In the book, Mindless Eating, the author comes up with all kinds of ideas to help you lose weight: cut out the handful of candy at the office, use smaller plates, use less cream in your coffee, switch to diet drinks… Maybe fine advice. The thinking is, that by skipping the soda a day, or using one cream instead of two, you would save 100 calories a day and magically lose 10 pounds a year! If our bodies worked that way, I would have gained a lot of weight these last few years.
You see, since having a child and having to learn to eat in a way that is mindful
and trusting of my body
, I have done lots of little things that in theory would add 100 calories
a day. I now eat a small candy bar a few times a week with coffee (occasionally even two.) I eat tortilla chips with lunch a few times a week— full fat! Mostly I drink milk and water, but many weekday lunches, I enjoy mango smoothies or real soda,
usually satisfied with a half a can or so. I have stopped eating fat-free yogurt (or fat-free anything for that matter.) I eat more eggs. And recently, I’ve been baking and eating lots of bread
—fresh, crusty bread. Initially I would eat 2 or 3 pieces thinking , “This is so good, I probably shouldn’t eat so much, but I’m trying to eat in a way that trusts my body
, so I will eat what I have an appetite for.” Versus be “good” and eat one piece, then craving and eating way more than I originally would if I just let myself eat enough in the first place! (An example of what I consider mindless eating.) I enjoyed my bread this way for a number of weeks. Nothing changed. My clothes fit the same, I otherwise ate the same way— satisfying meals and snacks. Soon thereafter my appetite for bread lessened. I could eat half a piece and still enjoy and savor it. My body figured it out.
What the mindless eating thinking ignores is that it is more complicated than calories in/calories out. When we try to cognitively control
what we eat— by points, plate size, strict portion control— we don’t do a very good job at it.
Our bodies can compensate. Not maybe every day, but over days and weeks if we eat in a way that is tuned in to what our bodies need. Maybe I ate a candy bar’s worth of calories less over the next few days? I have weighed within 15 pounds since I was 16. I stayed the same the summers I swam 2 hours a day, or the months when I did no exercise and ate Coke and Doritos at two in the morning during residency. (I also don’t have a genetic predisposition to gain weight easily.)
How can we support eating well and trusting our bodies?
We need to give ourselves permission to eat what tastes good, and enough of it. We need to provide ourselves regular meals and snacks and to give some thought to nutrition when planning what to eat. We need to tune in to and enjoy food while we are eating it. There is room for the handful of candy at the office or the cream that makes your coffee heavenly. This can be harder for some than others.
How do we screw up eating well and our body’s amazing self-regulation powers?
Diet, overexercise, deprivation, eating cognitively instead of intuitively. Losing weight or eating less calories than your body needs triggers a cascade of hormonal, neural and psychological factors that work really hard to get your body back to it’s previous weight, often overshooting the mark and even resetting the weight your body will strive to maintain. Dieting impairs your body’s internal regulation system.
Practice mindful, not mindless eating.