I thought I’d do a quick update on the nutrition side of my journey and focus on the concept of “stopping eating when full”. I googled the phrase and one trillion (I kid you not) results were returned. The context in which this phrase was used were in articles such as “diet tips – how to stop eating before you get TOO full”, “why the notion of ‘stopping when full’ doesn’t work”, “how to know when to stop eating”. I marvelled that there is such divisiveness over a physiological response. Hunger and satiety are controlled by a number of hormones – that circulate in the brain and in the gut which do give us the appropriate cues to know indeed, when one is hungry and one is full. In Georgie Fear’s book, “Lean Habits”, the companion text to the nutrition coaching program I am participating in, there is a detailed explanation (complete with appropriate evidence based references) of how this complex hormonal cascade of events that controls hunger and satiety actually works.
Until recently, I never believed that the body’s hunger/satiety axis was foolproof. After all, I reasoned, there wouldn’t be so many overweight people walking around if there was no episodes of overeating – obviously the body couldn’t be trusted! It followed naturally that I’d be terrified of the very concept of working with my body’s physiology, because in my mind, any “unsafe” foods or foods that were “off limits” were candidates for episodes of extreme overeating. This is entwined with the concept of “trigger foods” which I wholeheartedly embraced as I was brain washed into believing that there were foods that I simply could not stop eating, no matter what the cost. When the thought of “eating intuitively” was mentioned, I just thought it was a fallback, a pacifier, to those who were “unsuccessful” at the dieting and fitness game – people not able to maintain the appropriate kind of body (whatever the hell that is).
As I write this, I feel hideously embarrassed as I have personally hidden behind these thoughts and feelings for years, whilst maintaining an outward aura of peace and control. However the main feelings I’m experiencing are those of disbelief and sadness – disbelief that I could be sucked into thinking in such a dysfunctional way (being in the health and fitness industry can do it to ya) and sadness that I’ve wasted so much time consumed by wanting to control things around eating and food, when in reality, the body’s natural physiological responses are pretty darn perfect.
I would almost be inclined to suggest that those who do learn to work with their natural physiology are a threat to the diet industry as they are the conglomerate of mysterious women that somehow manage not to have issues around food – and how many of them can you name on one hand? At the moment the dieting and wellness industry have the upper hand and possibly don’t want the secret to get out that it is entirely possible to have a normal relationship with food and body image, and “eat dirty” – which incidentally is way more enjoyable than some of the “clean eating” regimes nutrition zealots peddle.
Where am I currently sitting with all of this? I’ve been practising, practising, practising and 90% of the time I can tell when I’m physically hungry and subsequently satiated by act of eating. The brilliant thing is that I can now do this quite easily irrespective of the nature of the food in front of me. Indian? Thai? Deep fried fish and chips? Salad? Not a problem. It’s been an incredibly liberating experience and lovely to know that I don’t have to eat anything special or do any particular exercise to feel the physiological love from my hunger/satiety hormones. When it becomes tricky, is if I’m feeling tense or stressed as I still have the tendency to want to reach for something “to take the edge” off – and even though I don’t get it right all the time, I am starting to see that anxiety subsides invariably – and there’s physiology involved in that response as well.
My top tips for transitioning from the “my eyes are bigger than my stomach” mentality to the “a Lindor ball- what a satisfying end to a great meal” food philosophy are as follows.
1) All food is morally neutral so eat what you actually enjoy without paying any heed to calorie content or current perceptions around the food. Do pick mostly whole foods but don’t stress it if it does come out of a packet every now and again. Enjoy a wide range of foods from all food groups (unless medically diagnosed allergic or intolerant).
2) Allowing myself to achieve a decent level of physical hunger (but not climbing the walls) seems to help me with the flip side of eating enough to feel awesome, but not uncomfortably full.
3) Practising on all sorts of meals – those deemed ‘healthful’ and those deemed ‘not so healthful’ is key – after my disastrous triathlon retreat I was keen on deep friend calamari, chips and salad. And even though I considered that particular meal to be highly “dangerous” in a previous life, I was amazed to find myself leaving beer battered chips on my plate because I’d genuinely eaten enough. These days I run with the thought of “I’m never going to restrict myself again so therefore I don’t have to panic and pretend I’m in starvation mode”. It’s incredibly freeing. No more checking menus ahead of time to “make sure there is something I can eat”, no food restrictions.
4) Enjoy your food! Writing that again for good measure!
Now I finally understand those women who write with conviction about their recovery from dieting/eating disordered behaviours – in the past I have been very cynical, even suggesting that some of them were lying, but today, for the most part, I don’t have to worry about overeating. Because when I think and behave clearly around food, my physiology does the job beautifully.
Relying on physiology and not the external world of manipulating my food behaviour has given me the gift of time. Time to study at University, time to train on my bike, time with good friends.. and time, of course, to be awesome.
Hope the rest of the week is awesome for you too!