We all face times of trial, and they can take a serious toll on our minds — and bodies.
After my own period of emotional and physical difficulties — not to mention being a food professional surrounded by temptation — I finally decided to view food as a pleasurable way of caring for myself, rather than a vice to satisfy my exhausted body. I was ready to redefine what normal, healthy eating looked liked for me. By following a few simple steps, you can too.
The turning point to better habits
The other night, my husband and I were going through my daughter's wedding photos, and I was reminded that I'm one of the few people who have maintained a significant weight loss over several years. Older photos showed me in a heavier, less happy time. I was emotionally exhausted, pushing 200 pounds and facing extreme shoulder tendinitis.
Seeing an acupuncturist helped, but even more significant was the mental therapist who taught me that I was making a common mistake: working too hard for other people and neglecting myself. I was using food as a crutch to treat my overworked, exhausted self. Mary helped nudge me into the first step in a permanent lifestyle change: putting my health first. But I knew diets didn't work for me; I needed a larger plan.
Eating more = losing more
I asked myself, "What do I really need to eat to be happy?" I wanted it all, of course, which was okay — just not in the quantities I thought.
I had always resisted nutrition experts' mantra of eating several small meals in a day. Unlike the people who peck at grains and veggies all day, I was a food lover. I didn't eat to live; I lived to eat! Then it finally occurred to me that eating throughout the day meant eating more often! How great was that?
Two breakfasts are better than one
Instead of one large breakfast right after awakening, I now enjoy two breakfasts. In the early morning, I savor a cup of hot herbal tea along with fresh, seasonal fruit. The warm tea gently wakes me and the natural sugar in the fruit energizes me for exercise, which I'll come back to in a moment. After exercise, I sit down to a meal I really enjoy; for example, toast, homemade granola, Greek yogurt and a honey drizzle. Or even a fried egg with a couple strips of good bacon and a big chunk of sourdough. I love variety — cheesy grits, warm oatmeal cooked with a generous handful of dried fruit.
Determination, variation make exercise worthwhile
Exercise is a key ingredient for eating more often. With the healing that came through therapy, I found new energy and I started to walk. A lot! The long walks eventually turned into runs. Now I run four times a week, as well as two yoga classes at the YMCA. I don't easily give myself a pass on exercise. If it's drizzling or a little icy, I still run. If it's dark and cold I still crank up the car for yoga.
After breakfast(s), I'm usually fine until noon. Lunch is usually hearty soup or a substantial salad. Soups are warm, thick and filling. Salads are chock-full of protein and vegetables. I keep a stash of greens with lots of add-ins on hand.
No need for the deprivation sensation
Next come the two most pleasurable eating moments of my day: teatime mid-afternoon followed by an early evening glass of wine and nibbles.
After seven years, I must have teatime. Regardless of where I am — an airport, out shopping, testing recipes — I have my tea. I look forward to the sweet treat for sure, but it's also about taking time to sit quietly for a few minutes with perhaps some Earl Grey and a couple of Gingerbread Straws. A friend and I might even split a muffin or slice of cake — yes, cake. I don't have to deprive myself of anything. I simply set boundaries about when and how much I eat. This has become my new normal.
Before dinner, I enjoy a glass of wine and a little nibble (usually a handful of nuts). This controlled snack is so satisfying I have no reason to pick mindlessly during dinner preparation.
Because I've eaten moderately all day, dinner tends to be light — a simple salad and a small plate of pasta, a couple of thin slices of pizza, a little stew. Since I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-riser, I rarely eat after dinner. I end the day looking forward to tomorrow morning's tea and fruit.
Now, it's your turn
I know I make this all sound simple, but it can be — because you're in charge. So to get started, remember:
Eating to live or living to eat? Now consider what you truly need to eat for pleasure and sustenance. Plan out smaller meals over the day with a variety of items you enjoy.
Get moving: Walk, ride, run, stretch — whatever you can do to move for 30 minutes a day will help burn calories and boost your mental state.
In your new empowered state, you will see food not as the enemy, but as a pleasurable way of taking care of yourself. Unlike me, you may need a mid-morning treat or a bedtime snack instead of teatime. But when you make the rules, you're less likely to break them.
Ask yourself: "What's going on in my life that's causing me to eat more than I should?" Too much idle time with the kids grown and gone? A tight budget? Or something deeper? You may need a therapist's help to get to the bottom of it, which could include...
Some tough stuff: Confronting a spouse, quitting that job you hate, finally saying no to someone (everyone).
We're all different, and what works for one may not work for another. Make 2012 the year to figure out what's right for you.