It’s not just WHAT you eat, but HOW you eat as well.

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How you eat matters.  A recent study supports what seems obvious to me:  a pleasant, relaxing eating experience leads to healthier food choices and better health.

So many people race out the door, grabbing something as they go, or they graze all day long without ever sitting down to enjoy their food.  The study looked at the eating habits of over 1000 college and university students and found that those who prepared food at home and had a set eating schedule ate healthier than those who ate “on the fly,” grabbed food at school or were distracted by video games or TV.

What a shame to miss the experience of eating!  It should be pleasurable; in my opinion, eating is one of the great pleasures of life.  Being more mindful of the experience is not only healthier, but it’s also much more enjoyable.

I know we are all in a hurry, but we can all stretch ourselves a bit to improve the experience surrounding eating.  If you never cook at home, why not try a slow cooker as the weather gets colder?  There are easy recipes that take only 10-15 minutes to assemble.  It doesn’t take any longer to order and grab takeout food.

And how about just sitting?!  If you grab something on the go, sitting really doesn’t take much more effort than standing.  In fact it is so much more relaxing.  If you are someone who drives and eats . . . bad idea!  You could have an accident or arrive somewhere with embarrassing stains on your clothes.

Start where you are and build a more pleasant routine surrounding meals.  When was the last time you lit a candle and set the table?  Even if you live alone, this transforms a meal into a relaxing moment.  It may be the only time you get to relax all day, so making it a habit makes it happen.

Want to change your body? First accept it as it is.

Someone once said to me, “Kim, the doctor just told me that I am obese.”  She sounded devastated . . . and desperate.  “Obese” is such an emotional term for many people.  It is technically defined by a certain body mass index (BMI).  Defined in this way, it is very mathematical, very exact, and simply factual.  It is a number after all, not a feeling, right?  Or is it?

In fact, being labeled obese has a very emotional meaning for many people.  “Obese” can feel like a judgmental term.  When one is told they are obese, it often sounds more like “You are really, really fat.”  Panic is a natural reaction, along with shock in many cases:  “UGH, I had no idea I was THAT fat!”

Whether someone has just learned they are clinically obese or has just felt “really, really fat,” the results seem to be the same.  Feeling unacceptably fat appears to make it harder for people to lose weight; in fact, it looks like it might cause them to gain.  Recent research on the subject was really no shock to me.

I have been telling weight loss clients for years that the first step toward improvement is accepting where they are.  Then, putting a focus on changing behaviors instead of obsessing over numbers will help with forward movement in a healthy direction.  Once this happens, tension releases, desperation lightens, and change is possible.  The alternative is lots of stress, often using food as a soother, leading to weight gain, not loss or even maintenance.

The research report states that three studies “found consistent evidence that perceiving oneself as being overweight was associated with increased weight gain.” In fact, even people who just felt overweight (but were not) gained.  The perception seems to be the important point.  This makes perfect sense, since what we perceive is what affects emotions, not necessarily what is actual, factual reality.

“Individuals who identified themselves as being ‘overweight’ were more likely to report overeating in response to stress and this predicted subsequent weight gain,” according to the authors. “These findings are in line with recent suggestions that the stress associated with being part of a stigmatised group may be detrimental to health.”

The report also noted that the gains may have come from emotional reactions to being considered unacceptable, OR they may have been the result of aggressive dieting.  Brilliant!  Can we finally all agree that crazy, rigid dieting is not effective . . . unless of course you are trying to GAIN weight.

More Local News about “In the Moment – Mindful Eating” App

This one was a surprise!  A co-worker said her husband heard the app discussed on the WTMJ morning news show.  (Click the link to check it out.)

“In the Moment – Mindful Eating” App in the news!

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On Monday, a nice article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel talked about the phone app I developed.  I thought the writer, Lori Nickel, did a nice job of understanding my passion and translating it into a very readable format.  (Just click the link to read it.)

Do you think you have a “willpower disability”?

I have a client on my mind.  We met this morning, and the conversation was interesting.  “I am struggling,” she said.  I found myself asking lots of questions to understand exactly what the struggles are and what is causing them.

What I learned was that she is still having trouble controlling sweets at work. (People bring them in.)  After digging deeper, we discovered that she really doesn’t think she can resist eating the treats at work.  Although she avoids the room they are typically in, all it takes to trigger the “I can’t resist it” belief is the mention of cake or other treats by a co-worker.

She does feel conscious of the fact that there is a choice to eat it or not, but in reality it is not a choice at all.  The mindless part of the habit is in the deeper belief that she cannot resist  treats when they are available.  Checking with herself in-the-moment about whether or not to indulge is really just going through the motions.  The deeper (and less conscious) belief tells her she is not strong enough to really have a choice.  Call it a perceived “willpower disability.”

Add to this challenge the guilt that accompanies the inevitable “choice,” and it adds fuel to the fire of the belief:  “See, I knew I couldn’t resist.  I never can.”

Beliefs are strong.  And they are most often unconscious.  This can make a “conscious” thought a mere habit instead of a realization of actual choice.  There is a big difference between realizing on a superficial level that you can eat something or not, and really believing it.  In other words, it is possible to choose to eat something and also truly believe that there was a choice not to eat it.  In order for the latter choice to exist at all, one must believe that this is possible, at least sometimes.  And, of course, there are all kinds of choices that exist between the two extremes of all and nothing.

Being conscious of thoughts is important, but sometimes it takes looking deeper, especially when feelings of failure and disappointment keep popping up.  If the thought of an option to make a self-controlled choice is habitually followed by discouraging thoughts (“What makes you think you really have any choice at all, you spineless disappointment?”), those thoughts probably point to a deeper belief that keeps that habit going.

