Thursday, September 27, 2007
5 Nutrition Tip #4: How to Eat Healthfully & Feel Satisfied
I'd like to address the psychological aspects of eating in terms of satiety & enjoyment, and offer some mental tactics that I use to reinforce healthful eating behaviors.
For starters, I think that for most of us, the act of eating transcends mere survival purposes. In the best moments, those of us who love cooking & eating healthy food eat for both pleasure and for nourishment.
Of course, there are many other reasons why people eat -- some of them good & some of them not so good. I'd like to talk about those moments when we need the most help staying on track, & how to not let the "food demons" get the best of us & offer tactics for sticking to our goals & good intentions.
When things aren't going so well, when the stress builds, &/or when counterproductive emotions & thoughts enter the picture, this is, of course, when we usually need to pay the most attention to our eating behaviors. And ironically, it's also the (low) point at which we often find ourselves resorting to unhealthy eating behaviors as a way to temporarily satisfy types of hunger which aren't always physical in nature.
So, how should we approach these "weak" moments? What are some useful coping mechanisms?
One thing I've learned over the years is that if you are craving that piece of chocolate cake (or whatever tasty treat is calling your name!), it's much better to go ahead & eat that piece of chocolate cake. If you deprive yourself, and then spend half the afternoon contemplating that piece of chocolate cake, the resulting actions are usually much worse. A human being is not meant to live in a prolonged state of restriction & deprivation. When we are feeling restricted or repressed, the natural tendency is to "rebel" and spring out like a tightly wound coil! We will ultimately "lose it" & "go bonkers," and this is especially true of our relationship with food! (Of course, this is why diets never work!)
How many of us have gorged ourselves on whole box of crackers as a poor substitute for the chocolate cake, or worse, after feeling the effects of our self-imposed deprivation, eaten the entire chocolate cake!?! Of course, it's would've been much better to have just eaten the piece of chocolate cake than to play head games with ourselves & succumb to even more intense cravings as a direct result of such deprivation.
We humans like to think about winning & gaining good things/ideas, & not about losing, lacking, & going without. And the way to health is to get our heads in gear & to concentrate on the good things we gain through balanced, healthy eating & yes, also the occasional piece of chocolate cake. ;-)
This philosophy is not just about food & eating. It's about balance.
For many of us, this can be a particularly hard lesson to learn. For those who have never known balance before as a regular part of their lives, let alone in their eating behaviors, this lesson can be an exceptionally hard struggle. We are often not only struggling with ourselves, but with the perceptions, judgments, & expectations of others.
If you come from a family that sometimes doesn't (or didn't) always have the most balanced or healthy outlook on eating, these often deeply-ingrained influences can often take years of undoing to achieve a personal sense of balance. It's not easy to deal with family members who are vocal in their expressions of their disapproval, especially when these sentiments are unsolicited, & often tinged with fear & harsh judgment. In order to reset your mental outlook so that it doesn't mimic what you learned at home, you must essentially rewrite your own "script" of acceptable behaviors for yourself, based upon your own standards.
Some people might feel a tremendous sense of guilt or fear the repercussions of family &/or societal disapproval/judgment if they were to eat the chocolate cake (or other "guilty pleasure" food item) in front of their family members, friends, or other people with whom they interact.
These feelings may or may not be rooted in reality, as it's not uncommon for people to perceive "knowledge" of other people's thoughts without actually asking to verify whether or not these perceptions are, in fact, true.
Regardless, dwelling on these thoughts can frequently lead to unhealthy closeted eating behaviors, or other dysfunctional manifestations.
Either way, the thoughts & feelings have to have somewhere to go, so it's better to learn how to overcome the disapproval of others (without feeling the need to say a big "F-You!", which only builds up anger & resentment & comes back to hurt you in the end), & just eat that piece of chocolate cake.
Not that I have any personal experience in this area or anything. ;-)
Here's a singular personal example of such an experience, which shows what I did to overcome such disapproval:
I'll never forget the time that I wanted to order hash browns at Perkins while I was with my family. (Let me add that this was fairly recent history, perhaps about a year or two ago.) I had to endure a half-hour tirade on why I shouldn't eat the hash browns, courtesy of my mother, father, & sister.
