February 14, 2018
It’s Valentine’s day as I write this, or as my three-year-old niece calls it, ‘love day’, which I think is a more apt name, and this month on the podcast I'm talking about all things LOVE related (you can check it out here).
While I am filled with love, each and every day for my husband, my daughter, my family and friends, today I’m writing about a different kind of love- a love of food. I was thinking about this when a relatively new client was speaking today about a new personal training program they have embarked upon and they said with the same hope I hear all the time “I just want to be more controlled about what I eat and I want to only eat good things’. If only it were so simple…trying to control what we eat is the problem, not the solution!
In order to understand the value of being more intuitive about how and when we eat, we first need to acknowledge that ‘the diet’ is dead. After examining a wealth of studies on dieting, researchers at the University of California found that up to two thirds of diets fail, with several studies indicating that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain. So trying to control what we eat is the problem. Lasting weight loss, and indeed enjoying food and your body, is not about what you eat – it’s about why and how you eat.
Spending precious time and energy trying to be ‘good’ or feeling guilty about being ‘bad’ is unhealthy and unhelpful. It is time we shifted towards respecting our body, privileging what we eat, and enjoying our food. By changing how we think and feel about our body and the food we put into it, we can learn to enjoy food in a whole new way. This is what I like to call intuitive eating and a wonderful consequence of this approach is that you will you lose weight easily and keep it off for life because eating in moderation and enjoying a little of what you like mitigates the inevitable binges that come from denying yourself the foods you love.
Avoid overly processed foods.
The enemy isn’t sugar, fat or carbohydrates, it’s overly processed foods. The most significant influence you have over your health is in what you eat and this is nothing to do with calories, as all calories are not created equal. With each bite you take, your brain receives instructions that change your biology, altering your gene expression. Depending on what you eat, you are turning on ‘fat genes’ or ‘skinny genes’, healthy genes or disease genes.
By eliminating overly processed foods from your diet, you will significantly improve your biological make-up in a very short space of time. Think of the food you eat as information that affects your hormones, insulin levels, blood sugar, sex hormones, adrenal glands and so on. These changes don’t occur over time, they happen minute by minute. So look at the ingredients on the back of the packet, if you can’t pronounce them, if there is a long list of ingredients, or if the product has a very long shelf life- don’t eat it. Focus on eating fresh, natural foods and carve out time to cook from scratch- it’s a lot easier than you may think! Very quickly you will start to notice a difference in how you look and feel.
Incidentally I am just back from a trip to Paris and so am full of inspiration- their approach to cooking and eating is simple, balanced and healthy. (If you want to master the basics of French cooking then do check out Jen Reviews’ guide to 15 classic French dishes you can master at home- I think this is the perfect place to start!)
Eat the best quality you can.
We all need and deserve sweet treats and indulgences, and I absolutely adore them. As long as you enjoy them consciously, they are absolutely okay! The key is that it’s about the quality of the flavour of the treat as opposed to the size. Remember, the flavour of anything is in the first few bites. With this in mind, when treating yourself and indeed with whatever you eat, choose quality. It is always worth it and your body will appreciate it too! If you eat good quality food you’ll find that you need to eat less as you savour the taste.
Make a rule to only eat food you’ll really enjoy and that is the good quality stuff! Our body is much better at breaking down foods that aren’t overly processed so privilege homemade over mass produced. This is the thing: like a wine lover who has honed their palate, you will find that by only eating quality sweet things or treats, you will no longer like the artificial and overly sweet flavours of unhealthy cakes, biscuits and confectionary. This shift in itself will reduce the number of treats you eat.
Listen to your body and think of the hunger scale. Only start eating when you feel slightly hungry and stop when you feel pleasantly satisfied. This is easy to do once you eat slowly and enjoy every mouthful. Put the knife and fork down between each mouthful and chew your food. Wait until your mouth is empty, pause for a moment, only then should you consider the next bite!
The key to eating whatever you like is only eating when you are actually hungry! With this in mind, I never finish what’s on my plate as it’s important to leave room for the next course: think of a ‘half-portion’. I find it particularly easy to stick to only eating a half-portion when out, and my clients agree. Just delineate half of the portion on your plate and only eat that much (you can put the rest on a side plate if you like or ask to have it wrapped up to take home). It is especially important to stick to the half portion rule as we are consistently being trained to eat larger portions by restaurants and food producers who determine the size of a portion, and it is usually much larger than what we need to fuel ourselves, because they can charge more for it! Trust that if you’re still hungry after eating half, you can always go back for more.
