December 17, 2014

What is optimal health and wellness?

There are many ways to define the words “health” and “wellness.” Your definition of what it means to be healthy and well is probably at least a little different from anyone else’s, but whenever I ask this question, there are a few common answers that I hear:
  • Being free from chronic disease or other serious health problems 
  • Rarely being plagued by minor illnesses like colds or flu 
  • Having enough energy to do all the things I want or need to do (with at least a little energy to spare) 
  • Feeling able to exercise and do daily activities without pain or struggle 

Those are all important concepts that are certainly important to health, but they mostly refer to physical health. What about your emotional health and well-being? Also…did you notice that I didn’t say anything about body weight?

With the failure rate of diets (About 95 percent of dieters regain their lost weight…can you imagine if a pharmaceutical drug had that failure rate?) and the endless headlines about the (alleged) link between obesity, illness and disease, it’s worth asking, and talking about, these questions:
  • What role does weight play in achieving optimal health and wellness? 
  • What is a healthy weight? 
  • Can you tell how healthy someone is based on their body size? 
  • Are you sure? 

The truth is that there are many factors that influence our health, for better or for worse, and weight may be the least of them. In fact, there are six key “healthy life ingredients” that you need to create your own recipe for well-being.

If you receive my monthly e-newsletter, I sent you an email last week inviting you to register for my free video webinar, "Health, Wellness & Weight." If you missed that email, or you aren't a newsletter subscriber, you are still welcome to register to watch the webinar, which is now live. When you register, you'll receive an opt-in email. When you confirm your registration, you'll receive the login information for instant access to the webinar.

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December 16, 2014

5-Point Plan for mindful holiday eating

In yesterday's post, I shared some of Marsha Hudnall's insights on eating mindfully during the holidays. Today, I'm sharing some of the highlights from her 5-Point Plan for Holiday Eating.

1. Give up the rules for what, when and how much you eat.

  • When certain foods are labeled as forbidden, you want them even more. Let your body take the lead and tell you what feels good and what doesn’t. 
  • Sometimes cake or Christmas cookies are the best choice, because pleasure has a role in healthy eating. But if you deny yourself these foods, you are likely to end up overeating. Sometimes it’s all about the dose: a little bit can be just what you need, but a lot is not what you need. 
  • Honor your physical hunger and give yourself the absolute right to eat when you are hungry, regardless of when that hunger happens. This may mean learning to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger. 
  • Sometimes we need more food, sometimes we need less. This depends partly on energy needs, but when it’s a special holiday food that you only have once a year, you may need more to feel satisfy. Tuning in to how much you really need can help you avoid eating more than you need just because you eat more than you think you “should” eat (aka the "heck with it all" mentality). 

2. Feed yourself predictably

  • Support your body in what it really needs and wants. This is about managing hunger, which is a very powerful physiological drive. When you manage hunger, you increase your ability to make choices that are in your own best interest. 
  • When you skip meals and restrict calories, you get out of balance. Hunger is like a rubber band: if you pull it back gently it bounces back to the middle, if you pull it too far it bounces across the room. 
  • When you get into a cycle of undereating then overeating, you have trouble recognizing hunger until it get into the extremes. 
  • If you do have trouble recognizing hunger, eating on a more structured schedule may help you while you work on getting more in touch with your hunger cues (it’s like training wheels). 

3. Eat slowly and savor.

  • If you eat quickly, you lose out on the pleasure of eating. 
  • Many people eat quickly because they are engaging in negative self-talk about what or how much they should be eating. That negative self-talk is unpleasant, and when you’re beating yourself up because you are eating something you "shouldn’t," you often eat fast to get through it, and not only do you feel bad about yourself, but you find little true pleasure in the food itself. 
  • Of course, some of us eat too fast due to pure habit, but it's a habit worth breaking, because eating slowly is also important for digestion and metabolism. Eating fast puts stress on your body. 

4. Eat well.

  • This is about letting your bodies tell you what it really needs. It’s about eating in balance and eating foods that make you feel well while you are eating them and after
  • Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and pleasure is good medicine. The trick is to find the right dose, and you can do that by being mindful and trusting your body to tell you what you need. 