Of course, for many individuals, this might make them even more determined to eat the hash browns as an "F-You" gesture. But of course by choosing "up" when someone says "down" is not really a choice either. It's a knee-jerk reaction. But this was not how I approached the situation.
I'm not denying that I wanted those hash browns. I did. Damn it, I wanted those hash browns & nothing was going to deter me from enjoying them in good conscience.
The thing that made all the difference is that I made a conscious choice for myself & my own enjoyment, & didn't let anyone's opinion of my actions sway me one way or the other.
Of course, I had to endure an entire barrage of comments before, during, & after I ate them, but the significant improvement was that, not only did I make the conscious choice to eat them, but I ate them right in front of my disapproving family.
Now I'm sure my family won't see this as an improvement, but frankly, I don't care.
It doesn't matter to me if my family jumps to conclusions & starts thinking that "surely I must eat this way all the time" as it was their only sole experience witnessing me eat like this at a breakfast establishment in a long, long while.
And I don't care if they tell me that my arteries will clog if I eat a single serving of hash browns, etc.
I don't care to hear any of their dissuading arguments, because frankly, these types of thoughts are primarily rooted in fear versus logic. Also, while they might be coming from a place in which they profess to have my best interests are heart, I'm not about to allow anyone (regardless of their relation to me) to assert that kind of control over my life. When it comes to my well-being & eating habits, I'm in the driver's seat.
Just because I decide to eat hash browns once in a restaurant & my family (or anyone else) happens to witness such a "crime" doesn't mean I eat them all the time. A person's life isn't the sum equivalent of what another sees in a single instance. A person's life does exist outside of this narrow window! ;-)
Also, you don't die of arterial sclerosis by eating one portion of hash browns less than once or twice a year! ;-)
Again, moderation & balance are the keys to maintaining a healthy nutritional plan, a healthy weight, & an overall healthy mental outlook. Eating treats once in a while is a normal, healthy thing to do, & the "what," where" & "when" of it certainly isn't going to be dictated or determined by someone other than myself, thank you very much!
The larger point I'm trying to make is that it's better to satisfy the occasional craving than to go batty from deprivation & eat the whole bin of fries as "payback" or to satisfy the craving that by this point has gone so completely out of whack that the only thing that can save you from going off the deep end are restraints & a little white mental patient outfit. ;-)
I'm not expecting my family to agree with me any time in the next millennium, but if you are struggling with any of these similar issues, I want you to know that yes, it is possible to endure disapproval & live through it! Call it strength of character, spine, backbone, courage, or whatever you like, but it's something that I'm very proud I can do.
It also helps to have a supportive life-mate. I feel very lucky to have a partner/fiancé who feels the same way I do about these sorts of issues, with regard to balance & moderation. He came from a more "normal" family than me in this regard, and it's often reassuring to see moderation at work in the way he chooses to lead his life. Although I've probably never told him this before to his face, the way in which he exemplifies these behaviors serves as excellent reinforcement, and makes me feel less like I'm battling an entire opposing army all by myself.
Of course I love & value my family, and I'm not suggesting that it's always like this with them. They have their moments -- good & bad -- like anyone else. In fact, strangely enough, as I get thinner & thus closer to approaching my goal weight, they seem to push more & more food my way & tell me not to get "too thin." Not quite sure what's exactly going on with this (perhaps these behaviors are sincere attempts to feed me as an expression of love, or a way of coping with the fear of having to face oneself & one's actions or lack thereof, or maybe a way of facing possible feelings of inadequacy via unrealistic/counterproductive comparisons, etc.?), but again, I'm not letting these behaviors influence me one way or the other. Frankly, I'll do as I please.
The important thing is that I know that I've found sound eating & exercise principles that work for me, as well as a realistic, obtainable goal weight, & have every confidence that I can achieve & maintain these standards & goals.
If my family & friends are inspired to go for a walk or work out, that's great, & I highly applaud their efforts! I would rather be an example via action than words alone.
It took me a long time to get to this point (i.e., to disregard/be OK with family disapproval), but I feel incredibly liberated. While I was never really was influenced by the actions of my peers -- whether these actions were positive or negative, I did find myself throughout the years (mostly during my late teens & early twenties) struggling to overcome some of the less healthy effects of certain familial influences.
