The other day I was eating brunch at a friend’s house with a group of other residents. I got there a little later than everyone else, and the hostess served me a waffle and some fruit salad when I arrived. I was so busy saying hi to everyone and telling and hearing stories that the waffle sat uneaten on my plate for 30 minutes or so before I started digging in. I didn’t really notice, but some of my friends joked that they were amazed watching me sit there in front of a delicious-looking waffle for so long without eating it.
The truth is that, unlike a lot of people, I think, I don’t really feel compelled to eat food just because it’s in front of me. My roommate from med school noticed this too. I remember one time her mom was over, and had just gone to the farmer’s market and wanted to cut up some fruit for me. I wasn’t hungry so I said, “No thanks.” She didn’t get it. “But it’s just fruit!” she said, and she made a plate and handed to me anyway. My roommate had to explain to her mom that I really wasn’t going to eat it.
I’m no Giselle, but I tend to be on the thin side. I’m 5’9 and my weight hovers around 128lbs. This is a combination of genetics and habit. I’m sure I have good genes on my side, but that doesn’t mean habit doesn’t play a huge part. The way I eat come out of years of paying attention to my body and they way certain foods make me feel, so that I actually prefer eating foods that are good for me. I’ve trained myself to enjoy healthy foods, eat only when I’m hungry, enjoy a delicious meal but at the same time consider food an afterthought and not something that consumes or preoccupies me. Here are the some of the principles I follow:
Willpower Is Not The Answer
I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to food. And to be honest, I don’t get why you would want to. Eating is fun and delicious. Living in a constant state of food denial isn’t a great way to live, and is actually counterproductive to developing healthy long-term eating habits. In fact, restrictive dieting can lead to destructive eating habits, because when you’re hungry you’re more likely to overeat and pick unhealthy foods.
And dieting makes you become more preoccupied with food, not less. The more you think about food, the more likely you are to reach for reasons other than hunger, like boredom or stress.
Don’t Eat When You’re Not Hungry
I eat what I want to, when I want to. But at the same time, I almost never eat when I’m not hungry. People sometimes don’t get it when I refuse food when there’s so much social pressure to eat. “But just take a taste” they’ll say. If I’m not hungry, I don’t even want to taste something. I don’t enjoy it and it confuses my mouth and stomach, making me start to get hungry even when I’m really not. I don’t eat birthday cake just because it’s someone’s birthday and it’s around – I probably wouldn’t eat cake at my own birthday if I wasn’t hungry for it. I don’t mind ignoring social pressures to eat because I’ve noticed how eating when I’m not hungry makes me feel, and it’s just not worth it.
Another reason people eat when they’re not hungry is the scarcity mindset. Despite the fact that enough food is produced in this country every day to keep everyone morbidly obese, we sometimes feel that certain situations are our only opportunities to eat. This is rarely actually the case. If you’re not hungry at your designated lunch time, you can buy or make something and save it for later in the day. You don’t need to eat out of fear that you will get hungry. If I’m going on a long road/plane trip or am otherwise in a situation where food won’t be immediately available, I’ll make sure to bring along snacks so I won’t get stuck without a better option.
When you start listening to when your body needs to eat, you really don’t need to worry about things like portion sizes. I eat out of the bag all the time, because as soon as I’ve eaten enough, I stop. If I go out for a meal, I probably eat 50% of what’s on my plate and take the rest home for leftovers, because that’s how much my body needs.
Pay Attention To How Foods Make You Feel
When you pay attention to your body, it can usually tell you what you should be eating. I’ve eaten oatmeal or Go Lean Crunch cereal every day for breakfast for probably the last 10 years. I know a lot of people like low carb diets, and maybe it works for some, but I know it’s not right for me or my metabolism because nothing makes me feel better than eating oatmeal in the morning. Given me a bowl of oatmeal and some green tea and I feel like I can conquer the world.
Some days I’ll crave a lot of carbs, others protein, and sometimes (often, actually) I’ll even crave ice cream or other fatty, sweet foods (but I usually just need a few bites to feel satisfied). I pretty much just follow what my body tells me it wants, and it seems to work out. The more you follow your body’s instincts, the more you take your brain out of the equation, which uses all sorts of inaccurate cues to make you eat at times when you really shouldn’t.
I can’t remember the last time I ate processed fast food (probably over 10 years ago) because it makes me heavy, bloated and like crap. If you’re listening to your body and you think it’s telling you to eat McDonalds, you’re probably not listening close enough.
Exercise – Not Just Because It Burns Calories, But Because It Helps You Stay In Tune With Your Body
So I have a past as a college Division I water polo player, but I’ll be honest that exercise has mostly fallen by the wayside since a little unfortunate situation called “residency” has taken over my life. But I’m still a decently active person, and walk to work, surf and go to the occasional yoga class. I find that if I don’t exercise for a long time, I start to lose touch with my body, and lose incentive to take care of myself by eating well.
I actually weigh less now than I did back when I was working out 2-3 hours a day in college, probably because I don’t have any muscle mass anymore (as you may have read in my About Me page, my Tanika Bodyfat scale told me my body type is “undermuscled”), and because I’m WAY less hungry and eat much less now that I don’t exercise so much. I like to exercise to feel healthy and energetic, not because it controls my weight. If you’re exercising so much you don’t even enjoy it anymore, and doing it thinking it will help you lose weight, you’re probably missing the point about exercise, too.
Hey readers, what techniques do you use to eat healthy? Do you feel like it comes naturally, or that you need to use willpower to eat the way you want?
Image by Gaglias