The act of eating is a universal phenomenon that all living creatures must engage in for the sake of survival. Humans have created a more complex relationship with food than our animal counterparts by creating rituals around eating like special gatherings for birthday parties, weddings or anniversaries.
Food is a central theme in many peoples lives, and while it can be a lot of fun to experiment and create something new, it can also become problematic for some in the pursuit of becoming healthier or even life-threatening for people suffering from disordered eating.
In regards to eating habits, a concept that has been gaining popularity recently is the practice of mindful eating. According to The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME) the concept of eating mindfully is about "allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom".
It can help to consider your thoughts around food and to also use your intuition during consumption and, as TCME suggests, being mindful by "using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food".
The following article was written by a guest blogger who has experienced first hand what it was like to consider his own eating habits and make adjustments to his food consumption. Hopefully his experience will help you to consider your own relationship with food.
It’s Not What You Eat, It’s How You Eat
It’s easy to collect facts about food and nutrients and subsequently consider yourself a completely knowledgeable eater off that alone. Sure, it’s great to know your ideal ratio of protein to body weight. It’s great to know all kinds of jargon, or the difference between several types of fats. However, it’s the implicit knowledge and ideas that people tend to forget. I recently joined the list of people falling for this trap.
Being a moderately-athletic individual, I pay close attention to what I eat. I also love reading about eating habits that are believed to improve athletic performance. This led me to read a Bleacher Report article about the rising popularity of veganism in the NBA.
After reviewing the article, my primary takeaway was that professional athletes were looking to a plant-based diet to acquire more sustained energy. Obviously I don’t perform on a professional level but I reflected on this longer than most would. After all, these professionals are my idols. I’m not like them physically but I relate to their motivation to improve themselves.
What I read was interesting enough that I decided to try going at least vegetarian. I knew enough about macronutrients that I’d be able to calculate my diet and maintain my ideal body composition. Meanwhile, there was something fundamental I was forgetting and I didn’t even realize it. In my mind, I was prepared to change at will.
My first day of trying vegetarianism ironically began with me eating meat. I was so used to relying on meat for protein that I didn’t even remember I was supposed to omit it. I was able to avoid meat the rest of the day. I saw this as a challenge, but being the person I am, I was driven to meet my expectations.
That same day I went to my former boss Dr. Ayla Donlin for advice. Ayla is the director of the LifeFit Center @ The Beach, a health and fitness facility at Long Beach State University dedicated to community members aged 49 and over. She is a vegan and an incredibly fit individual, so naturally I looked to her for advice.
My conversation with her dispelled myths about vegans and vegetarians lacking protein and energy due to the omission of animal products. She told me of some documentaries to watch and I was on my way.
For the next few days I ate very little meat. It wasn’t fully removed from my diet but it only made up a small fraction of my intake. I consistently reached my targeted daily protein intake of at least 130 grams per day. I felt energized in a way that was exceeding my expectations. I didn’t feel the vegetarian/vegan empowerment that some people speak of, but I felt empowered as an individual making changes.
Everything was perfect until one day when I was leaving a Starbucks. As soon as I sat down in my car, suddenly I felt lightheaded. My heartbeat started to play irregularly and I started to experience some random anxiety. For a long moment I waited until this slowly eased away. After that, I drove home but what had happened was concerning enough that I later on looked into the symptoms.
It turns out this episode was consistent with iron deficiency. I was so confident that maintaining my protein and carbohydrate intake was enough, I forgot I was giving up a lot of iron by cutting chicken and beef. However, my main lesson from this wasn’t about the importance of iron. What I realized was that I changed my diet way too quickly and that contributed to my steep drop-off in iron more than my actual diet. If I had just eased into it, I probably wouldn’t have had such an alarming wake up call.
"This is my suggestion to anyone who wants to change the way they eat: Remember to take it easy on yourself and move at an appropriate pace.
At this point, I was conflicted in reflection of my short campaign. I questioned whether I should really change the way I eat. One part of me was convinced I was wasting my time. The other part of me was convinced I had to do this because quitting in the face of a setback is a bad look. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my decisions shouldn’t be so polarized. I decided to just slow down and progress incrementally.
What I’m trying to convey in sharing this experience is that good health and nutrition isn’t limited to what you eat. It’s also how you eat. I didn’t consider that such a hard reversal from my previous eating habits would be rejected like this. Ultimately, I was reminded that moderation is fundamental. There is moderation measured by what you consume; I eat pizza, fast food and dessert and that’s totally okay as I keep these foods below excess. I stand by this.
There is also moderation measured by the rate of change you put your body through. This is what I overlooked. I’m still experimenting with different meals to make plants a more substantial share of my diet. I’ve just learned to approach it more gradually. This is my suggestion to anyone who wants to change the way they eat: Remember to take it easy on yourself and move at an appropriate pace.
Your body will appreciate it.
Thank you Dan for sharing your experience of changing your diet and how this created changes and challenges for you physically, but also helped you to more carefully consider your relationship with food.
I also enjoyed your advice to go slow when exploring changes to your health and wellness and to consult a professional when you're making these changes. I am hoping many of my readers who are considering or already starting new years resolutions will find your experience valuable in their own pursuit towards health and wellness. Thanks for being our guest blogger!
Have an experience to share about changes in your own health & wellness? Share it with us in the comments below!
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