Let me make it clear that I take full responsibility for my actions & am not blaming them for anything that I currently do; I only contest actions & comments of theirs which I see as counterproductive in my quest for health & fitness. For the most part, they are supportive of my efforts. Likewise, I try my best to be supportive of their positive strides towards better nutrition/fitness/health. I make a pointed, conscious attempt not to lecture them or tell them what to do with regard to their eating &/or health, as I know I certainly do not appreciate unsolicited advice or opinions!
Of course part of the process of becoming an adult is allowing yourself to establish your own domain & personality, while redefining your relationship with your family. Now, while I'm well past the stages of early adulthood, I still think a lot about the ever-evolving relationship I have with my family. And of course an aspect of this relationship includes the way in which my family & I interact on the often weighty subject of food.
For me it's mostly an issue of maintaining the proper boundary lines between myself & my own identity & their own identities, as well as our (food) likes & dislikes. There are some general areas in which we share lots of common ground & often similarities of opinion, but I am ultimately my own independent, thinking & feeling person. While I think it's important to consider the welfare/good of others, I will not be passive-aggressively manipulated or guilted into doing something (or not doing something!) that I don't agree with at all. ;-)
There are some people who might not have any issues at all (when it comes to family & food), & might not be able to relate to what I'm saying, but I venture that most people will understand what I'm talking about. For those of you who have no clue, I recommend you rent movies like What's Cooking?, Real Women Have Curves, Tortilla Soup, or Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. ;-)
The relationship between family/culture/personal identity and food are inextricably intertwined, & it's something to which most humans can relate.
If it's not already patently obvious, I'm not one of those overly sentimental or euphemistic sorts who simply brushes the not-so-nice bits -- about myself, my family, my friends, & the world at large -- under the carpet. I am a person who faces facts, whether they are cold & hard or warm & mushy. ;-) Now of course, it's my prerogative to face those facts in my own time and choosing. And I certainly don't wish to give or receive unsolicited "fact-facing," especially when it's not given from a place or concern or kindness. Nonetheless, I usually don't like to delude myself.
While escapism via entertainment (reading, movie-watching, etc.) can be a healthy diversion, I like to occasionally "check" myself to make sure it's not turning into a form of procrastination or outright avoidance! ;-)
This brings me to my second piece of advice about healthy & balanced eating, or rather the psychology behind healthy & balanced eating! Not surprisingly, this next tip is about the importance of self-awareness & honesty in assessing your current eating behaviors.
I recommend that anytime you are struggling with the issue of "to eat or not to eat" something, ask yourself the following simple-but-straightforward question: "Why do I want to eat this?"
If your answer is truly & honestly related to your hunger or the taste of the food item, then I would stop struggling & eat the thing you're craving in moderation. Get it out of your system so you can clear your head & focus on the bigger picture, namely the realization of your health & fitness goals. For more tips, see my post entitled Nutrition Tip #2: The Secrets to a Balanced Approach to Eating, Or How to Deal with The Munchies!
If you are eating for another reason, then I would take a moment to consider that reason. (Are you eating to fill a void or avoid pain, confrontation/self-confrontation, or another uncomfortable emotion or thought?) If you stop & think about your larger goals, consider if what you are about to do is consistent with those goals. Again, read the above post for more tips. If you are eating out of psychological reasons that have nothing to do with hunger or the taste of food, then I'd recommend addressing the underlying reasons. Reach out for support from positive, helpful people, or if it's a particularly difficult issue you're trying to overcome, you might want to seek professional counsel.
The key to staying on target with your nutritional goals is knowing yourself & your behavioral tendencies, & then preparing specific strategies in advance to deal with your "weak" moments. If you are realistic & face your foibles squarely & without judgment, & also give yourself room for error, you are more likely to succeed.
As reinforcement, write it all down -- your issues, strategies, goals, etc.
Writing = visualization = success.
Mental energy should only be focused on moving forward. So be kind to yourself when you have a setback or don't meet your own expectations. Just course-correct & keep going forward.
And lastly, let go of old behaviors that don't serve you or your goals: Leave behind the guilt & any other unproductive feelings, so you can evolve into a smarter & more successful human being. If you can set your mind on a path to success & continually reaffirm your path, you are half-way there already!