Re­think­ing your think­ing about food

Try a change in per­spec­tive when try­ing to lose weight

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - JAE BERMAN Jae Berman is a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and per­sonal trainer Washington Post

I’ve ac­cepted that many peo­ple don’t want to meet with a di­eti­tian. It’s as­sumed that we’re go­ing to sug­gest eat­ing bland, healthy, nu­tri­tious food, and avoid­ing all the tasty treats. Quite frankly, some­times a ver­sion of that is true, caus­ing a vi­cious cy­cle to oc­cur. Clients are an­noyed that they must give up the fun foods, and ev­ery fol­lowup ap­point­ment is a dis­cus­sion about how they feel de­prived and can’t imag­ine another day with­out their drinks, sweets and fries.

This pat­tern leads to stress. Peo­ple judge food as “good” and “bad,” are over­whelmed about food choices, feel frus­trated that they can’t eat treats and sweets and guilty when they eat some­thing they’re not “sup­posed” to. Ev­ery­thing about food, nu­tri­tion and health be­comes stress­ful and un­pleas­ant.

It’s a tricky sit­u­a­tion be­cause di­eti­tians truly don’t want peo­ple to ex­ces­sively eat sweets, fried foods and other good­ies or drink too much al­co­hol or sweet­ened bev­er­ages. We want to sup­port in­di­vid­u­als in cre­at­ing longterm be­hav­iour change and en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence. Typ­i­cally, if peo­ple think they’re on a diet, it rarely sticks for the long term.

To achieve the goal of nu­tri­tion, be­hav­iour change re­quires a shift in per­spec­tive.

Psy­chol­o­gist Kelly McGoni­gal’s TED talk, “How to make stress your friend,” sheds light on how one’s per­cep­tion of stress can be a game changer in cre­at­ing sus­tain­able be­hav­iour change.

She high­lights a study in which re­searchers took close to 30,000 names from the 1998 Na­tional Health In­ter­view Sur­vey and looked at how they an­swered ques­tions re­lated to their stress lev­els, their per­cep­tion of stress, and whether they try to re­duce their stress. The re­searchers then used pub­lic health records to com­pare that in­for­ma­tion with mor­tal­ity data through 2006. One find­ing was that nei­ther amount of stress nor per­cep­tion of stress alone was associated with a higher risk of death. But both of those fac­tors to­gether — re­port­ing a lot of stress and be­liev­ing stress has a large ef­fect on health — did in­crease that risk.

Another study she de­scribes is one in which par­tic­i­pants were put in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions and mon­i­tored on their phys­i­cal re­sponse. One group was taught in ad­vance to look at stress as pos­i­tive. For ex­am­ple, they learned that an adrenalin rush helps them per­form bet­ter. That group ex­pe­ri­enced fewer neg­a­tive phys­i­cal re­sponse symp­toms. Their per­cep­tion of stress de­creased their in­ter­nal stress re­sponse.

How can this sup­port you in cre­at­ing new nu­tri­tion habits?

Here are some com­mon stress­ful and un­pleas­ant thoughts one can have while start­ing a healthy eat­ing plan:

“I hate be­ing so re­stricted. How am I go­ing to sur­vive with­out my favourite food?”

“I’m not go­ing to be able to have a so­cial life! How am I go­ing to fit in dur­ing so­cial sit­u­a­tions? What am I go­ing to eat at that party?”

“I hate this. Why do I have to strug­gle like this? Why does this have to be so dif­fi­cult?”

“This is ter­ri­ble. I hate veg­eta­bles, eat­ing healthy and eat­ing like this. This is never go­ing to work.”

“I’m hun­gry, I’m tired, I can’t keep a thought. Eat­ing like this feels un­com­fort­able.”

What if you looked at the ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ently? What if you em­braced the dif­fi­culty of chang­ing your life­style and had pleas­ant thoughts about the new healthy body you could have? What if the stress of it all didn’t have to feel so dif­fi­cult? It’s stress­ful, but that may not be a bad thing.

Some ex­am­ples to strate­gize this new per­spec­tive:

Set a pleas­ant tone. You’re sit­ting down for lunch and it’s a meal in line with your new healthy life­style. The plate is full of veg­eta­bles, healthy fats, pro­tein and fi­bre, and you tell your­self, “This is go­ing to make me feel en­er­gized, lean and healthy!”

En­joy some treats. When peo­ple start eat­ing healthily, they of­ten go all out and elim­i­nate all their favourite foods, lead­ing to de­pri­va­tion and stress. En­joy a treat from time to time. Keep it in ap­pro­pri­ate pro­por­tion and en­joy once or twice a week.

Re­mem­ber to take a breath. When you’re walk­ing into a so­cial sit­u­a­tion and aren’t sure how to eat, stop for just a mo­ment and take a breath. Take a few breaths if you need to. Find peo­ple you en­joy spend­ing time with so you can laugh and have a good con­ver­sa­tion. Make the best de­ci­sions you can and en­joy the night.

Cre­ate tools for suc­cess. Of­ten when peo­ple go on di­ets, they un­der­eat and get so hun­gry they feel phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally stressed. Caloric de­pri­va­tion isn’t nec­es­sary. Load up on veg­eta­bles, healthy fats, fi­bre-rich starches, pro­teins, fi­bre. Have food prepped and planned so you’re al­ways pre­pared. Stay con­sis­tent with your meal tim­ing to keep you full and sat­is­fied through the day.

Eat­ing bet­ter can be quite pleas­ant. Learn­ing how to view the process to your ad­van­tage not only sup­ports you in reach­ing your goals, but makes the ex­pe­ri­ence so much more en­joy­able.

McGoni­gal says, “When you choose to view your stress re­sponse as help­ful, you cre­ate the bi­ol­ogy of courage.” Con­sider eat­ing health­ier as a brave act.


What if you em­braced the dif­fi­culty of chang­ing your life­style and had pleas­ant thoughts about the new healthy body you could have?

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