Friday, October 9, 2009
Free Yourself from the Feast or Famine Cycle, Step 2: Make Peace with Wholesome Foods
We live in a food environment that encourages a focus on what I like to call easy access foods... foods that can be eaten on the run. We are so pressured by timelines and jam-packed schedules that nourishing our bodies has become a grab and go affair. The act of eating in and of itself is a potent form of self-care. When we put our nourishment on the back burner, we over-stress our bodily systems and we burn out. No one would expect to hop in their car and go for a spin if the tank was empty and the gas light was on. Yet how often in life do we place this same unrealistic demand on our bodies by expecting them to perform without adequate fuel? The constant over-taxing of our bodies and pushing of its limits activates our survival mechanisms. To the body, stress = danger and this activates the feast or famine cycle and subsequent adaptation response.
Self-care is such an important part of this equation. It is a skill that most of us are lacking. Too often our attention is consumed with caring for others, tending to deadlines, and forever pushing the envelope. Somehow, our self-care always seems to fall through the cracks. We can all intellectually relate to the notion that when we care for ourselves we are then better able to show up in life and be there for others. Intellectual knowing and embodiment of truth are two different matters. We have to live it and this can only happen by moving into the realm of action and taking some practical steps by penciling ourselves back in.
Never ignoring our hunger is one very important way that we can care for ourselves and lessen the impact of stress on our bodies, but what we choose to fuel up with is vital too. A common trap that many people fall into on the intuitive eating path is to be led solely by their taste buds. It's easy to go for the yum factor when considering what you would like to eat, but that is viewing the nurturing of your body in a myopic way. Your body's communication does not stop at your mouth. Taste is a component of that communication, but you can't sever this dialect from the rest of the language of your body. Your digestive system, energy levels, mood, and other bodily reactions to the foods you choose to eat also have something worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. If you are not a participant in the dialogue and are merely hijacking the juicy bits, you are not eating intuitively.
Many will embrace intuitive eating as an opportunity to eat vast amounts of what the authors of, "Intuitive Eating" refer to as play foods. I would like to re-frame how we refer to these foods. I think 'play foods' continues to give the impression that these foods are a source of entertainment. I feel that 'pleasure foods' are a more appropriate label. Is this not why we are drawn to the cakes, candy, soda pop, chips and dip, fast food burgers and fries? We relish in the pleasure. Pleasure is also an important part of honoring health and feeling a high level of satisfaction. Feeling satisfied is essential if we are to find balance in eating experiences. However, there are many wholesome foods that provide our bodies with essential nutrients and are pleasurable both to our taste buds and our long term sense of well-being.
There are two categories of foods:
Nurturing Foods - These are foods that nurture our whole selves. They taste delicious, feel good in our bodies, and provide us with the essential building blocks of health and vitality. Examples of nurturing foods are whole foods such as, whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, rice, fruit and 100% fruit juices, veggies, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, tofu, nuts and nut butter, seeds, oils, butter, natural sugars, spices and foods made with whole ingredients.
Pleasure Foods - These foods are all about the pleasure factor. They offer little nutrition but taste yummy so they tend to keep people coming back for more. Examples of pleasure foods are, cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, soda pop, fried foods, highly processed foods, fast foods, white flour products, sweet cereals, sweetened drinks and refined sugar.
You can be very conscious of honoring your hunger, but if the majority of your food intake are pleasure foods, you will continue to be in the feast or famine cycle because your body will be starved of the nutrition it needs. Those who eat predominantly highly processed foods are triggering their body's survival response quite unwittingly.
Our bodies have certain nutritional demands that must be met and pleasure foods cannot meet this requirement. It is interesting to note that many obese individuals also have nutrient deficiencies. Many Americans are malnourished, despite our escalating obesity rates. It seems ludicrous that malnourishment could exist when we are surrounded by such plenty, but it's a reality. Taking a multi-vitamin/mineral may help, but truth is, dietary supplements are more of a band aid than a solution. In fact, it may be necessary for those nutrients to come into our bodies through the carrier of food for maximum absorption and benefit. Popping a daily multiple cannot make up the deficiency of an eating style that excludes vital nutrients.
Remember that in order for the feast or famine cycle to be activated the body has to feel its survival is threatened in some way. You can eat to sufficiently address your hunger but if the nutrition is not coming in, your body will remain in a depleted and essentially starved state, despite the fact that your tummy is registering very full. It's a catch 22.
