You know the story, you eat well and exercise but just don’t seem to be able to drop those kilos? What if you could lose weight without changing the way you eat? For most of us, our diets are pretty good most of the time. But it’s possible that it’s not so much what you are eating but rather the way you are eating that is impacting on your inability to lose weight.
Everything we eat contributes to the state of our health. When we eat foods that are acidic (such as processed foods) our body becomes acidic. Acidity leads to disease. But even alkaline foods can have an acidic effect on the body if we do not chew our food properly. Do you remember being told as a child to chew your food? Well there’s a reason for that! Food is supposed to be broken down in the mouth. Our intestines and stomach have a big job to do and it takes a lot of energy to digest our food.
Chewing our food properly (until it is liquefied) allows our body to absorb more nutrient and energy from our food. It increases the bioaccessibility of food and when chewed properly, this absorption process begins in the mouth. When we send down food that is in large chunks, we need more bacteria in our intestines to break it down. This leads to bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and cramping. It takes around 20 minutes for the signal to come from the brain that we are full. The slower we eat the less chance there is that we will overeat because we consumed less food before we hear the signal from our brain that we are full (but you still need to listen to that signal and stop eating!).
Consuming food, it’s such a complicated matter! Here are some thing for you to consider about the way that you consume food:
Eat whilst doing something else – this may be watching television, reading a book, driving in the car, working or snacking at the movies
Eat late at night
Eat in a rush
Snack when you are bored, tired, upset, nervous, irritated, excited, happy or for any other reason other than genuine, pit-of-your-belly hunger
If this sounds like some of your behaviours, you may find changing your awareness of your food consumption brings great results to your health. When we eat for any other reason that genuine hunger, we don’t need that energy. This is true whether you are eating a salad or a hamburger, all surplus energy that is not used by the body will be stored by the body.
When I was a child I was an overeater. I would always need to have something in my hand that went into my mouth. This was usually a carrot or an apple which were my two favourite accessible foods (if you discount chips and biscuits which weren’t often available in my childhood house). I remember our next door neighbour saying to me one day, ‘you are always eating’ and my reply was ‘yes, but it’s a carrot’. It doesn’t really matter what I was eating, I didn’t need that food! And my body stored that extra energy in the form of fat.
Often we eat when we are distracted. This might even just be snacking on some nuts at your work desk. The problem is, when we snack without being mindful of what we are eating, our brain doesn’t receive that message that we eating and we are full. Eating is more than the consumption of food, it’s related to our satisfaction of texture, taste, sight, sound and smell. When we eat when distracted, we are not fulfilling all aspects of eating. We don’t get the message that we’ve eaten! Have you ever finished something and thought to yourself, where did that go? Did I eat it all? (or is that just me!?).
Most of us have emotional triggers for eating and these were probably laid down in childhood. In fact we see many of these triggers being set up in children daily. When a child is upset and we offer them a distraction in the form of food, not only are we failing to recognize the importance of their feelings at that moment, we are also teaching them to use food to soothe their emotional upsets. It can be tricky because food is used in celebration around the world. But we need to remember that whilst food is for enjoyment and celebration, its primary role is to provide energy to keep us alive. I try to remember ‘this won’t be the last time I have access to something delicious’.
There are three habits that you can change today that will help you to consume less food and to be more mindful of the messages your body is giving you:
Drink 2 litres of water every day – 90% of hunger is actually thirst. Next time you are hungry, try drinking a glass of water first and see if that satiates your hunger. Water is used in every part of our body and the impact of being dehydrated can be severe. Migraines are the usual culprit of dehydration but there are other problems that it can cause too.
Fast for 14 hours every day. Fasting is incredibly good for your immune system. Our ancestors experienced times of plentitude and times of sparsity and our evolutionary biology is imprinted with this memory. If you eat your last meal at 6pm in the evening and delay your breakfast until 8am the next day, you have achieved a 14 hour fast.
When dishing up for a meal, prepare the plates with the appropriate amount of food in the kitchen and then serve rather than putting dishes on the centre of the table. When we operate a buffet, self-service style of meal, we overeat because of easy access to delicious food when we don’t actually need any more. If you remove that temptation to pick and eat extra it is easier not to over eat. If you are still hungry after eating what you have dished out, you can always go and get some more but you will have had to think about that and make the decision to do so.
We can also teach children that hunger does not need to be met with an instant gratification of food. It’s OK to feel some hunger sometimes. Food preparation takes time and effort and should be respected. Our children can learn to prepare food when they are hunger, distract themselves with activities when they are bored and eat to fuel their body not their emotional needs.
True hunger does not come upon us quickly. If we feel hungry in an instant, we know that what we are experiencing is an emotional challenge. True hunger starts small and works its way towards stomach growling over the course of a reasonably long period of time. If you feel that sudden feeling of hunger, ask yourself what is it that is challenging you and deal with that rather than distracting yourself with food that your body does not need.
I have a little mantra in my kitchen that I see many times a day – use all sensors to soothe emotion. It reminds me to be mindful of what I eat, why I eat and what I truly need in that moment. These small changes to your habits may help you to lose weight without changing your diet.