What to Eat? The Eternal Question!
I love my meal planning tablet (pictured here). At the top it
reads, "What to Eat" and in small print at the bottom it proclaims, "The Eternal Question!" Kind of funny, perhaps? Webster's Dictionary defines eternal as "existing at all times or seeming to last forever." And for many, the question of "what to eat" may start to feel like an eternal question. Why does this happen and how do we make a shift so we don't have to worry so much about what to eat? I love the title of a book by bestselling author, Geneen Roth, "When you eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair!" Isn't this the truth? Whether its because you end up grazing when you simply are unprepared for your next meal or you secretly sabotage your efforts because of overwhelming thoughts about what you "should" or "should not" eat, this dilemma with food and eating is common for many people. This month, I want to equip you with a critical strategy so you KNOW what to eat!
Having a plan for meals and snacks is a critical step in making sure your chair stays at the kitchen table and not at the refrigerator! Yet, taking the time to plan meals and get to the grocery store is often difficult for individuals to do consistently. Using a resource like the meal planning sheet and grocery list pictured illustrate a great starting point. For me, Sunday is the day I think through the week, making a specific plan for each night's dinner meal (based on that week's activities), along with basic ideas for breakfast, lunch and snacks for my family. Then, I check the refrigerator and pantry as I compile my grocery list for the week, and finish with a trip to the grocery store to stock up. I realize that this process may be easier said than done.
Besides being overly busy, a common obstacle I hear from clients is the frustration of not knowing what to plan for a meal, maybe because someone in their family is a picky eater. Maybe its the worry of not being able to stick to the plan and food goes to waste - so why even make a plan? For some, its just a struggle going to the grocery store because they fear they might buy something that is a trigger for overeating. There are many reasons I hear from individuals about why this process is so difficult. And, I assure you I have been there and can relate to many of these obstacles. I also know first hand that it is possible to figure out a system and a plan that works for you! And, I assure
you the benefit is not only decreasing your stress each week when you know what to eat, but also achieving consistency with your plan for eating well consistently.
I had just turned 30 years old, and someone actually told me that “if I smiled different” my wrinkles wouldn’t get as bad. Well intentioned, I’m sure, but still a ridiculous idea! Believe me; I had no intention of living the rest of my life worrying about my wrinkles, lines, etc. every time I was happy!
How is this much different than the scare tactics many use to provide nutrition information claiming that our health is at risk if we eat _______ (you can fill in the blank)? Stay with me on this…Clearly, it is essential to take care of our health and our bodies for many reasons (have energy, feel good, prevent disease, lower health care costs, etc.). But, buyers beware of what isn't entirely true. The
multibillion dollar beauty industry has done a fabulous job of this, convincing us women that something isn’t right and thus we need XYZ product to solve it.
I have witnessed, over and over in the last 25 years, how trends about what to eat and what not to eat (that we were convinced was well researched and accurate) gets turned around about a decade later. The nonfat craze from the late ‘80s was one example; and, the fact that soy foods would
prevent breast cancer in the early ‘90s was another among many. Today, the attack on sugar and gluten are popular. Seriously, sugar is NOT evil! In fact, glucose (a simple sugar) is actually essential for survival. It is the only source of fuel for your brain! And, we would not have Olympic athletes performing at the level they do without a steady supply of carbohydrates. Yet, we continue to get bombarded with this “all or nothing thinking” that sugar (and carbs; and gluten; and red meat; and …) is bad and something horrible will happen to you if you eat it at all!
Folks, the truth is “balance, variety and moderation!” I am aware that practicing those values with food consistently might seem overwhelming and difficult. If that’s you, I recommend having a registered dietitian or wellness coach work with you to remove the obstacles that are getting in the way of your health goals. Trusting in food rules (rather than yourself) may feel “safer” but is usually not addressing the true issue someone has with food, eating, and their body.
The reality is that overexposure to UV radiation in sunlight, smoking, and air pollution, along with the
natural loss of elasticity as we age, contributes to wrinkle formation – and always has (this isn’t a new concept). Similarly, overeating food (including sugar, gluten, red meat, fat, protein, fruit, etc.) along with chronic inactivity, will contribute to health problems – and always has! Don't give in to ridiculous claims and miss out on living!