It has become evident to me that there is another necessary step that must be taken on the path of intuitive eating and that is to make peace with nurturing foods. It is important to go through the stage of reintroducing pleasure foods in the beginning. It is a key component of coming off the restriction and limitation of diets, but at some point you have to heal your relationship with nurturing foods and realize they are not the enemy, but an ally to feeling your very best.
If we are truly in touch with our bodies and listening to their guidance we will find that we enjoy a balance of foods. Nurturing foods are cast as the star and pleasure foods play supporting roles. Yet too many people get nurturing foods intertwined with 'diet' foods in their minds. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nurturing foods are tasty, ripe, succulent, delicious, vivacious, and deeply satisfying. They nourish us from the inside, out. They feel good in our bodies and help us reach a place of optimum health. There is room for all foods to be represented on our tables. This is not about excluding pleasure foods, but finding that balance where nurturing and pleasure go hand in hand in a state of cooperative equilibrium that leads to wholeness.
Take an honest look in your cupboards and fridge. Do you have nurturing food availability? Many of you have already taken the step to ensure that you have pleasure foods on hand. What about nurturing foods? Do you have access to a variety of nurturing foods when your hunger comes to call? Sit and make a list of all the nurturing foods that you enjoy. Think of all the wholesome foods that satisfy you on every level. The next time you go grocery shopping, bring this list with you and introduce more of these quality foods into your home. If you don't have access to nurturing foods, you will always come up short. You will veer toward the quick fix rather than provide your body with what it truly needs.
You can even make your pleasure foods more nurturing by preparing them yourself using whole food ingredients. This is simply an idea to get you thinking outside the box... literally. What tastes better and gives a higher level of pleasure anyway... cookies out of a box or a batch made in your kitchen with your own two hands? It's something to think about.
When hunger comes calling it is your body asking for nurturing, not pleasure. If you want to free yourself from the feast or famine cycle, address hunger by feeding yourself some nourishing food. If you want to cap off the meal with a little pleasure for deep satisfaction, then have that piece of chocolate or relish the salty crunch of a handful of chips. Address the need for nurturing first. Make that your top priority.
I had an experience recently that shed light on the value of this advice. I was hungry and my first inclination was to grab something sweet. My body was depleted and wanted that quick energy, thus, the sugar craving. In the past, it would have been my knee-jerk reaction to grab some candy or have a slice of cake, but I have been focusing on self-care and knew that this would not address my body's needs. I took a moment and invited awareness in. I asked myself if there was something nurturing I could eat that would satisfy my desire for pleasure by including that sweet taste my mouth was wanting. I decided on a peanut butter and honey sandwich on toasted sprouted whole grain bread with a cold glass of milk. I figured I would enjoy my sandwich first and then if I still wanted dessert I would savor a little treat. I ended up feeling deeply satisfied and nourished by the sandwich. My body's needs were met and I had no desire for dessert. The honey gave me all the pleasure I was seeking.
There have also been times since I started using this approach that I did want to end my meal on a sweet note. What I discovered is that a small taste savored goes a long way. I may enjoy a couple squares of chocolate or a scoop of ice cream. It is the highlight of my meal, not the main course. I tend to flow with what feels good. This approach feels far more balanced while retaining every ounce of pleasure.
I have come to believe that pleasure foods are better enjoyed in absence of hunger... experienced for the sheer pleasure in and of itself. Pleasure foods make a pleasant end to a meal or a yummy treat when you have that hankering for that special something. In this way, I don't hit pleasure food overload. Since I enjoy these foods purely for the experience and not to address hunger, it becomes a pure taste sensation. I find satiation with small amounts. I'm not suggesting that everyone approach pleasure foods the way I have. I'm merely sharing my experience to offer a glimpse of a different perspective.
Experiment with this and see how you feel. Engage a higher level of self-care. When honoring your hunger, consider your body's need for nurturing without denying that pleasure has its place. Maybe it is time that we brought back the tradition of dessert. I know that when I was growing up I always looked forward to that sweet spot in my day. Somehow, the years of dieting and restriction wiped out this tradition. You can have your cake and eat it too. You can also have the vibrant health you seek. Why limit yourself when you can have it all? Nurturing and pleasure can co-exist.