Eating has become too complicated. Have you noticed that? Look around; go to a mall, a bookstore, or a “health” store. There are countless diet and nutrition books, and countless more alleged experts who claim to have the answer to all your eating problems if you will just reach in your pocket or purse and fork over another $40 of your hard-earned money.
We have the high carb diet, the low carb diet, the no sugars diet, the protein diet, the eat-all-you-want and still lose weight diet. We have experts who tell you that you should eat ‘three squares a day’ and others that tell you that you should eat whatever you want, whenever you want. With all the conflicting advertising and advice coming at you from all angles, it is small wonder that many people are frustrated and do not know which way to turn.
In everyday life, I have a habit of knocking things down to their most simplistic yet effective solutions. My ideas on the art of eating are a direct result of that type of thinking.
Eating Habits can lead to a weight problem
Somewhere long ago humans started the bad habit of eating three meals each day; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I want to think perhaps it was that way because of the availability of food and the work habits of the general population. Let’s face it; only in today’s America is there a grocery store available on nearly every corner. Having never traveled to a European country, I nevertheless doubt very much that grocery and convenience stores, and fast food and slow service restaurants blanket the landscape as they do in any metropolis of a notable size in America. Therefore it may have become necessary at some point to go long periods of time, as in four hours or more, with no food. Being a history buff, I can vouch for the fact that many people went a lot longer than four hours without food on a daily basis in the years before this country was filled with huge cities and interstate highways full of cars. But there is no longer any excuse for that given the proliferation of restaurants and stores. With the advent of convenience/grocery stores and fast food places, restaurant chains, and yes, even truck stops, the availability of a constant food supply has become one of those generally accepted and taken for granted qualities of modern life. I suppose what I could have said in the proverbial nutshell is, there is no excuse for not eating when you are hungry, assuming you have income. That is one of the reasons I just cringe when people come into the gym to exercise without having what I refer to as ‘fuel’.
My first simple theory regarding food and eating is this; eat when you are hungry, eat only enough to be satiated. Those who walk around through life starving the body for 4, 6, 8 and 10 hours at a time make another crucial mistake when they finally allow themselves to sit down and eat a meal. They eat everything in sight, and they eat too much of it. Think about it for a moment, you sit down in front of all this food and your body is ravenous. You have denied it any sort of fuel for hours while still placing your daily demands on it, whether that be working at your job, playing a sport, mowing the lawn, fixing the house, driving around on errands, or worse, going to the gym to get your workout in. Now you go into a food and aroma filled the atmosphere, sit down in front of all this and hit the fork. Of course, the natural inclination is to consume all the food you can stuff in there. For one thing, your body does not know when you are going to let it eat again, and for another, there is the assumed idea that you must eat everything in front of you, even if you are satisfied part way through the meal.
Think about this for a moment, and since no one is looking over your shoulder, be honest with yourself. How many times have you sat in a restaurant, and at some point in the meal realized that you were pleasantly satisfied, yet you kept eating? You know the point I am talking about just like you know the feeling that I am referring to when you know that you have stuffed too much in there. Pay attention the next time you are eating a meal. At some point, while you are eating you are going to realize through a small but noticeable signal from your brain and stomach that you are pleasantly satiated. Yet most people do not stop there. They keep eating, whether it is because of that old idea that you ‘must clean your plate’, or simply because you have not made yourself more aware of the ‘pleasantly satisfied’ signal and trained yourself to stop eating.
Keep in mind the simple act of overeating introduces a life-changing chain reaction. When you try to put six gallons of water into a five-gallon bucket, what happens? It overflows of course, as no five-gallon bucket can hold more than five gallons. Well, the body has no overflow mechanism. If you introduce more fuel than it needs, it simply looks for someplace to store it in case you need it later. If all of your activities each day from the time you open your eyelids in the morning till the time you close them at night consumes an average of 2500 calories a day, yet you consume 3000, the body is going to take those extra 500 calories and store it as body fat! It does not know how to get rid of overflow; rather, it justifiably figures if you consumed it you are going to need it. Slowly, inexorably over the course of months and years, this turns into the extra weight which better than 68% of the American population now carries around.
Put in the simple approach that I promised, it would logically seem to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to engage in the art of healthy eating is simply don’t overeat! It takes very little effort to recognize the signal that you will receive the next time you are partaking in a meal. You have felt it before, you just did not pay much attention to it. When it happens, put down the fork, close up the bag, put the lid back on, ask for a ‘doggie bag’, or put it back in the refrigerator. Thanks to modern technology we have ways to preserve food we do not eat right now, methods which were non-existent years ago. It is not as though the stuff is just going to sit there and rot if you do not eat it, although Americans do throw out and waste more food than some Third World countries eat. If you are out, take it home, you paid for it, and thanks to technology you can keep it a few days until you or someone else wants it again.
So now we have dealt with two very simple things regarding eating habits that are easily addressed, easily enacted, easily made permanent habits. There is no torture or pain involved, no deprivation and nothing unpleasant whatsoever. In fact, these two things that we have discussed are actually going to alleviate some discomfort.
After all, if you eat when you are hungry, and eat just enough to be satisfied, you no longer have to put up with the unpleasant feeling of being really hungry. You will also have more energy because you have given your body fuel when it needs it, and that will also make you feel better. If you do not overeat, you will also eliminate that bloated, H.M.S. Titanic feeling you get when you do, and the fatigued, sleepy feeling which also accompanies those who stuff themselves. Have you ever paid attention to Grandpa after Thanksgiving dinner? Probably not, because he is the one who is crashed in the Lazy-boy recliner after stuffing in everything on the table.
