Three Tips on Psychologically Healthy Eating

I’ve been reading some of my Yahoo posts and, quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed. There’s no narrative arc, the text is peppered with anemic jokes and everything is spoon fed to the reader. Part of that was due to contractual demands but, as the writer, I still am ultimately responsible for delivering quality content. I often failed at that mission.

That said, I did find a post that, while not necessarily what I liked to do here at ShrinkTalk, does have some useful information on healthy eating from a psychological standpoint. I thought the tips below were obvious to most, but after receiving a significant number of questions and comments about them, I realize now that I assumed too much. So, take a look. I hope it helps you:

As part of two surgical weight loss teams, I’ve been fortunate to work with various experts in the fields of nutrition and healthy eating. But while there has a been a colossal increase in the medical issues related to eating and losing weight, not nearly as much has been paid to the psychology of eating. That said, we do know certain important, guiding principles that allow us to have a healthy relationship with food. This, in turn, often leads to weight loss, better nutrition and improved overall health.

Mindful Eating

This is the hot topic in weight loss, for a reason. Never forget that there is a delay between the time it takes to consume your food and your brain’s ability to recognize satiety. In other words, you’re able to take in much more food than your body needs before your mind even realizes it. This is why so many doctors, dieticians and other health experts are emphasizing eating “mindfully.” In many ways, this simply means slowing down and chewing your food very thoroughly. More importantly, however, mindful eating means focusing on your meal. Savor the flavors and textures. Treat eating as a complete experience, not simply a way to pour nutrients and fuel into the body.

Americans are notorious for eating as a secondary activity. We do it while we talk, watch television, read the newspaper/book/articles on the internet, not paying close attention to what and how much we are consuming. This behavior must be curbed to have a better relationship with food. In fact, I often tell my clients who struggle with weight to sometimes eat alone, doing absolutely nothing except eat with long pauses in between bites. And when they mindfully eat, with a focus on taste, texture and proper chewing, everything slows down. This helps the body take in only what it truly needs as opposed to what we think it does.

Food Logs

For one week, keep track of everything you eat. But, more importantly, note why you are eating it. If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably have good reasons for eating (e.g., hungry, needing certain nutrients) as well as bad ones (e.g., bored, anxious, celebrating, depressed, stressed out). Emotional eating is a colossal problem and most of us are unaware of both when we do it and what emotions cause it. Identify the patterns so you know your risk factors. And before you say “I already know my risk factors,” heed this warning: over 95% of people I’ve asked about their completed food log acknowledged that they recorded something on there that surprised them. Do not assume, do the research on yourself.

Know That Your Mind Plays Tricks on You

Research has shown that when people have more food in front of them, they’ll eat it. This isn’t surprising, but consider this research finding: when people are tricked into eating from a bowl of soup that never empties, they not only continue to eat, but believe that they are simply eating slowly and enjoying the food. They don’t notice that they are simply consuming more and more as the bowl is rigged to fill up from the bottom. People believe that they just eat more slowly than other people, which is why their bowl doesn’t empty. This is where the cliché, “our eyes are bigger than our stomachs” comes into play. Humans are visually stimulated when it comes to food, and this is why the outdated parenting technique of getting children to eat everything on their plate is a horrible one. Eat only until satisfied and never based on visual cues.

So if you know your mind can mess with you, fight back. Use small plates so your portions don’t appear too small. Put your knife and fork down between bites as a cue to accurately assess how much you’ve eaten, and drink plenty of water throughout your meals. It not only helps you to feel full more quickly, but helps the brain play catch up during the delay between consumption and satiety.

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9 Responses to “Three Tips on Psychologically Healthy Eating”

  1. BL1Y says:

    We also eat more when presented with a variety of foods.

    On Thanksgiving when you’ve got the turkey, the ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin pie… You want to eat some of everything. Not just a little taste, but a serving of everything, enough that each thing provides some satisfaction. Who wants to go through dinner and think back, “well shoot, I didn’t have any of the macaroni and cheese.”

    What’s more, we eat more when going back and forth between items. Probably because changing flavors keeps us entertained, we’re not getting bored by the same flavor over and over. So, it can help to eat all of one thing first, then move on to the next dish. Maybe consider structuring the meal as an appetizer and then the main course, rather than a main with sides. Also, this probably gives a nice advantage to one-dish meals, like stews.

  2. Other Side says:

    It’s also worth keeping in mind that the last two tricks can be counter-productive or even harmful in people with an eating disorder (who may already be obsessively tracking food intake and calories, and who may already be eating from small plates to make the food appear larger). Obviously Dr Rob’s perspective is totally different, dealing with the other end of the spectrum (people who need to lose weight for health reasons), but still, these are not universally healthy habits.

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  4. Annie says:

    @ Other side- I agree. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, but I do ballet, and I was told I need to lose weight. I’m in a healthy weight, but the ballet ideal is pretty much a stick with legs and arms. I struggled quite a bit to be in a healthy weight since I was underweight due to lack of appetite. The meds my pdoc prescribed helps me with the appetite issue (actually I get horrible cravings!), but I need to lose weight. I guess that going to a nutritionist is the way to go.

  5. Caroline says:

    love your blog, thanks

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Healthy eating means consuming the right quantities of foods from all food groups in order to lead a healthy life. Diet is often referred to as some dietary regimen for losing weight. However, diet simply means what food we eat in the course of a 24-hour, one week, or one month, etc. period. A good diet is a nutritional lifestyle that promotes good health. A good diet must include several food groups because one single group cannot provide everything a human needs for good health. ‘

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  8. Sarah says:

    I think you hit on a big point, which are food logs. I think EVERYONE should have a food log if you are having trouble with your weight and/or health.

  9. Seviah says:

    Yes, David had serious portion control issues, so i never needed to keep up to reach 190 (I’m 5’1). My “work husband” and eventual lover cooked well and mindfully and ate less than I. When he died and just before I literally had no money for food, not for pasta. i gleaned and relied on Pat and the kindness of strangers. Now I simply try to eat appreciatively and mindfully. But no fucking homework, please. Not every pleasure can also be a task.

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