[Week 4 of 12 Weeks to a Healthy New Year]
How to think about eating
How you eat will affect how you feel. This, in turn, will affect how you continue to eat. It will also affect how active you are. I have four basic rules for eating:
- Eat things that taste good.
- Eat things that make me feel satisfied without feeling stuffed
- Eat things that make me feel good in between meals.
- Have a basic daily plan
Eating is meant to be fun, but like anything it can get out of balance. We can make it out balance by eating carelessly. This might take the form of eating haphazardly, or excessively, or even excessively depriving ourselves.
This doesn’t mean we need to be rigid, but just like we are healthier and make better use of our time with regular sleep patterns, some regularity to our eating can help us on multiple levels. And just like was discussed in this post about habits, it will help your perspective and motivation if this regularity is thought of in positive terms.
What tastes good to you?
When first asked what tastes good to you, what do you think of? Is it food that you feel guilty about eating? Is it food that is part of your regular meal plan? Chances are you really enjoy more food that you immediately think of. It is helpful to take note of the variety of foods you like, in all categories.
Then, make these foods the backbone of your meal plan. Don’t avoid them because they taste good. If you do, you will never quite enjoy your meals and always be fighting the urge to eat something that tastes good.
Stretch your evaluation by trying to figure out why you don’t like other foods. For instance, I thought I didn’t like fruit when I was growing up, but it was because I didn’t have access to appropriately ripened food. I didn’t like meat because I have always had a very hard time chewing things.
Once you have pin-pointed the exact dislike, you might be able to broaden your choices by adjusting how you buy or prepare some foods. This will help with overall enjoyment of food since variety tends to keep all food tasting better.
What foods will leave you feeling satisfied?
This question builds on finding what tastes good, but goes beyond that. I can enjoy a few M&M’s, but they never satisfy my taste buds the way dark chocolate with sea salt does. After a few bits of the right kind of chocolate, my brain lingers on the flavors. Similarly, I could eat dry toast, but the right amount of butter not only leaves my taste buds more satisfied, but gives my body the kind of fat that keeps a natural check on my appetite. Another example for me is a couple tablespoons of nuts for a quick between main meals snack usually hits the spot better than potato chips.
Feeling satisfied is not the same thing as feeling crammed full. In fact, feeling stuffed often detracts from feeling satisfied with the meal or snack. When I get done eating, I like a sense that I am not hungry and can get on with life without being overcome with digestive issues.
What foods keep me feeling good throughout the day?
We all know what it feels like to eat something that doesn’t sit well in our system. This could be from a particular food, a combination of foods, or, as mentioned above, from the wrong amount of food.
This might be dependent on time of day or what activities we need to engage in. I know that I need to avoid certain types of foods before I swim even though they are fine otherwise. I also know that the more pre-processed and packaged food is, the more I have to moderate amounts.
Sometimes it makes a difference how a food is prepared or what it is served with. I need my broccoli cooked quite thoroughly to avoid problems. It is always good if I have some fruit with my lunch. My body just senses the nutritional balance and feels better.
What is your basic daily plan?
A good basic plan will include a plan for sizes of meals, types of foods, and time of day. There is an advantage to having both a basic template for your eating and having a specific plan for each day. This helps to avoid impulsive eating or waiting too long, both of which tend to lead to bad decisions.
My basic template for a day is two light meals, a snack between each meal, a main meal, and some dessert. My main meal tends to alternate most between lunch and dinner, particularly depending on the left-over menu. On Sundays breakfast is often my main meal. I know from experience that more than one main meal a day leaves me feeling bloated and lethargic.
Regular menu items help a lot with a basic plan. I have a handful of breakfast options to rotate, partly depending on whether I am going for a morning run. I also have a few favorite lunch ideas, which is important because I don’t like a lot of traditional lunch things, such as sandwiches. Give me yogurt and crackers or soup, please.
Having regular menus still allows for variety in the menu. Variety bolsters nutrition and satisfies the appetite, as mentioned. It can also help you decide how to deal with social eating or traveling. A basic plan helps when thinking through adjustments, making it more likely that you end up feeling good physically and mentally about your eating.
What about counting calories?
Becoming aware of the energy value of food can be useful. It can even be helpful to monitor or limit energy intake sometimes. However, it is my observation that it is still best to find a general way of eating the foods that your will be inclined to eat in the long term.
Overall, it is the gently slope of change that is longest lasting. It doesn’t take as much mental energy, it doesn’t take as much time, and it will fit best with normal life. Small adjustments with how much or when you eat may not be as dramatic, but they will often give better health results than semi-starvation tactics.
How to come up with your own eating plan
I have put together a worksheet to help you evaluate your eating. You can use it multiple ways. You can begin by just sitting down and brainstorming. It might also be useful to use it to make some notes throughout the week as you notice patterns and issues.
Whether you want to keep holiday eating from being a runaway train or you want to make some changes to slim down, it is key to be honest with yourself about what you are doing and why. However, don’t use the information to beat yourself up. Use it as a tool to both enjoy your food and be in control of it.