Eat what you want and enjoy your food.
You must be able to enjoy what you eat without the guilt of feeling that you have overindulged and this is absolutely possible by eating slowly, enjoying each mouthful and savouring the flavours. Chew consciously and slowly, enjoying the pleasure of the food and the ambiance.
When you enjoy what you’re eating, your physiology responds by increasing your metabolism and extracting all the good nutrients from your food. Isn’t that amazing? With this in mind, I also encourage you to ‘make a meal of it’. Use your best table ware, set the table beautifully, always use a knife a fork- even for a sandwich! Light a candle or put out some flowers and put your phone away! Doing these things sends a message to your brain to pause, enjoy and focus on this helpful and pleasurable way of eating.
When you feel satisfied, stop eating.
Be mindful of the hunger scale: listen to your body and stop when you feel pleasantly satisfied, not uncomfortably full! All the flavour is in the first few bites, so there is no need to overindulge. The key to recognising when you are full is to practice body awareness. Each time you go to eat something, ask yourself ‘Am I hungry? Where am I on the hunger scale?’. If we eat when we aren’t hungry then we can never feel satiated as we were not hungry in the first place!
Become attuned to emotional eating.
It is true that one of the biggest issues we have is eating when we are not actually hungry, so over the next few weeks tune into your body, listen to the signals of hunger and fullness. If you feel a sudden pang, this is usually for an emotional reason, and food will not fill you up or make you feel better, in fact it will probably make you feel worse! So when you feel emotional hunger address it in other ways; phone a friend, have a shower, do a face mask, go for a walk, read a book or magazine. Doing something to distract you will help to not give into the craving. But if you find that you spend a lot of time eating for emotional reasons, then work on addressing the cause, not trying to control the symptom, the overeating, as this is not going to create lasting change.
My clients really marvel at this practical, balanced approach to food, as they find it so liberating. Not enjoying our food or trying to control what we eat are the major pitfalls that my weight loss clients complain about; indeed, when trying to lose weight so many people tell me how they completely avoid the foods they love for fear of binging or ‘falling off the diet wagon’. Not necessary! Now you have the coordinates to eating intuitively. Commit to practicing these steps every day for one month and you will be amazed at the effect it has on your appetite, your size and your relationship with food!
Karina Melvin is a Psychologist, a weight loss specialist and the author of Artful Eating: The Psychology of Lasting Weight Loss for more information and free resources go to http://www.artful-eating.com/
Seasons greetings from Dublin!
Some food for thought over the holidays….
I received a wonderful email from an Artful Eater last January, she explained how she usually found Christmas to be an extremely stressful time as her struggles with weight and emotional eating were always amplified over Christmas and every year she ended up putting on almost half a stone over the holiday period. She had completed the online program and was heading into the Christmas period this year with no expectations other than to not monitor what she ate, not feel guilty for eating anything and instead that year she just planned on enjoying the culinary delights of the season.
She said it was the most wonderful Christmas ever as not only did she not gain any weight, she actually lost four pounds without limiting or denying herself anything! She explained that it was because she effortlessly applied Artful Eating principles over the holidays. I am reminded of that particular mail as I sit down to write to you as I want you to know that this can be a truly wonderful time. You do not need to feel stressed or anxious about food, indeed this should be a really pleasurable part of your Christmas celebrations!
I’m sharing my 5 principles to help you get a handle on emotional eating during the holidays. These are simple and easy to apply and they really work. They are taken from an article about Artful Eating in this December's RED Magazine, so if you want the full article then do pick up a copy as it's not online!
1. Use the rule of halves
No food should be forbidden, and giving yourself permission to eat anything you love is the key to having a happy and healthy relationship with food, so one of the best ways to stay on track is to halve everything, especially sweet treats. Start by having a half portion of absolutely everything: half a portion of cheese, half a slice of Christmas cake, half a portion of turkey...Remember you can always go back for more should you feel hungry, but you must stop when you're feeling slightly full. Going halves is so effective because all the flavour is in the first few bites, so thinking this way, you can indulge without guilt rearing its ugly head! More importantly, you're changing your habits around food, learning to self moderate and reconditioning your mind not to finish a portion unless you're genuinely hungry for it. This is the key to food freedom.
