Your Food

“How much mental energy do we spend thinking of food?”

Let’s take a survey; how much energy, mental and emotional would you say, you spend, on average, thinking about food/calories/ your body per day? It was brought to my attention today and reminded me of the fact, that I am sure, as women, if we could harness the amount of energy we spend thinking of those things, and put it elsewhere, we would have by now cured cancer.

On the other hand, we women are so good at multi-tasking, that we could of course, plan the kids’ summer schedules, sign them up for soccer, (count calories), add that last item to the grocery list, remember the most crucial aspects of our jobs, and pick up the dry cleaning, (count calories.) I call it the ‘wallpaper of the mind’. That ticker tape that is always circulating, thinking of what, how much, little, how well or badly you have eaten that day.I know I always talk about being conscious of your body, and the irony is that in these parenting workshops that I do, or talks that I give, (I am preparing for one next week,) I try to help parents KEEP their kids connected to their bodies, and try to help them not get in the way.

The irony is that kids for the most part, self regulate, meaning that they eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Like everything though, not all kids do this. The trick as a parent, is to understand enough about your kid, their temperament, their eating styles and habits, AND, (this is not a small task), be aware enough of your own food attitudes to know when or if you are creating more of a problem, or not seeing a problem because you don’t want to deal with it. As one mom once said to me: “I have an easier time talking about sex with my kids than food, because my mother was so overly involved and critical about my food, I swore I would never say a word to my kids!”

So, it gets complicated, right? Good thing we are such good multi-taskers! But I will assure you that, one of the best things you can do to give your kids good eating habits, is to be as conscious about yourself and your interactions with them around food as possible. THEN, you can figure out what they might need from you. Tough part is, just like they might all want different meals, they often need different parenting, depending on their own temperament. Now how do you juggle that, will be something that I will be happy to talk about in the next few posts, as it is truly, the trick of parenting, and one of the keys to helping your kids to eat healthy.

Now that is something to focus our mental energy on.

“You Are What You Eat? No, You Eat What You Are!”

Okay, so before you think I have totally gone off the deep end now, I will explain myself. I am big, big, big, into the idea, scratch that, no absolute conviction that to eat well for your life, you need to really know yourself.  No, I am not talking deep, soulful existential, what kind of philosopher are you into kind of knowing yourself, we can get a bit more basic here.  I am talking, know yourself like:  Do you know when you are hungry or full?  Tired or Sick?  Do you know what you FEEL like eating most times?  (Mushy, comfort food vs. crunchy salad?  A heavy steak with fries for the salty taste vs. a lighter, fish and veggies meal?)  Are you aware of  the subtle gradations and shifts from starving to stuffed, or tired to sick from exhaustion?  Okay, so we don’t have to get all navel gazing here, but I promise you that if you start to pay more attention to these feelings in your body, you will be able to eat more consciously, one of the cornerstones of eating well and staying at a weight that works right for  your body.  

So the other morning I am catching Joy Bauer on the Today Show.   I love her, she is one of the most sensible nutritionists going. (Okay, I admit it, I am totally biased, she did fact check my chapter on nutrition for my book.) She was talking with Meredith Viera about diet tips for the New Year,  if you are craving that sweet something to ‘close off’ the meal, (which of course happens for many) and she was giving suggestions, Mini Snickers, little chocolates, etc.  Basically things that are about 30 calories.  However, what got brought up was how for some people, this could just trigger them to eat those foods non stop, and Joy talked about how of course, you need to KNOW YOURSELF, and how this would affect you.  

Like for me, I know that if I were to think of just having one of those 30 calorie Dove chocolates, and that that was all I could have, then I would be wanting about 15 more.  That the only way I in fact don’t eat 15 is when I eradicate that thought that I might need to only eat one or two. 

The only thing that has worked for me, is to in fact, always have as much of the foods I like on hand.  In fact, if you saw my purse you would laugh at the bits and pieces of candy and chocolate, that I have, just in case, GOD FORBID, I ever feel hungry.  I spent so many years as a dancer, on or off a diet, that when I left the dance world, I had to figure out how to eat normally.  Luckily, I didn’t have to worry any more that I would lose my job over a few pounds; (whoever heard of firing their shrink for gaining weight?) so I got to ‘play around’ with eating the foods I always wanted to eat when I was not ‘dieting’.  I certainly knew what I ended up doing if I told myself I had to stay away from a particular food, (I would want it more, and ultimately eat more of it than I even really wanted because of course I couldn’t have it ever ever again, or certainly the next day!) 

