating and between bites.
4) Relax by resting your back against the chair and enjoy the present moment, the conversations, or that simple time of solitude and quiet time with yourself.
5) Put your fork down! It isn't going anywhere and just like a kid with a toy, you'll use it if you're holding it. Between bites, or while you're talking to whoever is sharing the meal with you, set your fork down and relax.
6) Arrange the food on your plate in a nice way, make it so that you really love the entire experience, and yes, the usual tips of setting a nice table and making it special also apply here.
7) Drink water. We're creatures of habit and we're going to really want to hold or do something when we initially start practicing mindful eating. Let water be your crutch. It really helps, and we all need to hydrate more so it's a win win!
8) Pay special attention to the two crucial moments during your meal, the start of your meal, and when you're almost finished eating. These are the two moments in which we will tend to eat faster, the first because we're naturally hungry and want to start enjoying our food, and the second because some of us get very anxious and react in very different ways when we're about to finish our meals. We can feel anxiety because the meal is ending, or stress because it means we need to go back to work. Be extra mindful during these moments, as well as when your favorite meal is being served. This can also be a tricky one in which it's more challenging to slow down.
9) Listen to your body. Do a body check, see how your tummy is feeling and how you want to feel after the meal. If you've taken all the previous steps and you really slow down and relax, you'll be able to tell when your body feels full and nourished. Some days you'll need to eat the entire helping, and some days you'll need to get out that tupperware. Let your body do the talking, and it will, if you slow down and listen.
I want to leave you with this great video by psychotherapist Sabrina Weyeneth about the psychological aspects of mindful eating and some other tips and tricks you can incorporate to help you along the way.
Quantity and quality... it sounds so simple and doable, let's stop complicating it with strict rules that might give quick results but that don't serve us in our life journey to health.