Many of my clients have issues with their weight and health. They may be too thin or too large for health and this may often be the result of emotional and/or psychological distress or physical health problems. I sometimes believe that humans are divided into two categories: Those of us who lose our appetites completely when we are stressed and lose weight and feel unhealthy; and those of us who comfort eat and soothe our emotions with food – often unhealthy food which causes illness and obesity in the long term.
The answer isn’t dieting. Diets don’t work, never have, never will long term. The diet industry makes billions each year from selling quick fixes that don’t give long term results. Healthy eating plans with lots of vegetables and nutritious food do work, but they are part of a healthy way of life rather than an artificial semi-starvation diet which sets you up for failure and worse weight issues in future.
A big part of managing weight and being happy and healthy in your body is eating consciously. Eating consciously is more about how and why you eat and the thought and self-love you put into it than a diet. It is also about making healthy food choices when shopping and being disciplined when emotional stress makes you vulnerable.
Here are six rules to get you started. Remember, it is better to make a few new healthy habits that can last a lifetime than to try to change everything overnight and give up after a week.
Rule 1. Only eat at the table with plates and cutlery. No grazing on the couch, eating at the kitchen bench or while walking down the street. Stop and focus on what is going into your mouth and make an occasion of it. There is nothing wrong with sometimes eating chocolate biscuits – they are a nice treat. But sit at the table with one or two of them on a plate with a cuppa – call it afternoon tea, take your time and really enjoy them. You wont want to eat the whole pack – or eat far more than you intended – if you are focused on the food and really enjoying it. Compare this with sitting on the couch watching TV and mindlessly putting biscuits in your mouth while thinking about something else. Very easy to eat too many bickies like that – I know!
Rule 2. Only eat because you are hungry. Why are you eating? Is it because it is lunchtime and you are hungry, or is it just because you are walking past the fridge? Are you scared of feeling hungry or empty so eat before it can happen? There are many reasons why someone can eat even when they are not hungry – most of them emotional. Before you put food in your mouth ask yourself why are you eating it. If the answer is that you are physically hungry and it has been a few hours since you ate, go ahead. If you aren’t hungry and it is something else, like anger, sadness, frustration or boredom, do something to fix that problem. Go for a walk, talk to a friend about your problems, find something to do, have a cry and let it all out. Getting in touch with your feelings and why you use food to soothe them may be the answer to your weight problem a lot more than the next big diet.
Rule 3. Care about your body and treat it right. There is a lot of information out there about which foods are good or unhealthy, so think of what you eat as being a way to show your body and self that you care. Love yourself enough to treat your body with respect and feed it with healthy food that will build up your strength, not junk that will drag you down. This also covers things like cigarettes and excess alcohol and drugs etc. Think about the effect of healthy and nutritious fruit and vegetables versus sugary, fatty junk on your body, health and mind. Care for yourself by giving your body good food that will make it strong, calm and healthy.
Rule 4. Check the labels. There are so many unhealthy foods that are marketed as being good for you that the only way you can tell if the ‘healthy low fat’ meal is actually full of sugar and calories is to check the label. Take the time to look on the nutrition label and compare items. Sometimes the cheap home brands can actually be healthier choices. Look past the hype on the front of the packet and read the facts on the back.
Rule 5. EAT REAL FOOD! By real food I mean fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat and grains – food that came from the ground or an animal. 80% of what is on supermarket shelves today was not even invented 100 years ago and most of it is just new ways to sell cheap grains made to taste good with sugar and fat and artificial additives. Frozen veggies are fine and can be better than having food going off in the fridge and being wasted, porridge is a great cheap breakfast that is so much better for you than sugary packaged cereals. A tip I heard is that if you want to eat healthily and save a lot of money, stick to the outside edges of the supermarket. This where all the fresh, non-preservative laced food like veggies, meat and dairy is kept because it has to be restocked frequently. Cook at home instead of takeaways or buying pre-packaged ready meals, stay clear of the fizzy drinks and moderate your alcohol intake.
Rule 6. Check your portion size. The standard size serve of takeaway food has gone up so much that what was once considered enough for a grown adult is now called the ‘junior’ size. Put enough on your plate to satisfy your hunger not how much is left in the pot. Don’t feel the need to ‘clean your plate’ and learn what satisfied rather than stuffed feels like. Fill up on veggies or add a handful of frozen veg to what you are cooking for extra health and to bulk out the meal with the most nutrition for calories.
This is not a diet, it is more about developing good habits that you can add one at a time and make a part of your life. Add a daily walk for exercise and you should be seeing results to your weight and health before you know it.