Welcome to Issue #66 of Good Vibes – Start with the “how” of eating before you tackle the “what” or “how much”
All illustrations by Kanupriya Singh- 11 min read
Appetite awareness is a key component many need to work on, in order to reach their health goals. Most of us think that improving what or how much to eat is the key to understand nutrition, but believe me, it can often be more important to first talk about the HOW of eating.
I have seen so many clients who are not ready or willing to constrain their eating, eat on a schedule, or make different food choices than they do right now. They are not able to execute the basic tasks or skills that a meal plan may require. Even though you may take an eating plan from a dietician, asking doesn’t mean you do it. Plus changing what you eat may not change the underlying patterns of how you eat.
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On the flip side, changing how you eat WILL often change what and how much you eat.
Eating mindfully is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the experience of eating. It involves paying attention to the flavors, textures, and appearance of your food, as well as your physical sensations and emotional responses to it. Eating mindfully can help you make better food choices, improve your relationship with food, and enhance your overall enjoyment of meals.
Here are a few ways to practice mindful eating:
Eliminate distractions: Turn off the TV, put away your phone, and sit down at a table to eat.
Take a few deep breaths: Before starting your meal, take a few deep breaths to help you relax and focus on the present moment.
Serve yourself a reasonable portion: Take a moment to consider how much food you need to feel satisfied and serve yourself accordingly.
Pay attention to your food: Take a moment to look at your food, appreciate its colors, shapes, and aromas.
Take small bites: Take small bites and chew your food well before swallowing.
Notice your body’s signals: Pay attention to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
Reflect on your meal: After you finish eating, take a moment to reflect on your meal, how it made you feel, and how satisfied you are.
Enjoy the process: Most importantly, enjoy the process of eating and savor every bite.
Eat Slowly: Slow eating means you check in and become present, to begin to look for hunger and fullness cues. As a result, you may eat less. Slow eating creates awareness of food smells, tastes, and textures. You may instinctively move towards healthier choices, which taste better when eaten more slowly. Highly-processed “junk” food, on the other hand, often taste worse. (Try eating on a Dorito for a minute and you’ll see what I mean.) There’s also strong evidence that we need to experience the scent of our food, especially retro nasally (as in up the back of our throat into our nasal passages) to be satiated. Thus, thoroughly chewing and tasting the food, which happens when we eat slowly, is essential.
Chew thoroughly: Chewing thoroughly refers to the process of breaking down food in the mouth before swallowing it. When you chew your food well, you are helping to break it down into smaller pieces, which makes it easier to digest and can improve the overall enjoyment of your meal.
There are a few benefits to chewing your food thoroughly:
Improved digestion: Chewing your food well helps to break it down into smaller pieces, making it easier for your stomach and intestines to digest.
Increased nutrient absorption: When food is chewed well, it is exposed to more enzymes in the mouth, which can help to release more of the nutrients contained in the food.
Better appetite control: Chewing your food well can help you to feel full faster and for longer, which can help to reduce overeating.
Enhanced flavor: Chewing your food well allows you to fully experience the flavors and textures of your food, which can make your meals more enjoyable.
Reduced risk of choking: Chewing your food well can reduce the risk of choking, as smaller pieces of food are less likely to block your airway.
A general rule of thumb is to chew your food at least 20-30 times before swallowing.
Pair with nutrient-dense foods: When it comes to eating, “pairing with nutrient-dense foods” means choosing foods that are high in essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in relation to the amount of calories they contain. These foods are known as nutrient-dense foods.
Examples of nutrient-dense foods include:
Fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber
Whole grains, which are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals
Lean proteins, such as fish, chicken, and legumes, which are high in essential amino acids and minerals
Nuts and seeds, which are high in healthy fats, protein, and minerals
Low-fat dairy, which is high in calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals
Pairing your meals with nutrient-dense foods can help you get the most nutrition out of your meals and can help you to feel full and satisfied. For example, if you are eating a sandwich, you can pair it with a side of veggies or fruits, if you are having a rice dish, you can add some veggies or lean protein to make it more balanced.
Listen to your body: Pay attention to the signals and cues that your body gives you in order to understand and respond to your physical and emotional needs. It involves becoming more aware of your body’s signals and responding in a way that supports your overall well-being.
Here are a few examples of what it means to listen to your body:
Recognizing hunger and fullness cues: Paying attention to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, and eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.
Responsive eating: Eating a varied diet, and responding to your body’s preferences and needs.
Responding to thirst: Drinking water when you are thirsty, and avoiding dehydration.
Listening to your body helps you to be more in tune with your own needs, which can lead to better overall health and well-being. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another, it’s important to find what works best for you.
When you sit for your next meal, try these steps for eating slowly
Put your fork down between bites.
Relax. Breathe. Take a few extra moments or a sip of water before you pick up the fork again.
Set a timer if needed – start with 15 minutes per meal and maybe work up to 20 or even 30.
Chew a few more times than you think you need to.
Enjoy and savor each bite. Notice smells, flavors, and textures.
Eat mindfully at a table without distractions such as TV, smartphones, or the computer.
Use outcome-based decision making to assess progress and performance.
If you want to lose fat, eat to “just satisfied” instead of “full” or “stuffed”.
If want to gain mass, eat to “just full” or “slightly over full”, but not “stuffed”. For muscle gain eat to “120% full”.