2. Rethink the hunger scale.
I know you've heard me talk about the hunger scale before, but check in with yourself over the Christmas period, are you using it correctly? Contrary to popular belief, the trick isn't to start eating when you're at one or two (ravenous) and stop at 9 (stuffed). Many people can't really tell when they are hungry nowadays as we are so used to overriding our bodies natural hunger signals while on a diet. The hunger scale is the most vital tool for having a healthier relationship with food and your weight. The trick is to start eating when you're at three or four (slightly hungry) and stop when you're at around six (pleasantly satisfied). As soon as you feel that satisfaction, stop eating. Remember that food is only pleasurable, only satisfying, when you're genuinely hungry. Indulging is different to binging. Indulging means eating the food you love and stopping when you're satisfied.
3. Upgrade your emo-hunger detector.
Stressed about all the family coming over? That deserves another chocolate. Overeating is often more to do with distracting yourself from your emotions than willpower. Emotional hunger can't be satisfied with food, which is why you can eat and eat without ever feeling content. So, how do you know if it's your mind our your stomach that's hungry? Emotional eating normally hits suddenly (there's no stomach grumbles) and you usually crave one specific food. True hunger is gradual and doesn’t make you a picky eater. So, listen to your stomach, not your urges and find a healthier outlets for your emotions, such as a stress reducing walk around the block.
4. Have a thought stopping mantra
Everytime that your about to put food in your mouth I encourage you to ask yourself
Am I hungry?
Where am I on the hunger scale?
What am I hungry for?
If you’re still struggling to keep your urges in check, have a mantra on standby, for instance ‘I don’t eat when I’m not hungry’ or “I don’t eat mince pies because I don’t even like them’. You’ll be surprised at how effective repeating these phrases can be. Thought stopping is a decision not to respond to the pull of food for the wrong reasons. The more time you spend thinking about what to do in the face of an emotional urge, the greater your chances of not giving into it.
5. Tip the balance
Have you ever woken up with a food hangover from hell? There is no scenario in which you should be beating yourself up for overeating during a meal, but it can certainly be useful to compensate by eating less the following day. It might sound like a contradiction, but this approach will help the fixation of foods being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by automatically viewing your eating habits from a position of balance.
So this Christmas you certainly can have your cake and eat it. Just be sure it's the best quality you can get and that you enjoy it!
With so much love and gratitude,
PS. I’ve been doing a bit of rebranding and have decided to change the name of the online program to At the Table. It makes more sense to me as it’s not really a course, more a way of life that you can enjoy and bring to your table everyday.
PPS My plans for a monthly membership have evolved, and I have decided to share my project for a year of change for free via a monthly podcast which will go live at the end of 2017 in anticipation of the new year. If you’re interested in making 2018 your best year yet then keep an eye on your inbox for more details. I cannot wait to share it with you!
PPPS (!) The Gloss did a lovely feature on Artful Eating, so if you’d like to know a little bit more about me and it, then check it out here: http://thegloss.ie/writers-block-with-karina-melvin/
THE JOY OF BAKING
My grandmother encouraged me to bake and though she never passed on the grá to my mother, I managed to catch the fever. If you don't bake then it's something I insist you remedy at once! It is one of the most satisfying things in the world to do and you cannot beat the smell and taste of a home baked treat. It's also incredibly relaxing ( just ask Mary Berry!). Now it definitely took me a while to get it right, and indeed I still often get it very wrong, but that's ok. Practice makes perfect and its so much fun to do, especially with little ones.
When I bake I'll slice whatever is left over (if we haven't had guests to enjoy it with us), wrap it in parchment and freeze it. That way I always have something delicious and home made ready to defrost/reheat (either in the oven or in the toaster in a toaster bag) when I feel a pang for something sweet to satisfy me.
I know so many people avoid baking as they fear they'll eat the whole thing, but really if you freeze what you don't eat it won't be there to tempt you. Also if you allow the pleasures of home cooking and baking to become part of your diet there simply won't be the urgency to binge or over indulge as you relax in the knowledge that sweet things aren't prohibited.
If you do struggle with guilty feelings and food, then check out my post about eating guilt free. You'll find a really helpful exercise in there which will go a long way towards finding an equilibrium with indulgences and the joys of eating well, not just eating 'clean' or always eating 'healthy' food.
For some delicious cake ideas check out the recipes section of my blog here. There's a gluten free banana bread, a delicious every day courgette cake and a simple orange cake (pictured) that you can make with or without flour.