Andrea Whalen is the author of the following post. She is a nutritionist with experience and specialty in nutrition counseling for pregnant women, infants, and preschool aged children. Andrea is also a certified lactation consultant. She works to ensure her clients are getting all the nutrients they need for their best health during these delicate times. Andrea also has experience with dieting for weight management.
Could it be true? Can we find a sensible, non-depriving diet that works? Is there a happy medium to dieting? I believe the answer is yes! It lies in the letting go of strict guidelines and an addiction to perfection. As a society, we have very altered views of what normal eating is. We often eat way too much or way too little. However, I believe with a little understanding, patience, and knowledge, we can fix this. Why do we have all the limits, boundaries and negative connotations with food in the first place? No one is perfect and no one can eat perfectly. Therefore there is no such thing as a perfect diet or the perfect body. None of that exists.
The list of diet trends seems unending; fasting, cleansing, clean eating, low carb, no carb, low fat, non fat, paleo diet, high protein diet and the list goes on. Research has shown some positives to these diet plans. However, the negative effects seem to outweigh the positives when these trendy types of diets are followed on a long term basis. Is there really one way of eating that works for all of us? And even if there was; is it even considered healthy?
How we Should Eat is an Individual Thing
Eating patterns and preferences are individualized and influenced by so many internal and external factors. Before we talk about the types of eating cues, let’s take a look at the difference between hunger and appetite. Hunger is a physiologic need for food. When you are feeling hunger your stomach starts to release hormones to tell your brain, “Hey I’m hungry!” However, appetite is psychological. It is about feeling a need to eat a certain food. Both hunger and appetite play a role when we are exposed to eating cues.
Internal Eating Cues
Some internal cues that influence how and what we decide to eat include, but are not limited to: reward cues, emotional cues and boredom. For example, an emotional cue can be driven by stress, happiness, anger, etc. We may eat in response to that emotion or choose not to eat in response that emotion. A reward cue is simple; we are constantly doing this as human beings. Think of all of the times we’ve heard a teacher, parent or anyone for that matter say something like, “If you have good behavior all week, we’ll have an ice cream party” Another example of a reward cue to turn on the overeating signals is simply just thinking about rewarding yourself. Perhaps when you achieve a goal you think, “I just passed my test or I just got a promotion at work so I am celebrating by going out to eat.” And who among us has not experienced the internal eating cue called boredom?
External Eating Cues
Some external factors that influence eating include: time, social cues, and location or special events. Time of day is a big one for all of us. It’s 12:00, even though you may have had breakfast 2 hours ago it’s “lunch time”. “Everyone else is eating, so I should eat, too.” you think to yourself. What comes to mind for both social and location cues are, parties, weddings, meetings, conferences and the list goes on. These events always revolve around both socializing and food. It feels like you cant be social at a party without eating.
Is there a Happy Medium to Dieting?
So, how do we work with these external and internal cues around eating? We have to think about eating mindfully. What is eating mindfully? Eating mindfully is part of normal eating. Normal eating is under eating sometimes or overeating, sometimes. The first step to mindful eating is paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues as explained below. With mindful eating as you may imagine, you have to be mentally present while you eat. That means not eating while driving, watching TV or working, but eating while seated at a table and relaxed for maximum eating awareness and digestion.
Some hunger cues include: stomach growling (stomach is releasing hormones like I mentioned earlier), feeling hunger/need for food, stomach feels empty, slight nauseousness (in some cases), slight irritability, in some cases lightheaded. If you have ever felt all of these hunger cues, you may have waited too long to eat. You want to eat before you get extremely hungry or fatigued. If you feel really nauseous and irritable, it’s going to be hard to make a good choice about what you want to eat. This may lead to over eating or under eating because you now have no concept of how hungry you really are.
Signs of Fullness
Some signs of fullness include: belching, no longer feeling the need to eat anything else, feeling satisfied, and not having that “empty” feeling in your stomach. When we ignore too many fullness cues, that’s when over eating becomes an issue. Pay attention to the cues. listen to your body. Ask yourself throughout the meal: Am I feeling full? Should I stop eating?
Let Yourself Eat Some of what you Crave
Food choices should be based on cravings. To crave is to have “a great or eager desire” for something. Think to yourself, am I craving something hot, cold, crunchy, mushy, spicy, sweet, savory? Are you feeling hunger cues? Think about If you are responding to external or internal cues? Ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?”, or is it just because you are being prompted by the fact that everyone around you is eating. Is choosing a food based solely on nutrient content? Don’t forget to think about what you are craving. Finally, ask yourself if you are ignoring cravings because you think they are bad?
Letting yourself have what your body craves is ok. If you are craving a cookie, then eat a cookie. If you don’t have that one cookie that you’re craving, that’s what may lead to overeating. Moderation and hunger goes out the window. You are going to be looking for something else to satisfy that craving which will ultimately lead to eating a higher volume of food anyway. That one cookie would have been less calories, fat, protein, etc. than all the extra food you just ate in replacement of that cookie.
Having a cookie or a piece of chocolate every day is not going to cause weight gain. Having an entire large chocolate bar or a whole roll of cookies from the package in a day, may cause weight gain over a period of time. Anything in excess could lead to weight gain: Excess calories, excess protein, excess carbohydrates, excess fat.
Tips for success:
1. Set realistic goals
2. Watch your portions
3. Eat mindfully
4. Choose more high nutrient dense foods and less of low nutrient dense foods.
5. Steer clear of “fad diets”- there are no easy fixes. Refrain from eliminating entire food groups from your diet because it’s said to be “healthy.” Unless you have a food allergy/intolerance or religious/ethical reason for eliminating an entire food group from your diet, don’t do it. All food groups are created equal!
Tell us in the comments below what you think, Is there a happy medium to dieting?
Author-Andrea Whalen, Nutritionist
1. Koenig, Karen R.The Rules of “normal” Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between! Carlsbad, CA: Gurze, 2005. Print.
2. Mahan, L. Kathleen., Sylvia Escott-Stump, Janice L. Raymond, and Marie V. Krause. Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Saunders, 2012. Print.