To be clear, it is still a good idea to keep from deliberately making choices too challenging by surrounding yourself with temptation.  Let’s face it – some kinds of food are just really, really hard to resist when they are too accessible.  There is no need to test your strength by leaving a whole cake out on the counter.  That’s just not very kind!

Choosing to eat any particular food is not the problem.  Knowing you could choose not to have something and having it anyway feels so much different than eating it because you feel too weak-willed to have any choice.  How much enjoyment can there really be in that?

Wish you thought about food less? Stop the tug-of-war!

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“When you resist you are giving what you don’t want power. When you persist you are empowering your choices.” ~Laura Day

I will not have that ____.  (Fill in the blank with any food you obsess about.)  I WILL NOT HAVE THAT _____!  I WILL NOT HAVE THAT _____!!

Can you feel the tension grow as you try to resist something?  We tend to focus lots of attention on those things we don’t want to do (or eat).  You know the feeling . . . the way you feel when a half eaten chocolate bar calls to you until you finally eat it just to stop thinking about the blasted thing.

Resisting takes a lot of mental energy!  Willpower is a great asset, but it is not usually available in abundance when called into action too often or too intensely.  I also believe that boundaries are necessary for a feeling of security in any area of life, but realistic boundaries we set for ourselves always work best.

So, how do we avoid eating everything that could potentially tempt us?  Here are some key guidelines:

  • Set reasonable expectations, so you will not be expecting your willpower to be constantly called into battle with one  powerful temptation after another.
  • Move on quickly if your choices disappoint you.  Trying to “make up the damage” is a setup for a lot of resistance.
  • Let go of the rope!  Just stop playing tug-of-war with yourself.  Instead, think about trying to meet your needs (your REAL needs, for food as well as emotional stability and calm).
  • It’s always ok to eat when you are physically hungry!  Never try to resist the hunger monster.  It will win.
  • Compromise with yourself on decisions about pleasure foods.  Allowing treats sometimes will help to keep desires in line and free your mind from constant food obsessions.

Reflections on REALLY Delicious Desserts (I don’t often eat cake, but . . . .)

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I love cake, but I rarely eat it.  This is not because I think I shouldn’t.  I don’t even believe in the word “shouldn’t” when it comes to food.  I prefer “choose to” or “choose not to.”  I see no point in eating cake that isn’t outstanding, defined (by me) as homemade, delicate, and not too sweet.

This past weekend, I had two opportunities to eat cake, and both cakes were incredible.  My experiences with both turned out to be interesting and (I thought) worth sharing, since so many of us have trouble stopping when food feels hard to resist.  The hopeful message is that by paying attention and being truly present, whatever we do will at least be a conscious choice.

Insights from Cake #1:  The first cake was served after a barbecue dinner.  It was chocolate with dark chocolate frosting.  Homemade?  Check.  Delicate?  Oh yea!  Not too sweet?  Yes, perfectly sweet.

I ate the whole piece, somewhat mindfully.  I was aware enough to know it was really good, and I was also aware that I could have easily had another piece or 2 without feeling too full.  When I finished eating it, I wanted more.  Is that so interesting?  I think not.  Does it really surprise anyone when they want more of something good?

Does that mean eating more is the only option?  Of course not.  In my case, as I cleared the cake away, I grabbed one more teeny weeny little bite off the plate and decided more would just be that . . . more.  I think it is important to acknowledge that there is no right amount, just a choice of how much to have.

With no consequences (i.e. health, wearing larger clothes, etc.), it would make sense to eat tasty food right up to the point of avoiding physical discomfort, but there are long-term consequences that make this kind of habitual eating less than healthy.

With that in mind, what sometimes works for me is remembering that it will be at least a little hard to stop regardless of when that is, unless I am uncomfortably full.  Since I can eat quite a lot before I’m uncomfortable, stopping prior to that point with pleasure foods like cake is a very, very good idea!  If I’m mindful, I can decide when it’s time to end the eating pleasure and find something else enjoyable or useful to do.  When I’m not so mindful, oh well. It’s not my habit to eat pleasure foods mindlessly.  My logic:  Why would I eat pleasure foods mindlessly if I truly want the maximum pleasure from the experience?

Insights from Cake #2:  The second cake . . . ahhh, that was a wonderful cake!  It was a perfectly light and fluffy white cake with a light frosting and filling that reminded me of whipped cream.  This is actually my favorite kind of cake.  Having eaten a hefty amount of chocolate cake the day before, not to mention all of the yummy BBQ food, I was even more tuned in to the taste.  I wanted to make sure it was worth it.

Oh yes, it was!  So I ate it slowly and savored each bite.  The surprise to me was that by eating it very slowly, I had more time to consider whether or not I wanted more.  No different than the chocolate cake, or any other pleasure food, I could easily have enjoyed eating about 3-4 pieces without physical discomfort, but by considering what that would really be – simply more cake, not necessarily more pleasure – I could consider my long-term health as well.  Halfway through the piece, I put my fork down and enjoyed the company of those around me, and within a few minutes the server cleared my plate.

Mindfulness truly helps.  By continuing to make more mindful choices, habits become healthier over time, without deprivation.  In fact, the beauty of practicing moderate, kind eating – however you define it – is that it gets easier and actually is what we all truly want.

Note:  Very delicious treats like cake, ice cream, or donuts ARE difficult to resist for most people.  That is a good reason to limit over-the-top temptations on a daily basis.  Keeping these foods at home may make them too hard to resist, so why challenge yourself that way?  No one says you can’t eat whatever  you want – your choice! – but enjoyment is actually enhanced when a food is truly a treat and not always available in unlimited quantities.