Monday, February 27, 2012

Spreading the word

For my Community Nutrition class this quarter, I was tasked with implementing a nutrition-related intervention within a community.  While most students assisted with already-existing programs, I decided to take a chance and design and implement my own intervention, with my nursing co-workers as the victims/beneficiaries (depending on how you look at it!).

I've been working with these amazing people for the past 4 years, and during that time, I've seen them lose weight on diets, and then gain it back again, all the while blaming themselves for their lack of "willpower."  To be honest, witnessing their struggles over the past few years is large part of what inspired me to pursue a career in nutrition, because they are precisely the type of people I feel can benefit from an intuitive eating philosophy, and it breaks my heart to see them suffer.   I often see my former self in them, and knowing how much intuitive eating has helped me to heal my relationship with food and my body, I feel that they, too, might be helped by it.

So yesterday I headed to the hospital and set myself up in the break room to present a PowerPoint introducing the intuitive eating philosophy to my co-workers.  I did two sessions-- one at 2pm and another at 3pm-- and a total of 16 people attended, which I thought was pretty good!  I think some people were a little weary of a "nutrition presentation," as they assumed I was there to tell them what to eat, how much of it to eat, and when to eat it.  I think a lot of people think that this is what nutritionists and dietitians do, and it's because of this that when I tell people I'm studying nutrition, they suddenly become very self-conscious about what they're eating, and feel like they need to justify it ("I usually don't eat like this!").  As a side note, that's one thing that bothers me about studying nutrition, and in fact, sometimes I hold off on telling people about it because the last thing I want to do is make someone feel bad about themselves!
My 3pm session
Anyway, I made sure I told my audience right off the bat that my belief, and what intuitive eating believes, is that we are all born with all the knowledge and insight we need to know what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it.  The trick is to get back in touch with that innate intuition, which is easily lost when you've dieted or listened to external messages dictating your eating behaviors for so many years.  I hoped that explaining this would disarm them a little, and make them more receptive to hearing my message, and I think it did.

Throughout the presentation I saw lots of head-nodding and "I-never-thought-of-it-that-way-but-that-makes-sense" expressions, which made me feel really good.  Of course, it could just be that these people are extremely nice and supportive and they were trying to make me feel good, but I'm hoping it's also that they were truly getting something out of it.

For the presentation, I brought along some healthy, but delicious snacks, including the Cranberry Orange Quinoa Salad that I've blogged about before.  I also tried a new recipe from CookingLight for Chocolate-Cherry Heart Smart Cookies that I was afraid would taste too healthy (the trick is for something to be healthy without tasting healthy!), but were actually quite good and got rave reviews!  Here's the recipe:

Chocolate-Cherry Heart Smart Cookies
1 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup dried cherries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)
Cooking spray (I used parchment paper instead)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Combine flours and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.
3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Remove from heat; add brown sugar, stirring until smooth.  Add sugar mixture to flour mixture; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.  Add cherries, vanilla, and egg; beat until combined.  Fold in chocolate.  Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray (or parchment paper). Bake at 350° for 12 minutes. Cool on pans 3 minutes or until almost firm.  Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.

Even though it was a lot of work (and slightly terrifying having to present something to a group of people who might be totally against what I'm proposing!), I hope to be able to do more presentations like this in the future.  If I got through to even just one person yesterday, and made them consider giving this intuitive eating thing a shot, then it was well worth all the time spent preparing the presentation, as well as the nervousness I felt going into it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mindful eating

I saw this article in the New York Times called Mindful Eating as Food for Thought, and I thought it would be a great thing to share on this blog.  Mindful eating is a close cousin to intuitive eating, and I'm so glad to see this philosophy getting some good exposure!  The article talks about how mindful eating is a Buddhist concept, but I don't know that it necessarily needs to be practiced within the context of any religion.

I think I might try some of the things suggested in the article, like spending the first five minutes of a meal in silence to really enjoy what I'm eating.  Taking 20 minutes to eat three raisins, however, might be a practice better left to the monks!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Fat: friend or foe?

I grew up believing that fat was unhealthy, and should be avoided at all costs.  My whole family bought into this concept, and as a result, we spread margarine on our toast instead of butter (in fact, for years I told everyone I "didn't like" butter because it weirded me out-- it was that foreign to me!).  I even remember my mom buying a "Fat Free Living" cookbook, and we would buy "low-fat" and "fat-free" versions of everything.  It was always the first, and sometimes the only thing I would glance at when I checked a nutrition label, and much of my decision of whether or not to eat a certain item was based on how much fat was present.

It's been so ingrained in me that I still fight the urge to focus solely on a food product's fat content, even though I now know better.  I realize, however, that many people still haven't seen the light, so I will do my best to convince you that, despite everything you may have heard in your life, fat isn't as bad as you think it is, and there are more important things to think about when examining a food label than how much fat there is.

