The winter season is a great time to reflect on the past and resolve to make changes for the upcoming year. Despite well-intentioned efforts, many people make bold lifestyle changes that are unsustainable in practice, which is why most New Years resolutions are quickly abandoned and forgotten.
Although I am a Registered Dietitian, I am also human. Living a healthy lifestyle still requires effort and planning, and New Years Resolutions are no exception. Rather than a complete overhaul of current habits, I recommend finding areas of your life that could use small improvements, and then making specific, purposeful, and realistic goals related to the area of concern. For example, rather than “get healthier”, this year I resolve to respect my hunger and fullness cues– a small but important healthy habit.
Are hunger and fullness cues something you would like to work on? If so, I highly recommend this book.
Being a Gastronomy (food studies) student, moving across the country to a new region with entirely different culinary specialty (hello, lobster rolls and clam chowder), continuing to experiment with recipes and hone my cooking skills, working in the food service industry, and traveling to places both familiar and unfamiliar have all led me to get caught up in the cycle of wanting to try EVERYTHING. While I don’t think there is harm in tasting, this year I resolve to improve my tasting skills. By that, I mean that I want to savor my bites rather than eating mindlessly, and make an effort to stop eating when full.
Strategies: As mentioned above, goals should be specific. In order to make a habit of respecting my hunger and fullness cues, I plan to implement the following specific strategies:
Before eating: Ask yourself…
Am I hungry? Sometimes I am not hungry, yet I find myself wanting food. Just knowing that there are Christmas cookies in the house makes the little piggy in me think “Oh well, they are here so I might as well eat them. Then there won’t be any left for me to eat anymore- problem solved!” Whoa, whoa, whoa, not so fast, Kelly.
- One strategy I will use is to brush my teeth. Many a time have I easily said “No, thanks” to tempting treats from my parents or roommates, simply because I had already brushed my teeth, and frankly, I really didn’t want to brush them again. The fresh, minty mouth feel is also a great way to mentally signal the end of a meal, and let your body know that the kitchen is closed (note- this strategy will also help me achieve the ever popular New Years Resolution of improving dental care). When I am at work, I use sugar free gum to achieve the same effect.
- Another strategy to prevent mindless eating is to keep a food log. Part of being successful when making dietary changes is being held accountable for what you eat. While I don’t see myself keeping a detailed diet log with complete nutrition facts, I do think its reasonable to jot down foods in a journal in order to stay accountable for what I eat. Feeling more ambitious than that? Studies have also shown that taking a photo of what you eat before you eat it is another way to stay on track with healthy eating. With food photography being so hot these days, this approach just might work.
Is this food special? Sometimes, tasting when you are not hungry can be justified IF the food is “special” and IF you limit yourself to just a taste. What do I mean by special food? Food that is new to you that you will likely not get to try again, such as exotic food while traveling, food at a really nice restaurant, or even your own wedding cake! Food that is not special is the candy or cookies that your coworker brought into the office. Learn to know the difference, and learn to say no in those situations. Special foods, such as cake, are fine eaten at a celebration (such as your birthday or wedding), but sometimes the only celebration is the fact that your roommate brought home extra cupcakes. You weren’t expecting them or counting on them, and you will be just fine without them. In situations where you are exposed to “special” foods when you are not hungry, remember just to have a taste. Savor your bites and take a mental note of the flavors. Do not feel the need to compulsively finish whatever you are given, even if there is still some left on your plate.
Is this what I want? Why am I choosing this food? Is this food going to nourish my body and contribute to my health? If not, is it something that I am truly craving? Am I just trying to fill a void (such as boredom, stress, or unhappiness), or is this food truly going to satisfy my senses (such as juicy watermelon on a hot day)? How will I feel after I eat this food? Will I be satisfied? Remember to always eat with a purpose!
While eating: Ask yourself…
Does this taste good? If I food does not live up to my expectations, I sometimes keep eating it in hopes that the next bite will get better. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. Taste buds change over time, and I strongly believe that it’s important to periodically give foods you don’t like a chance. However, if you are eating something, especially something that is energy dense (high calorie), don’t waste your time on it if it doesn’t taste good. If the food isn’t what you really want, you will likely end up giving in to what you do want later. So spend your calories wisely, and eat with passion.
Am I still hungry? Americans tend to feel obligated to “clean our plates”, a habit instilled in us from a very young age. People rely on environmental and cultural cues to stop eating (my plate is clean, the package is empty) rather than relying on internal hunger and fullness cues. To combat this, I am going to take a mental assessment of my hunger level THROUGHOUT the eating process, rather than just afterwards. I resolve to stop eating when I am no longer hungry. One strategy I will use to more accurately assess my hunger and fullness cues is to eat more slowly. Sometimes I eat so fast that I don’t even realize how full I am until I have already left the table! I resolve to put my fork down between bites, enjoy the conversation of my dining companions, and not inhale my food. Additionally, I would like to challenge myself to leave a little bit of food on my plate, in order to set the habit of eating according to internal cues, and to avoid compulsive eating. This is much easier said than done!
After eating: Ask yourself…
How did this make me feel, both physically and mentally? Did eating this food make me feel energized? Give me a stomach ache? Keep me full for hours? Fill me up at all? Did this meal inspire me to make healthier choices throughout the day? Did it make me feel guilty? All of these things are important to make note of after eating, and will help guide you to the foods that work for YOUR body.
Now, if you need me I will be stocking up on Crest 3D White Toothpaste, electric spin toothbrushes, fresh journals and pencils, and rereading my copy of Intuitive Eating. What do you resolve to do this year? Will you be making any dietary changes?