I’ve been very conscious of my food intake lately, for a number of reasons: Mike and I are trying to create healthy grocery shopping, meal planning, and eating habits. Our group of friends tries to cut out the high fructose corn syrup and other unnatural/unidentifiable ingredients whenever possible. I’ve picked up a couple of really good food blogs, and I just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. (A book review might be in the future, let me know if you’re interested in the comments!) I’ve never been this aware of my food, and it’s an interesting journey. We’re working toward eating tasty food while creating healthy eating habits now that will follow us through adulthood, and lead to a longer life with less painful medical problems. I need to work on exercise and getting enough sleep too, but one thing at a time.
As a disclaimer, I've never been overweight, but I have had incredibly unhealthy diets and experienced the gross feeling and lack of energy that come from eating that way. Someday my metabolism is going to change and I won't be able to eat whatever I want, and it's better to be prepared than blindsided. My diet (as in overall food intake, not made up program to control weight) definitely isn't perfect, but being more aware of what I'm eating is already helping.
We've created an amazingly unhealthy culture in America. We've forgotten where our food comes from, and often we can't even recognize half of the ingredients on the labels anymore. We have an entire diet industry that is counting on failure. If the diet fails, or more specifically, isn't sustainable and the dieter slips off the wagon, they're almost always going to blame themselves for failing and come back and try again; throwing more money at the problem to get it "right this time." The diet industry has exploded into one of the largest in the country since the 1950’s without a strong success rate. The diet industry is growing, but so is the obesity rate. Something isn't working.
We've stopped caring about what goes into our bodies and just started inhaling food like a country of crazed Kirbys. We sit in front of TVs or computers (or even books, in my case) and eat without tasting. We don't pay attention to our bodies, even when it's screaming at us that it's full. We get up from the table with a sickened "Uuugh, I ate too much." It's no wonder that 99% of the people who need the motorized carts at Walmart are grossly obese. No one has taught them how to eat properly. It kills me when I have to help a 300+ pound man confined to a wheelchair get a dozen donuts. For himself. For that day.
This can change, but we have to be willing to listen to someone other than the diet industry - the industry that makes money off of our failures. The industry that doles out emotional abuse to make us feel depressed when we can't follow their unsustainable guidelines (depression encourages overeating) and then waits for us to come back for more to try again because we desperately don't want to be 50, 100, 150 lbs overweight.
I’m not an expert, but I have been hyper aware of mine and others eating habits lately, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading. So, here’s what I’ve figured out:
The weight loss industry wants you to focus on exercise first, diet second. I think you're a lot more likely to fail if you try it this way. Your body just doesn't have the energy until you start feeding it right. Moving around in your day is really important, but if you exercise a bunch without changing how you eat, you're going to make your body sad. Ideally, you'll do both at once, but I know from experience that this doesn't happen often.
Instead, let’s focus on eating right. The biggest block to get over is the idea of diets. Diets. Don't. Work. So, what does? Baby steps. Small attainable and sustainable goals, one or two at a time. You can’t go cold turkey with food like you can cigarettes; you can’t resolve to stop eating, but you can resolve to stop some bad habits. If you're serious about your health, you need to be in it for the long haul, not for the instant gratification of dropping 20 lbs in two weeks. Your body will thank you. So be specific with your goals: instead of saying "I'm going to eat better!" Try "I'm going to choose water over soda once per day." Water is a really important first step (if you don't like it plain, try adding lemon or drinking tea).
Another easy first step to eating healthier is to use a smaller plate when you serve yourself. If you have a huge piece of meat, try cutting it in half and only taking half at a time. Then sit at a table without distractions. If you're eating alone and can't stand the silence, try putting on music or maybe a podcast. You'll take smaller portions, be able to focus on your food and eat slower, take in how delicious it is, and notice when you're full. You will have a more satisfying meal, and you're using portion control (shh, don't tell anyone). You are less likely to go back for seconds if you have to get up, so use the power of laziness! Learn to say "Oh man that was good, but I'm full, and I'll keep the rest for leftovers." (This is still hard for me!)
If you eat out, ask for a box at the beginning and put half of your meal away so you're not tempted to overeat. Eat the rest of it slowly and enjoy the company of whoever you’re eating with or just enjoy people watching.
Eat slow! You aren't a vacuum and it takes time for your body to process food and to let you know when you're full. This is definitely one of the things I struggle with the most, it tastes so good and I want it all now! Ultimately, I end up unsatisfied when I get to the end of the meal. I can hardly remember what it tasted like and all I'm left with is this sickeningly full feeling. When I eat slower, I enjoy myself more and I eat healthier. As an added bonus, I often end up with leftovers.
This post has been all about changing the way we eat by changing how we eat, making small changes like: drinking water over soda, choosing smaller plates for portion control, and eating slower. Personally, I’ve gotten down drinking water and only have soda occasionally when I’m out at a friend’s or sometimes in a restaurant, but I’m still working on starting with smaller portions and I’m still struggling with eating slower. As long as I stay aware of my goals and keep working to achieve them, it’s completely okay to struggle. In Part Two I’ll share more tips about how to change the way we eat by changing what we eat.
Never stop questioning,