I stumbled across this article called Why Women Need Fat, and I thought it was a great starting point for this discussion.  So, here's a breakdown of why fat isn't as bad as you think it is:
  • Your body needs fat in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins, build and repair cell walls, make hormones, etc.. And as the article says, your body "intuitively" knows what it needs (I'm loving the fact that they used the word "intuitive", by the way!), so if you think you can "trick" your body by giving it apple pie flavored gum when it really wants the real thing, think again!  Your body isn't stupid enough to think those two things are the same!  And if your body wants fat (because it intuitively knows that it needs it), it won't be satisfied until you give it fat, and if you don't give in to this need, you may find yourself eating various other food items instead, and eventually eating more calories than if you had just given in and eaten the fatty food you were craving in the first place. 
  • Fat helps you stay full longer.  Fat provides more energy and staying power than lower fat foods.  So, if you're in tune with your hunger signals, this means that fatty foods will satisfy you more quickly, and you'll be satisfied for a longer period of time.  If you opt for lower fat foods, you'll have to eat more of them to fill up, and you'll likely find yourself hungry for more much sooner.
  • "Low fat" or "Fat free" options aren't always better for you. Because people are so focused on the fat content of the food they're eating, they might not notice what other items are being added to a food in order to make it "low-fat" or "fat-free."  Many "light" versions of sweet foods will add additional sugar in order to make it taste as good or almost as good as the full fat version.  So in the end, you're really not saving any calories.  Plus, your body knows it's not getting the full fat version, so you tend to eat more of it and get hungrier sooner after eating it.  Other foods might use chemicals to replace the fat that's been taken out.  I don't know about you, but I'd much rather eat something that my body knows how to break down and process, versus some chemical that is doing who-knows-what to my system.  
  • It's the type of fat that matters.  Of course, I'm not telling you to go out and eat donuts and french fries all day every day (although, if that's what you want to do, I encourage you to go out and give it a try and see how many days it takes before you beg for a salad, because you probably won't feel so hot!).  As the article suggests, people in today's society are consuming far too many Omega 6 fatty acids, instead of Omega 3s.  While it's okay to have both, Omega 3 fats should ideally outweigh the Omega 6s, and for most people, especially in this country, that's just not true.  Omega 6 fatty acids are found in fast food and most snack foods, as well as refined vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.  Omega 3s can be found in fish (especially salmon, tuna, anchovies, and sardines), eggs, flax seed, and olive oil.  And, as if you needed another reason to eat organic meat and poultry, the amounts of Omega 3s in animals raised eating grass (which is the organic method of raising them) is much higher than their grain- and corn-fed counterparts (which is how most animals are fed these days).  As the article suggests, if you have trouble getting Omega 3s into your diet, try sprinkling ground flax seed on your oatmeal or in your yogurt, or take a fish oil supplement like I do (just make sure it's a quality, purified one!).  
    • Besides being aware of Omega 3 and 6 fats, you should also try to avoid hydrogenated or trans fats.  These fats are created through a chemical process that turns a liquid fat into a solid-- this is how things like margarine and shortening are made.  Unfortunately, your body doesn't really know how to handle these types of fats, so they tend to gunk up your arteries and lower your HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, thus increasing your risk of heart disease.

So the bottom line is, as the article states, "We have to go back to basics."  Instead of choosing processed foods that are loaded with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, you'd probably be better off eating a real food with higher fat content that your body knows how to process, and will satisfy you and keep you satisfied longer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Too good to stop

I read this article, written by one of the authors of Intuitive Eating, Elyse Resch, and the title alone speaks to me.  It's called The Sadness of Saying Enough (scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page and you'll find it).  It appears in a newsletter for the Academy for Eating Disorders and, as such, is targeted more towards nutrition counselors than the general public, but I still feel like it's a great read, and it might be something you can relate to like me.  The article addresses the fact that respecting your fullness and stopping when you're satisfied can bring up feelings of sadness.

I can definitely relate to this feeling.  I know that some people, myself included, sometimes overeat to distract themselves from having to deal with negative emotions, or to avoid having to do something unpleasant (like dishes, homework, etc.), or because it provides them with some comfort when they're feeling lonely.  Sometimes, however, I'm eating a meal and I can feel that I've reached my fullness level, but I'm truly sad that I have to stop eating because it just tastes so damn good, and I don't want the experience to be over!  Being an intuitive eater really sucks when your stomach says "Enough" and your taste buds say "More, please!"   I will admit that, at these times, I sometimes rebel against my intuitive eating instincts and I just keep on eating.  Later, however, I regret my decision, because not only do I feel uncomfortably full, but I also realize that consistently overeating will inevitably lead to weight gain, which certainly won't make me feel good.  But how do you deal with this sad feeling of having to stop when your brain and taste buds still aren't ready to let go?
I'm not hungry anymore, but...this is so much fun to eat!
What Resch suggests in the article, and what I try to think about now after having read it, is that when you're faced with this sadness, know that these sad feelings will only last a moment-- far shorter than the painful feelings you'll have to deal with if you decide to overeat and eventually gain weight.  It's a trade off-- a moment of sadness now in exchange for improved health and better self-esteem in the long run.

At first glance, this thinking makes me nervous, because it sort of sounds like a diet-- "ignore your feelings of hunger now in exchange for a better, thinner tomorrow".  The fundamental difference, however, is that you won't be depriving yourself, as you do when you're following a diet.  Instead, you're stopping when you're biologically satisfied and no longer hungry, so you won't be dealing with the cascade of negative feelings and biological urges that arise from deprivation.  Also (and this is super important!), you'll know that you can have that food, or whatever food strikes your fancy, any other time you want, so there's no reason to keep eating like it's your last meal, because there are many more fantastic eating experiences to come.

The liberation that comes with knowing that you're in tune with your body signals and can eat whatever food you want whenever you want it far outweighs the few moments of sadness you'll feel at having to stop.  Try to think of that the next time you're faced with this dilemma.  With time, as you prove to yourself that you're able to tolerate these sad feelings and make it through to the other side, your confidence will grow and it will only get easier.