You know the feeling: One salty crunch potato chips turns into 100, and suddenly you’re licking the cheese dust and wondering: What’s wrong with me?
Actually, it’s normal to feel like you can’t stop overeating certain things. Today’s hyperpalatable food is creating a modern-day food crisis—one that’s leaving us feeling sick, out of control, and constantly craving more.
Processed foods are scientifically engineered to be irresistible and easy to gobble up in large quantities. If you can’t stop, the chips are doing their job.
Processed foods are foods that have been modified from their original, whole-food form in order to change their flavor, texture, or shelf-life. Often, they’re altered so that they hit as many pleasure centers as possible—from our brains to our mouths to our bellies.
Processed foods are highly cravable, immediately gratifying, fun to eat, and easy to over-consume quickly (and often cheaply).
Processed foods will also look and feel different from their whole food counterparts, depending on the degree that they’re processed.
Marketing convinces us that processed foods are “healthy”. Processed foods come in packages with bright colors, cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, and powerful words that triggers all kinds of positive associations. You’ll see chips “prepared with avocado oil,” sugary cereal “made with flaxseeds,” or creamy chip dip with “real spinach.”
The nutrient content of those foods isn’t particularly impressive, but the addition of nutrition buzzwords and trendy ingredients make us perceive them as healthier. Health buzzwords and emotional appeals can make us perceive a food as “good for me”; it seems like a wise and caring choice to put them in our shopping carts, then in our mouths.
Big portions make us think we’re getting a “good deal”. People get mixed up about food and value. We’re taught to save money and not waste food. When companies use cheap, poor quality ingredients, they can sell bigger quantities without raising the price.
Variety makes us hungrier. When we have lots of variety, we have lots of appetite. Reduce the variety and you also reduce distraction from your body’s built-in self-regulating signals.
Multiple flavours at once are irresistible. If there’s a party in your mouth, you can guarantee that at least two out of three of the following guests will be there:
These three flavours—the sweetness of sugar, the luxurious mouthfeel of fat, and the sharp savoury of salt—are favourites among those of us with mouths. When you combine these flavours, they become ultra delicious and hard-to-resist. This is called stimuli stacking—combining two or more flavors to create a hyperpalatable food.
Just think about the ease of eating whole foods versus processed foods:
Whole foods require about 25 chews per mouthful, which means that you have to slow down. When you slow down, your satiety signals keep pace with your eating and have a chance to tell you when you’ve had enough, which is probably why you’ve never overeaten salad.
Processed food manufacturers, on the other hand, aim for food products to be broken down in 10 chews or less per mouthful. That means the intense, flavorful, crazy-delicious experience is over quickly, and you’re left wanting more—ASAP.
Get curious about the foods you eat. Less chewing + Low volume = More eating. Chewing takes time. The more we have to chew something, the longer it takes us to eat, giving our fullness signals a chance to catch up. Observe as you chew. Yup, that’s right. I want you to count your chews.
Note: Don’t do this forever. I’m not trying to turn you into the weirdo who no one wants to sit next to at the lunch table. Just try it as an experiment to get some data about how you eat different foods.
First, eat a whole food—a vegetable, fruit, whole grain, lean protein, whatever—and count how many chews you take per mouthful. How long does it take to eat an entire portion of that food? How satiated do you feel afterward? Do you want to eat more?
Then, next time you eat something processed, count how many chews you take per mouthful. How long does it take to eat that serving of pasta, chips, or cookies? How satiated do you feel afterward? Do you want to eat more?
Make some comparisons and notice the differences. Contrast how long eating each of these foods takes you, how satiated you feel after eating each of them, and how much you want to keep eating.
Put quality above quantity. It’s tempting to buy that jumbo bag of chips because it’s such a good deal. But remember: Real value isn’t about price or quantity so much as it is about quality.
Quality foods are nutrient-dense and minimally-processed. They are foods that you like, and make sense for your schedule and budget.
Quality foods may take a little more preparation and be a little more expensive upfront, but in the long run, they’re the real deal, and have a lower “health tax” to pay later in life.
Focus on whole foods. Whole foods will make it easier to regulate food intake and will also improve nutrition.
We can almost feel “high” when we eat processed foods. Whole foods, on the other hand, are more subtle in flavor and require a bit more effort to chew and digest. Instead of feeling high, whole foods just make us feel nourished and content.
Whole foods are generally more perishable than processed foods, so this will require some more planning and preparation. So schedule some extra time in the kitchen
Plan ahead: Make a list of healthy foods that you enjoy and make sure to have them on hand. Having healthy options readily available will make it easier to make good choices when you’re hungry.
Remove all junk food from your pantry, refrigerator, and counter space. If it’s not there, you’re less likely to eat it. I had done a whole newsletter on how to create the right environment.
Be mindful of your triggers: Identify the situations or emotions that lead you to eat junk food. Once you know your triggers, you can plan ahead to avoid them or find healthier ways to cope with them. Habits are powerful, for better or for worse. They can work for us or against us. Identify your triggers. Find a new behaviour in response to your trigger. Every time a trigger pops up that compels you to eat, replace eating with a healthy feel-good behavior.
In the Next issue: Eating and immunity – What to Eat when you become sick.
A quote to end the week strong
“Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Eat