How To Know What To Eat
“What do I eat?”
In this dieting obsessed world we live in, it's common for people to feel clueless about what to eat, as the weight loss industry tricks people into believing we need to follow some strict regimen of calculated food choices and portions or else our lives will fall apart (which is not true - phew!)
So let me tell you some good news!
You have a food expert hiding inside of you, wanting to guide you. This expert is a collection of your own unique biological, mental and physical cues - which cooperate to give you signals as to what to eat. We need to feel these signals. Keep reading - will I tell you how in a second!
First of all - why is this important?
As we're constantly told to THINK what to eat (how many grams, fat, calories, carbs, protein, sugar etc etc. - a mathematical headache!), we lose touch with our ability to feel what to eat and we get lost.
Let’s consider this common scenario:
Perhaps in a moment what you really need is some carbs, let’s say a delicious baked potato or a bean burrito. But, you choose a salad instead because you’ve been told eating carbs leads to weight gain (another common fear).
What is likely to happen is that your body will still crave carbs even though you ate salad. The salad may leave you physically full, but you may still have cravings and not understand why. Then you can’t resist having something sweet afterwards and you end up beating yourself up for it, as you just "ruined" your diet. (You haven't ruined anything my friend. Your body just needed some carbs and took over with cravings to make sure you got some. Thank your body).
Instead of going through this self inflicted guilt and food confusion, it would be better to make the right food choice to begin with, which would have satisfied you, right?
SO , here's 6 practical tips on how to tune into your OWN body and FEEL what’s right to eat!
6 aspects of food choice
Consider these aspects when you’re about to choose what to eat, and you’ll find it much easier to pick the food and amount that’s right for you!
1. Quantity of food
How hungry are you? Do you feel like having a nice big satisfying meal, or would a snack hit the spot? Evaluate the amount of food you would like to eat to make you feel satiated. If you’re really hungry, don’t put limits on how much to eat. Eat until you’re comfortably full. If you struggle with with overeating, my blog post HERE might help you.
What texture would you prefer to feel? Crunchy? Smooth? Dry? Wet? Hard? Soft? Maybe you want a salad with lots of crunchy veggies or maybe you want something smooth, like mashed potatoes or ice cream. Think of how you the food to feel like in your mouth and stomach, and how you want to enjoy the texture of your meal.
Sometimes, if we’re feeling like having raw crunchy foods, such as vegetables, it may be a signal that our digestive system could do with some fibre and bulk. On the other hand, if we feel like having something easy to digest, let’s say a smoothie or soup, it may be a signal that your tummy would appreciate something that doesn’t take too much energy to absorb. Your tummy is smart.
This is a big one! What do you fancy? Sweet? Savoury? Bitter? Salt? Maybe you want a sweet smoothie, some fruit or a sweet dessert? Or maybe something salty like popcorn, chips, avocado on toast with some sea salt or a veggie lasagne? Taste preference can sometimes be a predictor of what your body may need, e.g. if you want something sweet, perhaps your blood sugar is low and you need a top up.
Taste is one of the most important factors of eating. If you don’t like what you eat, it’s less likely that your neuronal appetite regulating centres in your brain will be triggered, and it’s more likely you’ll find yourself searching your kitchen cabinet later on for something tasty, even with a full stomach.
Smell is also an important part of the enjoyment experience of eating. We all know the lovely smell of pancakes in the house, or the smell of your favourite childhood dish. Personally, I love the smell of toast!
The smell of food can bring up many pleasant memories and associations, which contribute towards triggering pleasure and appetite regulating centres in the brain. Enjoyment and satisfaction from our meals is really important! It can contribute towards signalling our brain that we’re getting what we need and that we’re not depriving ourselves of our favourite foods.
How long do you want to feel full? When was the last time you ate? When are you going to eat again?
It can be useful to consider how long the food will make you feel full, aka it’s lasting power. For example, a piece of fruit will have a shorter lasting power than a peanut butter sandwich.
These are factors that are useful to consider so that your eating fits in with your life.
Is it a long time until the next meal arrives or is dinner right around the corner? Maybe you’re having a busy day and don’t have much time to eat meals or snacks. In that case, if you’re hungry in the morning, maybe you want a nice and filling breakfast, like porridge with fruits and nuts, which will keep you going for a while.
Or maybe it’s around 4.30 pm, you know you’re going to have dinner soon, but it’s just a little too long to wait. In that case, maybe a small snack like a couple of crackers with hummus would keep you going until dinner.
If you know a meal is coming up and you don’t want to spoil your appetite, but you know you’ll be too ravenous if you wait all the way until dinner, then a snack can be a good idea!
What temperature do you want the food to be at? Is it a hot summer's day where some refreshing watermelon, smoothie or ice cream would be perfect? Or maybe it’s a cold rainy day and a comforting hot stew or soup would accommodate your evening inside perfectly? The temperature is also important part of the enjoyment factor! For example, you don’t have to force down a cold smoothie on a winter's day just because it’s healthy. Go for what you really want!
Practice makes perfect
These are all aspects of our eating experience which are important to consider. Of course, you may be on the run and not always have the ability to tick all of these boxes, and that’s fine. But when you can, the more you can tune into your body and let it whisper to you what you want to taste, smell, and feel, the better you’ll be at picking out the best foods for yourself at any point in time.
*Note* this takes practise! You may be thinking “if I just go for what I feel like eating all the time, I would just eat chocolate all day”. However, the more you practice this, you’ll notice that eating chocolate all day wouldn’t leave you feeling very well. In fact, chocolate would become boring and you’ll likely end up craving some veggies and real food! Your inner food expert will let you know.
Keep practising, and you’ll become a ninja at interpreting your bodily cues and food-wants. Eventually, it won’t take much effort to detect what you really want to eat and picking the right foods will become easy peasy :)
Trust your body - it’s got your back!
Vanessa Roster (ANutr)