How you eat matters–be mindful of your environment and your stress levels when you sit down to a meal.
It’s not only about what we eat but also how we eat – this claim might seem preposterous for a lot of people because, for the longest time, we used to think that our weight, and ultimately our health, is solely defined by calories in vs. calories out. So it’s basically about counting these calories or reducing fat, sugar, and carb intake. I remember being at the gym one day and hearing a trainer say to his client that “she already burned 700 calories and she just needed to be net zero at the end of the day.” I was shocked by how he basically never mentioned anything about what and particularly how she should eat–instead he just put a tremendous amount of pressure on her.
Regularly, there are new diets on the market that banish one macronutrient completely and put another one on a pedestal such as Atkins or Paleo, for example: carbs are bad, and protein is the most important, and you can never have too much of it. Or the latest fat-free diet that tries to make us believe that fat is our worst enemy and that we should just totally cut it out and binge on sugars instead. Put like this, it all sounds a little crazy, extreme, and, quite frankly, fundamentally confusing.
During my past nutrition and health coaching programs, diets actually rarely talk about what is good for you. They tend to play with restrictions, categorize certain (vital!) food groups as bad, and make you feel horrible and guilty if you consume them. The truth is that restriction will necessarily lead to “failure” because it just tells you what not to do and that’s not a viable long-term solution.
If you aim for long term change, it’s all about creating the right long-term habits. When it comes to what to eat, it’s pretty simple: real, minimally processed, plant-based foods, including greens, veggies, fruit, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. Boom, it’s that easy. More importantly, how should we eat? That’s the part that often falls by the wayside, but it’s the most important part. If you really want to be healthy and lose weight, you need to optimize the “how” way more than the “what.” I’m not saying eat Oreos all day long, but I’m saying if you are stressed all the time, live and work under constant pressure, and take no time to sit down and take a break, then you set up the perfect stress patterns to NOT lose weight.
One thing that I have struggled a lot with, especially after moving to the US, where lunch breaks are not really a priority in a lot of companies, is skipping meals. I would just be so focused on work and internally stressed by deadlines that I would forget to have lunch or just eat something quick in front of the computer. I hence dealt with fatigue, low energy, and unstable sugar levels that then led to persistent headaches.
It’s actually pretty simple: our body releases cortisol when we are stressed, and increased amounts of cortisol in the blood are related to weight gain. This is due to the fight or flight mode that our brain puts us in when we experience stress. Stress can be a lion attacking us but also a boss putting pressure on us or a significant other engaging in a fight with us. Our body doesn’t distinguish between different sources of stress; it just says, “fight or flight!” In that moment, all “unnecessary” bodily functions get put on hold. One of them is digesting. All the blood rushes to our brain, hands, and arms so we can make quick moves. You see where I am going with this? If you eat at your desk, while trying to finish your proposal for work that is due in less than 6 hours, your body will NOT digest your food. Instead, it will totally distract you from eating and be stressed about your work project. This can lead to bloating, cramps, overeating, skipping meals, or even not absorbing essential nutrients.
Instead of living and working in this stress circle, you need to break out of it if you want to be healthy and lose weight. Simple tricks can help:
– Shut off your phone when you eat, as well as any other social media or media distractions.
– Leave your desk, go on a walk outside, and get some oxygen (to help with digestion!)
– Make it a point to spend 20 minutes for each meal–yes, even a snack! The key is to take breaks between each bite and chew slowly!
– Engage all your senses when you eat: look at your food, make it pretty and colorful, and smell and taste the flavors.
– Use a simple breathing technique if you feel stressed: close your eyes, sit on a chair, and inhale and exhale deeply a couple times until you feel calm so that your body puts itself into relaxation mode. Now enjoy your meal!
I have plenty of other little tricks that can help with “how” we eat so check out my blog or email me if you want more help. Now go ahead and relax, eat, and lose weight in your sleep 🙂
Do you have tips for eating mindfully? Let us know in the comments below.
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Photo: Gregory Bourolias via Unsplash