The Christmas food frenzy

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The Christmas period and summer time is coming upon us. Here are a few practises on how you can be the healthiest you can be going into this time and beyond.

Let’s be honest – for many of us summer is a great motivator; with people looking for ways to improve their health and release the excess that isn’t serving their body well. With this article, I want to discuss a few practises useful to bring into your lifestyle to understand how your body flows greater without going on the quick fix diets, which you fall off and never restart after Christmas.

I won’t talk so much about a certain regime of eating, as in the ideal scenario we would all be eating whole natural foods, with little toxic substances in the diet. So as much as possible, try to add more nutrient-dense foods to your diet.

However it is more how we eat that is the issue. This is where it helps to know how to listen to some of the body’s nourishment signals (hunger and satiety). Working with your body’s natural rhythms, you will always be getting the right nutrients in the right amounts, so in theory should not be in any excesses or depletions.

What is hunger?    
Hunger is actually a body function that is designed to get us to eat. Hunger is a sensation not a thought! It is your body’s way of saying “hey feed me nutrients”.

So how do you tell if you are physically hungry, rather than emotionally hungry or boredom eating?

Physical hunger will feel like you are empty inside with a faint rumbling in your stomach. This hunger usually comes on slowly whereas psychological hunger comes on suddenly. With this you need to ask yourself did anything happen mentally and emotionally, either externally or internally, for you to start to want to crave food. If this sensation is accompanied by tiredness, weakness, lethargy, irritability and grumpiness then it probably is hunger.

NOTE: if you have to stop and question whether you are actually hungry or not hungry then you probably are not hungry, and most likely if nothing emotional has triggered your desire to eat, it is boredom or avoidance of the task at hand that you are doing. I find myself getting caught sometimes in this last one. If it is psychological hunger, often we will crave for something specific. If it is physical hunger, any type of food within a food group will often fill the hunger spot.

Our sense of taste is heightened when we are hungry. If we are not enjoying what we are eating then we are not hungry or our body in fact does not need it.

Studies show that eating in response to physiological hunger has been shown to reduce calorie intake by one third, without subjects feeling any sense of deprivation or hunger between meals. It also leads to lower blood glucose levels, improved insulin sensitivity and visceral fat reduction.

BE PATIENT with yourself in this process of learning to recognise hunger signals again, especially if you have lost the ability to do so. Make hunger your friend, and make every time you question yourself as to whether you are actually hungry or eating out of a psychological aspect a fun game. Not a game where you beat yourself up for being useless for yet again yielding to the chocolate. It’s all about learning to become more aware of the body and listening to what it is communicating to you. You can work with the body, not against it.

NOTE: Often people do not want to get hungry in fear of overeating. You will only over eat when you are not mindfully eating, so please concentrate on your eating when you are eating, chewing lots and connecting to the tastes and textures of your food helps with this.

What are some of the reasons we get “psychologically hungry”?

We eat for a lot of reasons influenced by emotions and situations:
– When we feel sad, angry, bored, lonely, tired, miserable, stressed, depressed, impatient, irritated, annoyed, anxious, aggrieved, relieved, worried, agitated, excited, alarmed, upset, fearful, disappointed, distressed, hurt or harassed.
– We eat because we are out of love, in love, out of luck, in luck, on medication, off medication, sleep-deprived or sex-deprived.
– We eat out of politeness, rebellion, convention or habit.
– We eat because we are celebrating, commiserating, deliberating or procrastinating.
– We eat for reward, comfort, no reason or every reason.

Do any of these resonate with you? I found my weakness in this area came when I would work at the kitchen table. It was like my brain was hard wired to eat just because I sat at the dinner table. It took me conscious effort to tune into my body and say “okay where is this hunger coming from?” Is it actual hunger or was there another trigger? Yes there sure was.

So the more I became aware of this the more I could resolve the psychological hunger. I even managed to see where the core of this habit had actually started from. It went way back to my university study days where I chose to eat at my desk a lot while I was studying. So working at the table where we would normally eat coupled by the habit of eating at my computer really set me up for some unnecessary eating albeit healthy foods.

Do you eat to time or when you are hungry?
Breakfast, lunch and dinner as we know it has been very different in the history of our existence. For example back in the Roman times, they were apparently obsessed with digestion. They only ate one meal in the middle of the day as they saw anything else as a form of gluttony. In the middle ages nothing could be eaten before morning mass and meat could only be eaten for half the year.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner times were formed with the onset of the development of our industrial revolution. We grew up with certain times of eating. How much of your eating is dictated by time or by the classic breakfast, lunch, dinner meals?

I know I have done this myself so much in the past. Some days for whatever reason my body was like mmmm, no I’m not hungry but my brain went nooooo. lunch time it is. The result, even though it was good food, was that I didn’t feel comfortable.

If any of the above information resonated with you, it is time to retrain yourself to listen to your body rather than the clock or what meal you should be eating.

Get excited by rediscovering your physical hunger. You will understand exactly what cues your body sends when you actually need food (preferably healthy). Hence, never living in the fear of emotionally overeating or eating the wrong foods.

Steps to take to determine what type of hungry you are
When you find yourself reaching for food, get into the habit of asking yourself these questions:
– Am I really hungry?
– Or could it be that I’m thirsty?
– Or is it that I want to change how I’m feeling or a situation I’m in?
– Or do I simply need a break from what I’m doing?

Asking yourself these questions allows you the time to be able to tune into your body’s physiological cues and what they are saying to you.

If you are not hungry, drink a glass of water, wait about 10 minutes and ask yourself the same questions again. If you are still uncertain wait another 15 minutes. Early stages of hunger can be subtle, continue to check in at 15 minute intervals to make sure you are actually hungry. Be patient with yourself and the practice. It may take some time before you nail this and are able to do it unconsciously.

One you have established that you are physically hungry, assess the level of your hunger with the chart below.
What is satiety (fullness)?

When you pay attention to what you are eating i.e. eating mindfully (chewing your food and getting in touch with the taste/texture sensations), you become conscious of getting full. One massive clue that this is happening is that each successive mouthful of the food you are eating (when you are starting to feel full) becomes less enjoyable. This is the time to stop eating, it usually correlates to feeling satisfied. This is our body’s hormonal and physical mechanisms sending signals up to the brain telling us that we have had enough food.

We should really stop eating when we are satisfied, but not full. If we stop when we are full it is too late, we have overeaten. Again it will take time to master this art, but the more you practise the better you will get!

So from this day forward make a start on bringing these practices into your life when you are eating. Experiment how it changes your energy levels, health, vitality and physical form. Always practise self-love and never criticise yourself if you don’t get this straight away, you have time. Make it an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one.

Nutritionist Danielle Roberts is dedicated to helping people enjoy a healthy and knowledgeable relationship with food. Her business Fuel Nutrition allows her to share her passion for nutrition and healthy living.  Danielle is a freelance nutritionist and works with a number of Hamilton gyms. To make a booking, please contact Danielle at www. fuelnutrition.co.nz

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