In the process, I figured out what worked for me, what I FELT like eating. When I FELT like stopping because I felt DONE, AND SATED, and knowing that the food was still there, helped me to do this.  Most importantly, it helped me stay CONSCIOUS.  That helped me stay connected, to my body and the information I was getting from it.

The irony of eating this way for years now, (and doing pushups of course,) is that I am smaller than when I was a dancer.  But more importantly, I enjoy eating and I know what works for me.  This of course doesn’t work for everyone, and might work after a while of eating in a more structured way, and starting to be more conscious gradually, over time.  Dipping into the diet world, from time to time if you need to.  But, you gotta know what sets you up and how you end up behaving.  If it doesn’t work, figure out why, not because you are failing, but why that doesn’t work for you.  Try something else.  Be flexible.  Sometimes overeating is imperative and if you don’t let yourself do it, you set yourself up.  Or if you do do it, you set yourself up.  

So figure it out ‘from the inside’.  Don’t let those experts tell you how to eat.  I bet you know better.  Even if you aren’t doing it.  You still know and have all the information.  Maybe you can figure out how “you eat what you are.”  Happy thinking!   

“Eat and Yes, Be Merry!”

So, if you couldn’t tell already by my writing, I believe in enjoying food.  I am a total foodie myself, and in fact, have a stash of candy and treats in my office drawer, just in case, I am ever hungry.  (It helps me, believe it or not, eat in a more rational way, as I know it is always there and I can have it whenever I want.  Then, if I am not hungry, or don’t feel like eating, I know it is there when I do want it.) 

I know this approach doesn’t work for everyone, but here come the holidays!I have been interviewed countless times during the holidays for radio segments as people freak out and worry about gaining weight in the face of umpteen cocktail parties and large meals. Here are a few tips:

1) Expect to gain some weight. Dont’ freak out, and go with it. That also doesn’t mean it won’t come off, if your usual habits shift back after these parties. Go with the fact that we all have roughly a 6-10 lb. fluctuation, you just might be on the high end of your swing and then it will swing back. Don’t get stuck in it because you freaked out that you gained weight so everything goes to H-ll.

2) Make sure you go to these parties having eaten some protein. It will help offset your grabbing everything in sight. You can skip a beat before grabbing something just because you don’t usually eat it. (I must recommend however, those cocktail franks with spicy mustard, yummmmm!)

3) Pile your plate with what you love, but keep checking in with yourself to make sure you are really enjoying what you are eating. Why bother if it doesn’t taste delicious?! Stay conscious. Stay connected to your body. Take breaks, so that the signal has registered that you might be done, or full. Promise yourself that you can always have more later, if you truly want it. (I mean it, it helps offset eating just for the sake of eating because you give yourself permission that moment.) Of course, eating past the point of fullness in my opinion, is part and parcel of the holidays, vacations, and celebratory times, so don’t sweat it. You can return to your usual habits of course.

4) I know everyone says to exercise the day you are going to eat alot, but if you can’t swing it, don’t sweat it. Do what you can. Don’t overthink it, or overworry. That can tend to backfire. If it works, great, if not, go with it. After all, this is a time to relax if you can, and above all, ENJOY!5) Suspend your usual rules of eating for the family if you are on holiday, and let yourself relax. I promise you, your kids won’t die of malnutrition. Follow your instincts, (your gut, ha!ha!) and trust yourself. Take what all the experts say and keep what works for you, and throw away the rest! Find what works. When all is said and done, you may not have gained as much as you thought you might, by relaxing and letting go. Use your own common sense. Happy eating!

“The Latest Research”

Last night I attended a benefit dinner for the National Eating Disorder Association. This is a wonderful association that works on alot of fronts, in the hope to move us toward a world freed from disordered eating.  

Jamie Lynn Sigler works with NEDA and spoke eloquently about her own experience having and recovering from a profound eating disorder. Many other celebrity guests attended and I was moved by the openness with which people spoke of their experiences struggling with children, their own selves, and hopeful stories of recovery. It is clearly time for eating disorders to come out of the closet, and out of the stigma and shame that surrounds this most deadly of mental illnesses.The newest research that is showing biological causes and temperament traits that increase the risk of developing eating disorders including obesity, is profound, and is helping us to move to work together with families, and not against them. Like years ago, when schizophrenia was blamed on the mother, we are now moving to understand  the role families can play in providing support, rather than being distanced from their children who are not eating, or are binge eating and purging. This shift is profound and of course one treatment, does not fit all. But as last night’s eloquent speakers and the research is showing: It is time to for us to move from seeing  eating problems and obesity as disorders of vanity or laziness. There are ways we can decrease the risks of our children developing a full blown eating disorder, and how we can help each other and provide support to friends struggling.  The science is leading the way, and we need to know more.  Thank you, NEDA!