Emotional eating is when an emotion triggers a person to eat, instead of the physical symptom of hunger. There are many misconceptions about emotional eating. One of the biggest myths is that all emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain. In fact, it is natural to eat for emotional reasons and still maintain your weight. For example, celebrations with family and friends often include special foods that we have an emotional relationship with. Having birthday cake with friends, not because you are hungry, but because it feels good isn’t necessarily a prescription for overeating or weight gain. In fact, a recent study investigated how an individual’s perceptions about eating a food, like chocolate cake, influenced their motivation to maintain a healthy eating plan. Researchers discovered that those who felt “guilty” after eating a piece of cake were more likely to sabotage their weight loss efforts than those who associated the cake with “celebration.”
So then, what’s the problem with emotional eating? Emotional eating is a problem when you abuse it. When a person is out of touch with their feelings and eats to comfort themselves or stuff their feelings down, it can result in overeating. When an individual engages in this behavior day after day, it is likely to result in weight gain.
Diets and having forbidden foods often make the problem worse. Dieters, or individuals with restricted eating patterns, are typically eating less than they need; less of the foods they enjoy; and, are chronically hungry. When faced with stress or other emotions, the ability to maintain control
of the restrained eating becomes intolerable for the individual who “gives in” and overeats. In these situations, the individual often eats quickly; is distracted; and, is disconnected from his or her internal cues. Feeling guilty and remorseful, the dieter tries harder to restrict the eating and the cycle continues.
How to stop abusing emotional eating.
1. Identify your triggers. Keep a mood food diary and track information about your meals and snacks (including unplanned eating). Write down what you are eating, when you are eating, where you are eating, whom you are eating with, and how you are feeling at the time. Many of my clients strongly object to keeping a journal for various reasons. Taking time with a nutritionist or other health professional to discuss strategies to overcome those barriers may be key for you to take the first step in getting control of your emotional eating.
2. Don’t skip meals. Feed yourself regularly while being mindful of balance, variety and
moderation in your meal planning.
3. Eat whole foods. Eating whole foods that you enjoy, on a regular basis, can help to
balance out your mood and provide consistent energy during the day.
4. Develop alternative coping skills to manage your emotions. Take a moment to create
a list of activities you can use when emotions run high. Things like calling a friend, gardening, being outside, reading, and taking a bath are all examples. Many activities result in the release of the chemicals in the brain that help us feel better. I suggest that individuals have their list visible and easily available. When you notice a trigger to use food for comfort, try one of the items from your list. After 10 minutes, if the food is still beckoning you, try the 2nd activity for 10 minutes, and so on. Usually if you make it to the 3rdactivity, you will notice that the urge to eat is less.
5. Try Individual or group counseling. Talking about your triggers and getting support for planning healthy meals and snacks may be the key to making the behavior changes that are needed.
SIMPLIFY!! Food and eating doesn't have to be so complicated. I'm no different than individuals I work with who are always looking for ways to simplify life. For me, planning healthy and simple snack and meal ideas is key to my success. I love all kinds of food and enjoy experimenting with new, trendy foods (when I have time), but when it comes right down to it, I need good nutrition options that are convenient, easy, yummy and cheap! With one of my top values being my health, it's easy to see why this month's recipe makes a great breakfast or snack idea. Not only is it easy to make and delicious, it provides you with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and other important nutrients that keep you full and satisfied. The recipe speaks for itself, but if you need a little convincing, read on.
Peak season for strawberries is right around the corner, but frozen berries are often cheaper and available year round. Strawberries are not only a great source of vitamin C (1 cup = 113% of recommended daily intake), they also contain the 3rd highest amount of antioxidants, per 3 1/2 ounce serving, compared to any other spice, seasoning, fruit or vegetable consumed in the U.S. Strawberries are also a well tolerated fruit for individuals struggling with IBS symptoms, given the higher glucose to fructose ratio. A final benefit is that frozen strawberries are generally less expensive, convenient, and hold their nutrient content longer than fresh.
Mixing 1 cup of frozen berries with whey protein powder and milk, provides a great balance of easily absorbed protein, along with calcium and vitamin D. This is surely a great snack to give you energy, keep you satisfied, and stay within your budget!
STRAWBERRY PROTEIN SMOOTHIE
1/4 cup Vanilla Whey Protein Powder (2 scoops or 23 grams depending on your brand)
OR 1 packet of Vanilla Carnation Instant Breakfast
1 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen or fresh strawberries (If using fresh, I add 1/2 cup crushed ice)
Mix all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Enjoy!
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease