FUNDAMENTALS OF HEALTHY EATING - PART II: DISCOVERY PHASE
First let me say this: I love that you're even reading this series, because it means you're ready to harness the transformative power of nutrition with approachable, digestible, sustainable methods. Next, I should mention that if you're new to the series, you want to hit this article up first and then come back to the below.
DON'T PUT DOWN THE DORITOS JUST YET
A combination of personal experience, extensive research and observation over the past 2 decades has made me a firm believer in slow, incremental change and bio-individuality. Because change can be daunting, and figuring out what works best for your biologically unique body can be even more daunting, we're going to start with simple, foundational changes that are low maintenance and high impact for anyone and everyone - regardless of your physical condition, health goals and available resources.
Up first is mindful eating, a skill you can use at every stage in your healthy eating evolution. The best part? You can get rolling while still clutching a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos if you want - although I can promise you won't feel the same about them when we're through.
DISCOVERY PHASE - 1-2 WEEKs
Because our DNA, hormones, heritage, health conditions, age and so much more vary from person to person, there is no one way of eating that is the golden ticket to looking like Jane Fonda at the age of 80 (HAVE YOU SEEN HER?!) Finding your way to healthy eating is about finding YOUR way to what works best for YOUR body, mind and lifestyle. The easiest and fastest way to figure out what works? Start paying attention to what doesn't work by increasing awareness around:
- WHAT you're eating. Ever forget what you had for lunch by the time you get to dinner? Yup, me too sometimes. But how can you recognize if a particular food or eating philosophy is fulfilling your nutritional needs if you're barely conscious before, during and after you shovel it in? To increase awareness of cause and effect, take a few days to pay particular attention to:
- What typical breakfast, lunch and dinners look like for you
- How much whole, unprocessed food you eat on a daily/weekly basis (No judgments allowed! This is simply a time to observe.)
- How much of what you eat comes from a box, bag or take-out container
How much food you cook at home vs. consume at a restaurant/take out
If you have any idea where your food comes from or how it's made
- If you're omitting, or conversely, consuming a lot of: animal protein, grains (including wheat or gluten-free things like rice, quinoa), dairy, sugar, caffeine
- What you crave most on a regular basis (For me? Chocolate. All the chocolate.)
- Fill in the blank: I need to have _______ at every meal
HOW you're eating. Healthy eating isn't just about the food itself, it's about the habits and mentality surrounding the food. Take a day or two to answer these questions:
Are you multi-tasking and/or barely paying attention when you're eating?
Are you usually frantic, stressed, distracted while you eat?
Do you eat at a break-neck pace or so slow that everyone's left the table before you're done?
Do you actually chew your food or just kind of inhale it? (Guilty on the latter.)
Any chance you sit down at the table without distraction and slowly savor each bite, being totally present and mindful? Yeah, me neither (but working on it!)
WHEN you're eating. In addition to telling us something about how our diets are actually fitting our needs, frequency and timing of meals heavily impact digestion, assimilation of nutrients, our ability to detoxify and how food makes us feel in general. I never quite realized this until my first cleanse, when I felt like I was on speed because I had so much energy from giving my body the right nutrients and allowing sufficient time between meals to rest my digestive system. Next take a few days to investigate things like:
If you wake up ravished and can't go another moment without eating
If you wait until a late lunch to eat at all because you're too busy to fit in a breakfast then find yourself grazing through the rest of the day
If you find yourself tip-toeing back to the fridge an hour, 2 hours, 3 hours after dinner for snacks
The average window of time between yesterday's last meal and today's first meal
WHY you're eating. This answer seems obvious, hunger, right? I'll bet the real answers are a little more complicated than that. There are endless reasons (other than hunger) that people eat, but here are a few to questions to ask over the next few days to find yours:
Is your stomach actually empty and begging for food? Or do you just kind of feel like eating? (I do this often during PMS)
Do you tend to eat more or less when you're stressed?
Do you eat when you're bored?
Do you eat when you think you're "supposed to" even if you're not hungry? (Perfect examples: breakfast or right after a workout)
Do you feel pressure in social situations or at family gatherings to eat even when you're not hungry? Or to eat less than you really need/want?
Now put it all together: Take a few days to notice how your current food choices and eating habits make you feel. Pay attention to mental and physical cues after you eat your meals. No action needed, just check in to ask these questions:
Do you find yourself tired or energized 15 minutes after eating?
In an hour, are you satisfied, overly full or hungry again already?
In 1-2 hours, are you mentally alert or a little foggy?
In 3-4 hours, are you still satisfied or ravenous? If ravenous, do you experience signs of low blood sugar? (Aka mood swings/anxiety, shaking, weakness, brain fog.)
Throughout the day, how is stable are your mood and energy levels?
How is your digestion? Do you regularly have gas, bloating, discomfort?
How are your bowel movements? Are they loose or well formed? Do they occur bare minimum 1x/day but ideally 2-3x/day?
Do you ever experience extreme urgency around getting to a bathroom right after meals?
Do you ever get flushed, itchy or sneezy right after eating certain foods?
I would LOVE nothing more than to hear what you discover in the comments below! Feel free to ask questions, share your observations and tell us what you learned!
P.S. Next up? Fundamentals of Healthy Eating - Part III! Stay tuned for the next phase of the journey!