Unfortunately, many people eat like this much of the time. Eating as I have described does not require you or me to be a nutrition expert or registered dietician either. It just requires that you use some sense and be more aware of your body, more aware of what it is telling you, and what the consequences might be from not listening and doing something about it. Pretty simple, isn’t it? Along those same lines, I would also like to point out that this same awareness of what your body is saying to you will serve you well in your choices of the food you eat.
Listen to your body rather than watch the clock
For an example, did you ever stop one of your friends in the middle of the day at work and say, “You know what? I really feel like having a steak and baked potato dinner at Freddie’s Steak House tonight. Want to go?” Think about this for a moment. What do you think brought that craving on? Do you suppose that the body is asking for protein and starch? If you wake up one morning and absolutely have to have a cup of coffee and a poached egg with cheese on a sourdough muffin instead of donuts, what do you think is going on? Do you think the body is asking for certain things? I do. Paid attention to, real attention, the body, not just the mind and/or taste buds will tell you what to eat and what it wants to nourish itself while still being pleased. Paid attention to, the body will cause you to make more sensible choices more often than not regarding what to eat. When you pass by that bag of Almond M&M;’s and momentarily crave it, it’s not your body talking, it is your taste buds and the dopamine-exuding pleasure centers of your brain. When you decide somewhere during the day that you must have a plate of pasta for dinner tonight, that is your body talking and your brain and taste buds quickly line up in agreement. You actually remember what that particular food tastes like in anticipation of eating it.
For just a moment I would also like to address the bad habit of ‘speed eating’. If you think about it for a moment you will realize the art of healthy eating should involve enjoying the simple act of eating. Unfortunately, many people are under time constraints all through the day and tend to eat fast and furiously. Sitting down to lunch, if you get to sit down at all, knowing you only have 30 minutes is not a fun thing. Factor in the time needed to get there, order food and have it served and you suddenly realize you have only minutes to actually eat. (This is one of the great reasons why it is better to pack your own meals, more time to eat it.)
Eating slower makes the meal more enjoyable. It also allows the stomach to register the level of food you are pouring into it. Like a gas gauge that takes a little time to show you have a full tank so to the stomach needs a little time to signal you that it is pleasantly full. The last really simple thing I would like to deal with in the art of healthy eating is what I call incidental eating. If I could eliminate one particular habit from most people’s life where overall diet, nutrition, and fitness are concerned, this would be it. Incidental eating is what happens when you are standing at that co-worker’s desk, you know the one, who always has the dish of chocolate candies sitting out, and you start picking at those even though you are not hungry. It is also the times when you are in company meetings at 10 a.m., an hour after you got to work and there is coffee and a plate of donuts for all right in the middle of the table even though you just ate breakfast an hour ago, possibly in the car on the way to work. You are not hungry at all but you start in on them. How about that innocent walk through the grocery store on your way home, where right at 5 p.m. the store puts out all those sample plates full of microwave pizza, TV dinner samples, fresh-baked cookies, bread, cheese, and crackers? What about that bag of cookies in the car that you will claim to any inquiring person, “It is just there for the kids?” Yet those cookies mysteriously disappear on the way home before you ever pick up the kids. Perhaps it is those two hotdogs, a bag of chips and three beers you managed to consume in a four hour round of golf. The point is, when you think about it, there is a lot of incidental eating going on in many people’s lives, eating which is taking place when one is not hungry, eating things you do not really want or that your body is not really asking for and cannot do anything with except stick it somewhere.
That ‘somewhere’ is what you are going to be staring at in the mirror in a few months, wondering where it came from. Notice also, how closely all this is related to the two previous issues of eating only when one is hungry and only just enough not to be hungry anymore.
Now I would like to close by saying that this article is certainly not to be interpreted as the end-all and means- all to the problems of being overweight, out of shape, and a habitual overeater or a poor eater. As a personal trainer and nutrition expert, it would grate against everything I know not to advise you to include regular professionally guided exercise and aerobic activity in your lifestyle in conjunction with sensible eating habits.
There is no question that one does not work without the other, and neither is the total answer by itself. I want you to stop reading for a moment and reach down to your foot, untie your shoe, and then try to re-tie it with one hand. You cannot do it, can you? It requires both hands. Well, that is how you should view regular exercise and activity in conjunction with proper eating and nutrition. In the meantime, keep it simple and push aside that pile of books you keep trying to wade through that purport to have all the complicated answers about your caloric intake, just the right amount of protein, no carbs, no sugars, standing on your head when you swallow and take two deep breaths between every bite.
Eat when you are hungry; eat just enough not to be hungry anymore. Eat sensibly, listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs and wants. In conjunction with the idea of eating only when hungry and just enough to be satiated, incidental eating will automatically be eliminated. If you really do not want it, if you really are not hungry, don’t put it in your mouth. Remember there is a huge difference between being hungry and momentarily desiring a cream donut. There is an equally huge difference between what your whole body would like to nourish and please itself, and what your brain and taste buds momentarily want in exchange for a quick shot of dopamine. Now go forth and master the art of eating. Live well, eat well.