You probably regularly connect in with your spirit and your body and your loved ones — but how connected do you feel to your food? What feelings do you have around it, both positive and negative? And what would it be like if you transformed your relationship with food to something really, really loving? How would that change mealtime? How would that change your body? How much would that change your life?
Rebecca Scritchfield has thoughts on this. And we’re so grateful to be sharing her insights today with these tips on how to connect with food again from her book Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out — and Never Say Diet Again by Workman Publishing.
How to Connect With Food Again
For many people, rebuilding a healthier relationship with food is a necessary step to truly be free from dieting, to gain confidence and feel good. Here is my three-legged stool approach to help you eat with body kindness — be hungry, balance your plate, and savor your meal.
1. Be hungry. It probably comes as no surprise that the best time to eat is when you are hungry. It’s your body’s way of saying “feeeeed meeee.” Recognizing hunger can be difficult for many people, and acknowledging fullness can be even more difficult. Physically, you might feel a belly growl or emptiness when you’re hungry. If you eat within two hours after waking up, on most days you should experience hunger roughly every three to five hours. Hunger signals build gradually. As you digest food and have less energy available, your body begins to release hormones to increase your appetite and interest in eating.
The hungry/full system works beautifully if you work with it instead of trying to cheat it. From a body kindness perspective, any plan that tells you to fight your own biology is out of bounds. When you don’t get enough food, your brain eats itself. I’m serious. It’s called autophagy. Essentially it’s one of the ways your body tries to compensate for the lack of food in a last-ditch effort to ward off starvation. So, if you need your brain cells like I do, then eating enough food is key. You will feel a serious energy decline and loss of focus and concentration if you don’t eat enough. And we all know someone who has “hanger issues,” right? It’s funny to joke about it, but mood fluctuations are a legitimate hormonal response when your body and brain don’t get the fuel they need to function adequately.
Quick Snacks to Avoid Getting “Hangry”
- Fruit such as apples, bananas, kiwifruit, dried plums, and dates on their own or with peanut, almond, cashew, or sunflower butter.
- Blend plain yogurt with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or fresh herbs for a dip with your favorite fruits and vegetables.
- Cheese with vegetables or fruit such as cucumbers, peppers, celery, carrots, tomatoes, kiwifruit, grapes, mandarin orange slices, red grapefruit and pears.
- Hard-boiled egg with avocado. Take a whole egg and place it in the pit of half an avocado. Top with a bit of salt and pepper or hot sauce.
- Tuna with avocado. Fill the pit of half an avocado with tuna (I love tuna packed in olive oil). Top with a squeeze of lemon.
- Hummus with pita and vegetables. Cut half a whole-wheat pita into triangles and use veggies as dippers with store-bought hummus.
- DIY trail mix: Combine your favorite nuts such as pistachios, peanuts, and almonds, dried fruit (plums, mangoes, raisins, cranberries), chocolate chips and dry cereal.
- Tip: Get help from the grocery store. Many retailers provide grab-and-go snacks like cheese, guacamole, nuts, pre-cut vegetables and fruits, KIND bars, fruit leather, single-serve chips and more. If you can’t find ready-to-go snacks, make your own ahead of time to make “hangry” history.
2. Balance your plate. One way to increase the variety of foods you eat and simplify decision-making is by using the balanced plate method to guide your food choices. The perk is that there is no need to restrict or measure your food and no calorie counting or scrutinizing of ingredients. All you need is a pair of eyes and an elementary understanding of fractions. The concept is so simple it almost feels like it can’t possibly work, but it does. (And just think of all the free time you’ll have when you aren’t entering every morsel of food into a calorie counting app!)
When you look at the balanced plates, you may notice one important feature: Within the realm of your preferences, plants should be the basis of your food intake. Why? They offer fiber, vitamins and minerals for nourishment. One-half to three quarters of the plate diagrams are plant foods — fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole-grain foods. Plant-based eating is in line with the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is updated every five years by a panel of nutrition scientists. As long as you work on adequately filling this part of the plate MOST of the time, the rest of your decisions become less important (and less difficult).
