Last week I received a comment on an older blog post that really took me off guard. The post was about 9 Simple Tricks to Eat More Mindfully and Kelsey, a recent foodist convert, had one of the strangest problems I’ve ever heard after implementing some of the tips.
For the past few weeks I’ve been following these of Darya’s mindful eating guidelines:
4. Put your fork down between each bite
6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
7. Put your food on a plate
8. Sit at a table
I haven’t missed a single meal with these and as a result my eating has become much slower, much more mindful, and much, much more controlled.
The “problem” is (and I don’t know if it’s even fair to call it a problem, but it’s making me sad) that I haven’t felt HUNGER in days.
What struck me most and continued to haunt me for the rest of the day was her use of the word “sad.” Foodists aren’t sad. Being a foodist should make life awesome by helping you get healthy while eating foods you love and without suffering through pain and hunger.
Kelsey seemed to have accomplished these goals––she’s already lost eight pounds and clearly isn’t suffering from deprivation––but she was disappointed that she didn’t feel as excited about eating as she had when she was eating more.
All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, I’m happy to eat breakfast, but nowhere near hungry. At lunch time, I have to remind myself to eat. And dinner, I’ve gotten to the point where a glass of wine and a handful of berries or kale chips is all I have room for. THIS IS CRAZY FOR ME because I have always been one to LOVE dinnertime and zestfully dig into a giant bowl of pasta.
She admitted up front that most people wouldn’t consider this a problem, but for her it was making life slightly less awesome. And as the rallying force behind the foodist movement, I felt responsible.
My initial assumption was that Kelsey’s body and brain were still adjusting to her new habits and the issue would resolve itself over time, but this hypothesis didn’t quite sound right to me. I’ve never experienced anything like what she was describing. What she said she was eating for breakfast and lunch seemed very similar to how I eat, but I’m always hungry and excited for dinner. I realized there could only be one other explanation: she was still eating too much.
I went back and looked again at the description of her food. Sure enough, her portions for breakfast and lunch were more than double what I eat, and I easily eat 2,000 calories per day. No wonder she wasn’t hungry for dinner.
I gently suggested she double check her serving sizes, then followed up a few days later and asked how things were going. She tells it best:
So, cutting down my portions DID definitely restore my appetite at dinnertime. And it was surprisingly easy (and felt kind of bizarre!).
I was surprised to find that your recommendation of a half cup of muesli with just a splash of nut milk keeps me completely tided over until lunchtime––that’s my new morning routine.
My lunches have gotten quite a bit lighter, too––previously I was sort of following a model of “half a plate of vegetables, a quarter plate of ‘protein,’ a quarter plate of intact grains,” but since stepping back and taking another look at my appetite throughout the day, I find I am much more comfortable after eating a lunch of MOSTLY vegetables (usually chopped into a salad, with oil, vinegar, herbs, and some nuts and seeds or chicken thrown in). If I follow this plan loosely (which is easy, since it feels so good), I have an appetite for dinner! (But am nowhere near ‘starving’).
And I’m not knocking back a giant bowl of pad thai or spaghetti for dinner, which I used to do most nights (kind of embarrassed to admit this). Instead, I’m eating simple whole-food meals.
There are a few reasons this is fascinating. First, Kelsey had already cut back significantly on her portions when she started her new mindful eating habits. By eating slower and chewing more, her body was able to realize that it needed even less than she thought and she reduced her food intake naturally. This is pretty amazing when you think about it. Even someone who loves food and eating (i.e. a foodist) wasn’t able to eat more than she needed in a day when practicing mindful eating habits. Take that willpower. Who needs you, anyway?
Kelsey’s story also illustrates the power habits have over our normal portion sizes. American food portions are beyond huge, but we don’t see it this way. We see it as normal. It isn’t because we are gluttons, it’s because we (like all humans) are creatures of habit. The important thing to realize is that reducing portions, even when you don’t feel hungry, is not a normal reaction and requires conscious effort until new habits develop. This is easy to do, especially when you eat mindfully and reduce your appetite, but it won’t happen on its own. Buying smaller plates or measuring out food portions for awhile to see what they are supposed to look like can help with this.
