EVOLVE NUTRITION Foundation WEEK 3:
I hope that last week went well with decreasing sugar sweetened beverages. Continue to keep this up as we move on. As always, we are striving for balance, there are never foods that are completely off limits, but there are “sometimes foods” and “all the time foods”. Sugar sweetened beverages are “sometimes foods”. Try to keep sugar-sweetened beverages in the sometimes camp, as opposed to the all the time camp.
Since we are on the topic of balance, we are going to talk a little but about mindfulness. Take a moment and notice what that word means to you. What picture does it paint? Is it sitting still in a field of greens and butterflies? Maybe it is the sound of a tranquil stream with birds chirping? All of those things sound really nice, but are unrealistic to drop into in our everyday lives.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”or “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thought, and bodily sensations…”. So, if you didn’t get that, it is being aware of what is going on around you and inside of you mentally and physically. We don’t need to be anywhere special to be mindful. Mindfulness is a powerful tool that we can utilize in our daily lives, and it is a central aspect of a healthy relationship with food.
Mindfulness, food, and nutrition
We are often so busy running from one thing to another, checking things off our list with far too much screen time that we often forget to notice. To notice how we are feeling, to notice our breath, to notice and process emotions (stress, anger, sadness, joy, excitement, etc). When we lose this connection, it is lost on all fronts. We lose connections with those around us, with the task at hand, and with the food that we eat.
We eat food for many different reasons. Food is fuel, but we also eat because it is enjoyable, it brings us together in community, and it allows us to connect with our culture. Some of us also eat when we are sad, angry, lonely or stressed. As you can see, the latter is a less mindful way to approach food.
We have an obsession in our culture: an obsession with diets. First we counted calories, then we counted points, now we count macros. First, we ate everything, then we slowly started excluding entire food groups. We now have a huge distrust in our food, food system (understandable), but also with our bodies. We have been stuck in this cycle of “dieting”, “losing those last 5”, instead of trying to understand what our body is telling us and allowing that to guide our choices. I have found in my clinical nutrition practice that a majority of my diverse clients struggle with mindfulness around food in some way. And it's not their fault: our society encourages us to be not mindful (un-mindful? forgetful? hmmm....)
You may see where I am going with this: Our goal this week is to bring more mindfulness into mealtimes.
Being mindful of hunger: The EVOLVE Hunger Scale
How can we be more mindful around food? Well it starts with just noticing. We’ll begin with just noticing if you are even hungry or not. Here is a hunger scale to help better understand what your body is telling you around hunger. When we don’t eat mindfully and are distracted, we are much more likely to eat more than we actually need. On the scale, try to stay within in the 3-6 range. If you wait until you are a 2 or 3 you are more likely to eat more because you are so hungry and then subsequently land yourself into a 7 or 8.
Hunger and our physiology
This mindfulness of hunger is important because there is a huge connection between our physiology and hunger. There are many complex physiological interactions involved with hunger. From a hormonal perspective, grrrrrhelin (ghrelin) makes you hungry and leptin tells your body that you are full. Our nervous system is involved as well: the vagus nerve has many functions but one of them is signaling your brain that you are full. There are also enzymes in your small intestine when protein and fat are broken down that help tell your brain that you have eaten something sustainable and that you are full. All of these signaling processes take about 20-30 minutes. So if you are one of those people who normally consumes their meal in 10 minutes, you may have actually eaten more than your body actually needed.
This is a big reason why we recommend eating at least one meal per day over the course of 30 minutes with as few distractions as possible. More time allows us to focus on the act of eating, the hunger that we are experiencing, the quality, texture, and taste of the food, and connecting with those around us.
Hunger and stress
Additionally, cortisol (a stress hormone) increases the sensation of hunger, so if you are overall stressed in your daily life with work, family and deadlines, then you are more likely to overeat. This is why finding a mindfulness practice around food, and maybe even some meditation during the week to downregulate may be a good idea for your overall health. Brian and I use the app Headspace in the evenings to unwind, and this often replaces the urge to have an extra bit of dessert or wine.
Why, what, where?
To better cultivate mindfulness around food and mealtimes, in addition to using the hunger scale, your habit this week is to pause and answer these three questions before eating: Why, what, and where.
Why am I eating? Are you physically hungry (stomach grumbling, mentally fatigued, dizzy) or emotionally hungry (stressed, tired, happy, sad), or are you eating for fuel? Or maybe you aren't physically hungry but you know that you will be soon and this is your opportunity to eat. All of these can be reasons to eat, but the important piece is to observe your patterns.
What am I eating? Did I make a conscious choice to prepare and eat this? Is it simply the only food available? Is there a different choice I could make?
Where am I eating? Where are you, physically and mentally? Understanding where your meals take place is important. Are you in the car, in front of the TV, or at the dinner table? If you are in constant motion and preoccupied, you are most likely not being mindful about your meal, and if you are choosing an indulgence, are not likely in a position to truly enjoy it.
Your favorite foods
One additional exercise for this week: Take a moment to think about some of your FAVORITE foods, and then list out specifically WHY you love them. Get granular and detailed.
For example: One of my favorite foods is popcorn. I love it because it is warm and crunchy. I love the way that I can hear it crunching when I eat it. I love the oily texture and the salt crystals on top. I also put nutritional yeast on it which makes it even more #nextlevel.
Have you ever thought about your favorite foods, why you love them, and why you eat them? You may have some similar answers as me depending on the food, and you may also have some emotional, cultural, or familial and social aspects to your favorite foods. There are no wrong answers. The important thing is to understand why you love some foods so that you can make more informed choices. Some foods are really difficult for some people to be around and they end up overeating them (cookies… yumm). But normally by the 2nd or 3rd cookie, those cookies are not lighting up those same pleasure centers in your brain, you aren’t noticing the salty sweetness of them, you aren’t noticing the crunchy moistness, right? If you know what you want to get from your favorite foods, you may be able to enjoy them with more balance and mindfulness.
To sum up, here are the habits and exercises I want you to try this week, all focused around mindfulness:
Before and after each meal, check in on the hunger scale, and try to stay between a 3 - 6. If you aren’t hungry, maybe delay your meal or snack for a bit.
Answer the following questions about each eating occasion to better understand your habits and give you some insight into your behavior:
Why am I eating?
What am I eating?
Where am I eating?
Try to eat at least one meal per day over 30 undistracted minutes. This gives your body time to physiologically respond to the meal, and allows you to focus on the act of eating and tasting your food.
Write down specific reasons WHY you love 2 or 3 of your favorite foods, and perhaps make this a routine before eating something you really love.
Let me know how things go this week with meals and mindfulness! Enjoy!
Concerned or confused about nutrition? Not sure if your current nutritional habits are helping you meet your goals? Feel free to pop in Abby's office, schedule an appointment, or shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org