What’s the first question we ask ourselves when we’re looking at the menu at a restaurant or rolling down the aisles at the grocery store. Most likely it’s…
“Hmmm, what looks good today?”
Translated…what is going to taste good in my mouth for the 30 seconds I chew and then swallow it? I believe our experience with food can be so much more than this. At the heart of the Fitness In Post program is the idea of “Awareness.” Tracking your activity every single day helps you understand your baseline which then gives you room for improvement as well as self-motivation. Tracking your diet with an app like MyFitnessPal helps you become more aware of what’s going on in your body on a daily basis, and with all the numbers in front of you, you have the data to start tweaking your diet for the better.
Beyond taste, the bigger question you should start ask yourself when deciding what to eat is…
“How will eating this make me feel?”
Eating should be an enjoyable experience. I have no intention of taking that joy away from you, but the next time you are grocery shopping or out at a restaurant, think about how your choice of food will make you feel for the three hours after you eat it.
A MENTAL EXERCISE
The next time you sit down to eat, before taking that first bite, pause for 20 seconds and be aware of how you feel at the present moment. Are you focused, tired, low energy, high energy, jittery? Take stock of this feeling, and then go ahead and eat your meal. Once you are done with the meal, continue with this awareness exercise periodically over the next three hours. Ask yourself every 30 minutes or so, how do I feel now? And “full” is not an acceptable answer. Pay attention to your energy levels, your cognitive function, your anxiety levels, and your focus. And a really big one…are you sleepy?
Once you build this level of awareness, you will never lose it. It is a powerful tool to help you make better choices. It will take practice, you will not remember to do this before every meal. Eventually if you stick with it you can turn this into a daily habit, rather than mindlessly eating whatever looks good.
HOW IT WORKS
I will be very clear upfront, I don’t have pages of medical research to back up why this works or how. That research may exist, but this is purely based on my personal experimentation. What I have found is this is the best way to train my brain to actually not want unhealthy foods. As you may have read, I am a self-proclaimed “sugar whore” and lived off garbage for the vast majority of life. Sugar is an addictive substance. And like the vast majority of our population, I assumed that sugar was harmless and eating fattening foods made me fat. So I was addicted. And once I learned that sugar is potentially toxic, I realized I needed to change my habits. So I took my background in yoga and meditation, coupled with some education from the Akasha Center, and I began the practice of mindful eating. What I found was the more I did this, the more I began to judge my food choices by how that choice would make me feel, not how it would taste. This is a powerful transformation in the brain that can free you from fad diets and fighting willpower forever.
Recently I was out to dinner with a few members of my Fitness In Post team, and it was my cheat day (I’m a big fan of Mark Sisson’s 80/20 principle). We all made relatively healthy dinner choices, but one member looked at the chocolate brownie on the dessert menu and said, “That looks really good, but I shouldn’t.” So being the deviant I am, I said, “Well I’ll order it for you then!” And I ordered a root beer float on top of it for myself. And we pigged out. Was I being cruel? That’s debatable. What happened next is exactly what I expected. That person had half the brownie, indulged, and then 30 minutes later felt like crap (full disclaimer: SO DID I). More importantly, she shared with me how poorly she felt and that next time she would just politely decline the brownie because she didn’t like the way she felt after eating it. She valued her function more than a good taste in her mouth for 30 seconds.
This is a powerful change in mental attitude. The next time she is confronted with a tempting choice that is unhealthy, she will no longer have to fight willpower. Her brain has now been figuratively (and maybe literally) rewired itself to be aware of how food will make her feel after consuming it. This doesn’t happen after just one experience like this, but over time you can change the way you look at food.
SO I CAN NEVER EAT JUNK?
Quite the opposite, in fact. I think it’s important to allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying your favorite foods on occasion. If you’ve stuck to your diet religiously for a week and exercised every day, you deserve that chocolate chip cookie. If you’re sticking to the 80/20 rule, it’s important to remember that when you’re doing the “80,” do it RELIGIOUSLY. Don’t sprinkle rewards into every meal. Then when you do the “20,” go all out. The more I do this, the less interested I am in the 20% of the time I eat crap, and I crave the way I feel the other 80% of the time I eat healthy food.
You can read every book in the world about how dangerous it is to touch a hot stove. You can even have a PhD in thermal chemistry. But the only way to develop an involuntary, instinctive response is to touch a hot stove and burn your fingers. Then the next time you see a hot stove, you’ll be much less apt to reach out and grab it. Food is no different. Once you realize that eating the brownie can “burn” you, you’re less apt to reach for it the next time. Build your awareness and avoid getting burned.