A few other benefits emerged from Kelsey’s new mindfulness as well. She was surprised to find that her life-time cravings for pasta and grains virtually disappeared.
Another surprising thing was finding that I don’t have the cravings for grains and starches that I used to have. I like my breakfast muesli, but I don’t really need many grains through the rest of the day. I like a small amount of (intact) grains in my day to day, but not much, and “cravings” are pretty much nonexistent for me at this point.
Even more impressive was that the digestive issues she had struggled with her entire life have cleared up.
I’m DELIGHTED to find what a beneficial impact it’s had on my digestive system. I have struggled with my gut for years and have been lactose- and gluten-free for a long time, but mindful eating/reduced portions/chewing/all of the above have been the clincher. I feel great. No more clutching my stomach on the couch in the fetal position!!
She’s also found it easier and more rewarding to eat without the distractions of TV, radio and internet.
While I was making sure to put my fork down between bites, chew thoroughly, use a plate, and sit at a table, I didn’t initially make an effort to turn off the tv/radio/music/podcast/
whatever as I ate. I thought it would be too hard to eat without any distractions, for some reason. But lately, if I try to eat in front of the TV or something, I find myself thinking “Jeez, this show is kinda getting in the way of my dinner!” I’d rather consider each bite and enjoy my meal slowly. So for the first time ever I am beginning to TURN OFF THE NOISE when I eat.
Last, Kelsey mentioned something to me that I found particularly poignant. As a young woman who had spent a large part of her life struggling with food and body image issues, but had over the past several years let go of the obsessions and started feeling comfortable in her skin, she was a bit nervous about paying more attention to food again.
I’ve done the strict calorie counting, I’ve done weird cleanses, I’ve starved myself, I’ve binged, I’ve been incredibly obsessed with my weight and my body. Since moving in with my boyfriend two years ago, I’ve felt more and more comfortable with myself. He’s been the uber-supportive force who accepted me at all different body sizes and helped me realize I could love myself. So I had really gotten to a place where I felt good in my skin. But I was also gaining weight––25 pounds over the two years that we’ve been living together. The extra weight wasn’t causing the guilt and anxiety I remembered from college and high school. But it was signaling to me that I needed to examine my practices.
I was interested in the idea of mindful eating, but I was also afraid of it. I wasn’t sure how much of my self confidence hinged on the patterns I’d adopted. It sounds strange, but the mere idea of paying attention to food again actually made me a little panicky. I’d already gone from this diet-obsessed, restrictive eater to a happy person who didn’t starve herself. What if I fell back into my old habits of restricting? I was in a safety bubble of overeating.
Knowing how much better life is without food obsessing, I can relate to Kelsey’s dilemma. I know firsthand how much better it feels to be free from the tyranny of dieting than it does to simply be thin. I think her fear was healthy, but I’m thrilled she realized the tremendous difference between being mindful about eating and being obsessive about it. One creates peace, while the other builds anxiety. They seem similar, but they couldn’t be more different.
When we are unhealthy, overweight, or just unhappy with our bodies, we tend to focus all of our energy on pushing food away. But this tactic only serves to heighten tension and anxiety. By embracing food instead, we relieve the tension and are able to restore our relationship with our food and our bodies. We can then live in peace, without either depriving ourselves or overeating. Finally.
UPDATE: This story was originally published July 31, 2013, but it was so remarkable that I recently checked in with Kelsey again to see how her mindful eating habits were holding up. She has since moved on to add several additional foodist habits and is continuing to work on her healthstyle, but mindful eating seems to be in the bag:
I would say after a year it’s often difficult NOT to eat mindfully. It’s become more and more my default. And I LOVE that!! Thank. You. Darya.
She acknowledges that mindful eating can still be difficult in social situations, but has a healthy understanding that those are more rare in her life and don’t have a substantial impact on her overall health, so she doesn’t worry about it. She eats mindfully most of the time, and that’s all that matters in the long-run.
Congratulations Kelsey on becoming a foodist, and thanks again for allowing me to share your story.