“Eating Outside the Box”

What on earth does she mean by that, you are wondering to yourself. I know, I know, There are a million diet tips out there, what could this one be?! The premise is simple in two ways, but demands some work in a different way than simply following a diet. It goes like this:

1) Connect with your body’s signals. This is called self-regulating. Unfortunately though, we can have very set ideas on how we are supposed to be eating, which may not be what works for your partiular body or mind, i.e.: “I need to eat breakfast, that is healthy, but I really don’t want to eat until 10:00 a.m. and if I do eat breakfast, I end up eating more than if I skip it.” ONE WAY OR EATING DOES NOT FIT ALL. Some thrive with structure, some rebel and end up overeating. Some people graze and would prefer to eat all day. (Many women’s blood sugar levels don’t remain as stable as those of men, which is why you might find yourself needing to eat every 2-3 hours while your boyfriend, husband can go all day).

2) Figure out how you ‘talk to yourself’ about your food. Our head can override what our body tells us to eat at a fairly early age, and the conversation continues your whole life: This is your ‘tape loop’. It is the way you talk in your head to yourself about how you have eaten, are going to eat, or are eating. Key, is figuring out what your response in terms of these conversations tends to be: Do you tune out the voice and land up overeating? How nasty is that voice? How self-congratulatory the first three days when you have dieted successfully? What about after that?

I know that from working with people on eating issues for years now, that until you can figure out not only your ‘tape loops’, your inner dialogue, but most importantly, what really tends to work for you, YOUR FIT, in terms of food and your lifestyle, then all attempts at eating in a particular way will be temporary and be harder to maintain and roll with the changes as you move through more sedentary jobs, childbearing and rearing, stressful events, and vacations and good times. I believe food should be savored, enjoyed and should fit for you; as I always say: You may not be failing your diet, your diet may be failing you. In fact, you CAN figure out how to ‘Eat Outside the Box’. FOR LIFE.

“What’s your ‘Food Personality?’”

How many diets have you tried and ultimately failed at? I find it fascinating that we are expert dieters, most people face it, can certainly lose weight when they want to; the ultimate challenge of course, is keeping a maintenance weight while enjoying food and life, right?! (Free from overcontrol and preoccupation, uh, hah! Not so easy, right?!) I am convinced that if you figure out what will work for you, for your body, your lifestyle, AND most importantly, your FOOD PERSONALITY, (along with sensible rationale information about exercise and food,) that you will find the secret that will work lifelong. I have spent 20 years now counseling people on weight issues and it all comes down to that. That is what lasts. There are umpteen books and programs out there, all of which promise to give you the secrets, if you follow that program. Some of course work for many, some don’t. Again, to me it is finding out which program is going to work for you. There are lots of approaches, the key really, is finding the one that will fit for your food personality. Because ultimately, it is quite possible, that your diet is failing YOU, YOU are not failing at your diet. More to come on the various ‘Food Personalities’; maybe you will find your ‘fit’ and if not, send me a comment about your particular ‘F.P.I.Q. (That is, Food personality, I.Q..!)

“Eat Like a Kid”

Come on, confess; you love candy. You want to eat chocolate. Cookies, Ice cream. And then there is the way you dialogue in your own head, that either allows you to do it some of the time, all of the time, none of the time. Everyone has their own inner dialogue; I call it ‘tape loops’ that they hear that get ingrained. Mine, after spending years dieting when I was a dancer were: “I shouldn’t eat that”. Of course, there was the rebellion from that by eating as much of it after a show was over, and I didn’t have an audition! I figured out a way to solve this rut and stop dieting, by learning how to eat every single food I loved. I got back to my stomach. I call it “Eating Like a Kid”. A particularly young kid, because kids early on, can stop eating from their belly, and eat to please mommy, or rebel from mommy or any such thing. As early as 2, kids can eat for reasons other than what their bodies tell them. I consult with so many moms who fret when they have very picky, small eaters. (Usually this is in toddlerhood, early childhood.) I encourage all these moms that in fact, they are doing the best thing as a Mom, to let their kids’ bodies guide them, that in fact when they are toddlers, they are as close to eating from their tummies as they will be and to give your kid good eating habits, is to help them to preserve that connection. To in fact, ‘eat like a kid’.