5. Experiment.

Approach eating with an open mind and let go of idea of what you should and should not eat and observe the experience. Part of mindful eating is figuring out what feels good to eat and in what amounts. There are no mistakes, just try something and see how it works for you. Try asking yourself three questions:
  • “Am I hungry?” You don’t always have to be hungry when you eat, but it’s good to notice if you are. If you are often are not hungry when you eat, than that suggests that it’s an issue to explore. Are you eating emotionally? 
  • “What do I want to eat?” This gets you back in touch with how your body talks to you. Once you are eating, stay present. Ask yourself if you like the food. Many people eat even when they don’t like something, just because it’s on your plate. 
  • During the meal, check in with yourself and ask “Have I had enough?” This may depend on your hunger level and/or how much pleasure you are still getting from the food. Keep an open, curious mind instead of a judgmental mind.

In contrast to the holiday meal scenario offered in yesterday's post, Hudnall presented a scenario that reflects mindful eating: 

You arrive at the holiday party ready to have fun. You knew there was going to be lots of good food at the party and you wanted to enjoy it. You knew your best bet for doing that was to come to the party well-nourished, not too hungry but hungry enough so the food tasted good and you had room to eat. So you ate breakfast and lunch and even a light snack when you felt a little hungry later in the afternoon.
You have a drink and put a few appetizers that really look good to you on your plate. You taste each one, and slowly eat the ones you enjoy but leave the ones you find you really don't enjoy the taste of. When dinner is ready, you check out the buffet and take some of everything you think you'd like to eat. Just as with the appetizers, you taste each food, choosing not to eat the ones you don't like. After you finish, you assess whether you are satisfied. You decide you would like to eat a bit more so you go back for some of the foods you really enjoyed. You eat most of what you got for seconds but stop before you clean your plate because you find the food wasn't tasting as good anymore and you felt full.

What a difference!

December 15, 2014

Mindful eating for the holidays

It might seem that eating mindfully around the holidays is an impossible feat, when there is generally an overabundance of food at every turn, and a lot of treat food at that. In the webinar “Here Come the Holidays: 5 Steps to Mindfully Enjoying the Holidays with out Weight Worries,” (sponsored by The Center for Mindful Eating), registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall, president and co-owner of GreenMountain at Fox Run in Vermont, said that mindful eating can make it possible to eat the foods you love and still feel good about yourself.

Hudnall started by pointing out that the holidays can be hectic and stressful for anyone, but when you are struggling around the issue of food, it adds another layer of stress to the whole season

The typical scenario (for those of us who are fortunate enough to have an abundance of food) is to make resolutions to be “good” during the holidays and not really take part in the wonderful food, which is difficult if not impossible to stick to, Hudnall said. If we aren’t successful in sticking to our resolutions, or if we just go into the holiday season with the attitude that we don’t care and are going to eat whatever we want, we often eat without regard to how we feel, plus we tend forget to provide ourselves with other (non-food) forms of self-care. 

Odds are you’ve seen at least one headline/news story/blog post about average holiday weight gain (unless you have blinders on). Hudnall said that individuals with higher body weights tend to gain more weight over the holidays than the average. This is not due to weighing more, per se, but instead is largely due to the fact that many people in larger bodies struggle with food and have a history of chronic dieting. The real problem is the “diet mentality” regarding what foods are “allowed” or “not allowed,” “legal” or “not legal,” “good” or “bad.” 

Diet rules have become a widely accepted notion of how we should eat, but those rules don’t always match the reality of the moment, Hudnall said. This can lead to a cycle of binging, negative self-talk, self-loathing, more binging, and so on. She presented this typical scenario: 

You arrive at the holiday party ready to have fun. You knew there would be lots of great food so you saved as many calories as you could during the day. You skipped breakfast and ate a big salad with lots of veggies, tuna and fat-free dressing for lunch then drinking black coffee whenever you get hungry. After all, you knew you’d be up late tonight. You don’t feel that hungry when you get to the party but after a drink, you take a few bites of that delicious artichoke dip. Then you have a bit more, and a bit more, and then the dinner buffet starts. Since you ate all that dip anyway, you just go for broke, filling your plate, eating it all, then going back for more. 

Hudnall points out that the thinking that leads to the behaviors in this scenario are problematic on a few levels. 
  • First, it’s unlikely that the calories saved during the day made up for the eventual overeating at the party (which is why you shouldn’t starve yourself during the day). 
  • Second, it’s also likely that you didn’t enjoy dinner as much as you could have because of the angst. You may have also tuned out the other enjoyable aspects of the meal, such as conversation, because you were thinking mostly about the food and how much you were eating. 

Mindful eating is the opposite of dieting, she said, because it helps you eat what you want in a way that feels good in the moment and long after. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about Hudnall’s 5-Point Plan for Holiday Eating.