Sink Your Teeth Into What and How You Eat – Life Skills

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on January 11, 2010

New year.  New beginnings.  So many people packed it on during the holidays, and now they’re wondering if they can get it off again. Not me.  I recently completed a 90 day dietary protocol.  I did this for three reasons.

1. to lose about 10 pounds of belly fat (I wound up dropping 15.)

2. To reset my metabolism. I now eat three meals a day and have three snacks a day, without gaining weight.  And, I’m hungry when it’s time to eat.

3. To get familiar with the impact of food on my now-60 year old body.

The protocol was a big success.  I feel fantastic, more fluid and flexible than I’ve felt in years. Even had to buy new pants. As an added bonus, some old and beloved clothing items I thought I’d outgrown are now favorites once again.  And while the pounds were falling away, much was revealed to me about the choices I make and the consequences I experience.

Though there are many psycho/emotional/social reasons for eating, as far as your body is concerned, eating is a simple matter of survival.  Food provides the raw materials that your body needs to rebuild itself and function correctly.  Yet there is a biochemical individuality to us all, so each of us gets different effects from the foods we eat.  Poor food choices can produce allergies, lethargy and depression (oh, and don’t forget the belly fat!), and increase the chances of developing a chronic illness.

You don’t need to follow a protocol to get control.  There are things that you can discover just by paying attention to how you are eating.  For example, people who eat unwisely tend to make their food choices in the here and now, isolated from the moments after.  “Ooh, look.  Cheesecake!  Mmmm. I’ve got to try that!”

People who make wise choices about the food they eat tend to include the big picture consequences in the future of what they’re eating in the here and now.  “Ooh look. Cheesecake! Hmm.  Just had dinner and dessert, want to feel good in my clothes tomorrow.  Think I’ll take a bite, but pass on having a piece this time.”

Another approach is to break the process of eating down into three simple stages.
Stage one:  When to eat.
Stage two:  What to eat.
Stage Three:  When to stop.
Go through these one at a time, so that you can become conscious of how you’re making your choices around food.

Stage One:  When to eat
How do you know when to eat?  Common reasons include
* time of day
* hunger
* boredom
* to fill an emotional void
* to avoid something else
* attached to another activity (popcorn at the movies, snacking while watching television)
* when others are doing it
* as a reward for doing something else

Stage Two:  What to eat?
How do you know what to eat?  Common reasons include
* it’s healthy
* it’s low calorie
* it’s low fat
* it tastes good
* it’s easy to make
* it’s easy to get
* it’s a response to stress
* the people you are with are eating it
* it evokes a pleasant memory

Stage Three:  When to stop
How do you know when to stop eating?  Common reasons include
* the food on the plate is gone
* one more bite and you’ll explode
* your parent has finally stopped saying “eat, eat”
* you are satisfied
* it’s not as good as you hoped
* if you eat more you will feel uncomfortable
* to leave room for something else
* you know you don’t need anymore food

Some of these reasons to start, choose and stop will get you better results than others in guiding your dietary behavior.   If you eat because you’re bored, or as a response to stress, and you don’t stop until you’re about to explode, your experience will be different than if you eat because you’re hungry and choose food for it’s health value, and stop eating before you’re full.  To learn more about these results, ask people who seem to have a healthy appetite AND good self control when it comes to food, and find out what motivates their choices.

The pleasure you get from food is important though, and contributes to your health and well-being.  If your short term pleasure causes you long term pain, then at some point your short term pleasure will be eaten by the pain, and then it will be gone.   The good news is that it’s possible to have your cake, and your health too.  I recommend you follow the 80/20 rule.  Make 80% of your food choices based on your health and energy, and 20% based on “other criteria”.

Suzie wants to eat a lower fat diet, but has a desire for a gourmet treat.  She realizes that she’s going to the city tomorrow, and Wolfgang Puck has a restaurant there.  Instead of having the gourmet treat today, she chooses a simple salad with some protein, because tomorrow she will feast.

If you eat to fill an emptiness in your heart, you’ll never be able to eat enough. Trying to fill the void with mass quantities of edible substances just doesn’t work, unless your goal is weight gain and heartbreak.  A better way is to find other ways to fulfill your emotional needs that don’t require food.

To see how food  in general and what foods specifically affect your energy you will want to chart the trends. To see the big picture of your dietary habits, I recommend a diet diary for tracking the trends. The protocol I followed required that I keep excellent daily records of my food intake. It was a revelation.  I think the same will be true for you.

For several days *I did this for 90 days*, write down everything that you eat and drink.    Every half hour, give yourself an energy rating.  Measure your energy on a scale of 1-10, with 10 as the highest energy rating, 8 for good energy, 6 for just enough energy, 4 meaning that you’re kind of tired, 2 representing that you’re sleepy, and 0 meaning that you’ve crashed. This will help you to recognize which food items contribute to high energy and which food items deplete your system.  A side effect is that you may discover that you are sensitive to certain foods, that you would be better off to avoid entirely.

Here’s what I discovered.  Starches and sugars don’t do me much good at all.  I feel stronger, smarter and generally better when I get enough protein, good fat and enough fiber.  And simple foods taste better and are more fulfilling. A sliced tomato is wonderful. 5 strawberries, delectable. And chocolate peanut butter balls sweetened only with Stevia? Indescribably delicious.

How about you?  Your comments are welcome.

Be well,

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