Don’t forget to save room for my favorite part of the balanced plate approach: It’s called eating whatever the heck you want. (You rebel, you!) I’m talking some meals that have no vegetables or fruits at all. Life is meant to be lived fully — not monitored and morseled out into perfect portions. But what about health? Enjoying pizza, french fries and hot fudge sundaes does not give someone diabetes. But it might just give them joy once in a while. We’ve all heard of someone’s Aunty Betty who lived to be 101 eating bacon and mayonnaise sandwiches every day from her easy chair. And we all know people who seem to have done everything by the book yet still struggle with unexplainable health challenges. While your lifestyle choices can impact health, so can genetics, the environment and even socioeconomic status. I want to enjoy the years I have on this planet, and taking pleasure in flexible, adventurous eating fits my definition of “the good life” more than forcing myself to always adhere to a balanced plate — or else!
Ways the Balanced Plate Works for You
- Supports your day-to-day energy: When you eat better, you tend to feel better, sleep better, and as a collective result, have more energy.
- Maximizes your digestive health: Foods rich in fiber will keep your digestive system running smoothly, helping you absorb nutrients, which then fuel all your other body functions.
- Strengthens your gut microbiome: One hundred trillion of your body’s best friends, otherwise known as the bacteria living in your gut, make up what is known as your microbiome — considered your “second brain.” It’s key to regulating your mood through the signaling of neurotransmitters and production of serotonin, which I like to think of as the “keep calm and carry on” hormone. When you eat certain foods, like bananas, artichokes, and kiwi, you get undigestable fibers called prebiotics that feed your “good bacteria.” Eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and miso gives you a direct dose of probiotics to help populate your gut. You can also take probiotic supplements. All these efforts will help the most beneficial bacteria thrive in your gut and keep potentially harmful viruses and bacteria from taking up residence.
- Boosts your immunity: Your immune system is constantly fighting any potentially harmful pathogens that make it into your body. Eating foods with the antioxidants vitamins A, C, and E help keep your immune system strong. The yellow-flesh SunGold kiwifruit has three times the vitamin C of oranges. Also try blueberries, grapefruit, broccoli, avocado, mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, seeds and nuts.
- Helps your body naturally detoxify. You don’t need cleanses or detoxes because your liver and kidneys do all the hard work for you. Your liver sifts through every ounce of blood looking for anything it does not like and getting rid of it (like alcohol, prescription drugs or other body toxins). Then your kidneys help turn it into waste so when you “go” it goes bye-bye. Keep this process operating smoothly by drinking plenty of water and keeping alcohol intake in check.
- Fights inflammation: Sometimes your body responds to injury or illness with pain and discomfort in an attempt to heal itself — this can also happen with food intolerance or sensitivities or certain chronic illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, lupus or arthritis. The majority of leafy greens, fruits, and other healthful foods like nuts, olive oil, celery, beets, salmon, tuna and anchovies are anti-inflammatory. This can help decrease generalized inflammation in your body.
- People who are flexible with their choices have more self-control in the long run: It might sound counter-intuitive, but giving yourself some rewarding pleasure now (with reasonable self-control) can actually help you avoid self-sabotage later on. Instead of completely avoiding Grandma’s delicious mac-n-cheese recipe, it’s much more realistic to enjoy a satisfying portion as part of a well-rounded meal. If this sounds like it requires superhuman power, consider how taking the time to slowly savor your meal and get comfortably full can be satisfying and help prevent mindless eating later on.
It’s OK if following the balanced plate is a challenge. Start where you are, working with your preferences, and try to be flexible and creative with meal planning. Many of my clients want to know how they can “healthify” their favorite meals, so I’ve compiled a few of my favorite ways to turn an old classic into a more balanced plate.
3. Savor your meal. Savor means to taste food and enjoy it completely — something we rarely do anymore because who has the time? Making an effort to savor your meal is part of the body kindness plan because savoring is all about connection and pleasure. What we eat impacts our mind and spirit just as much as our bodies. When you engage in food savoring behaviors, you’re bound to spiral up. My plan to help you savor your food more involves mindfulness — emphasizing enhancements to flavor when you prepare the meal and mindful eating practices to help you enjoy it more fully. Both these factors will help you self-regulate how much food you eat. (You don’t need a diet to tell you that anymore! Hooray!)
Somewhere along the way, butter and salt ended up on the same blacklist as potato chips, and in their place landed a steaming bowl of plain broccoli. Butter and salt are among the top flavor enhancers, so I encourage you to put them back on the table if it will help increase vegetable consumption. A little goes a long way. Exploring new and interesting flavors, such as salty and sweet combinations, can make eating well more exciting too.
How connected are you to your food? —Rebecca Scritchfield