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Eat: 5 rules for eating to live

Mandy Collins gives this great advice on how to reclaim a healthy relationship with food. 

14 June 2016
4 minute read

Bowl of vegetables in heat shape with stethoscope

It’s hard to tell when our relationship with food became so dysfunctional, but there’s no doubt that it is. We obsess about it, count calories, detox, juice cleanse, ban entire food groups, and even blog about it or photograph it for Instagram. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

Because what we’ve forgotten is that food is there to fuel us,

Because what we’ve forgotten is that food is there to fuel us, to keep our bodies healthy and functioning at their best. And while it’s doing that, there’s no harm in actually enjoying it from time to time.

The global obesity epidemic – or globesity, as it’s sometimes called – is our first clue that something has gone horribly wrong, as is the surge in Type 2 diabetes. The World Health Organisation says the number of people with Type 2 diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980, and in 2012 it was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths globally.

It’s clear we need to reclaim a healthy relationship with food – here are 5 ways to do that:

1. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not quite fullBecause life in the 21st century is busy, busy, busy, many of us have learned to override our bodies’ natural hunger and satiety levels. We eat breakfast because it’s breakfast time – not because we’re hungry. Or we do feel hungry, and we delay eating for so long that by the time we do eat, anything that stands still for long enough is in danger of being consumed. Or we eat on the run – in our cars, at our desks, in the school parking lot – and we eat so fast that our brains don’t have time to register that we’ve actually eaten more than we need.

The key here is to work with your body, not against it, to be in touch with your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and to heed them. Every day is different – today you might need three meals – tomorrow you might need five. Today you might need more carbohydrates; tomorrow you might need more protein. Today you might devour a massive fruit salad, and tomorrow you might need a few squares of chocolate.

Removing the ‘forbidden’ label from foods and learning to listen to your body will allow it to regulate itself and you’ll find yourself making healthier choices.

2. Eat mindfullyThere’s a move towards mindful eating precisely because of the busyness of our lifestyles. When last did you sit down and truly notice the colours, textures and flavours of the food you were eating?

Mindful eating teaches us to pay attention – to eat, and do nothing else. To rekindle the gentle art of conversation at the table while we engage in multi-sensorial appreciation of the food in front of us.

You can’t be mindful of what you’re eating if you’re gobbling down a drive-through burger while you shout insults at other drivers on your way to a meeting. You can’t be mindful if you have a fork in one hand and your smart phone in the other. Slow down, sit down, focus, eat.

3. Eat colourfullyThe simplest way to get a good balance of nutrients is to have as much colour on your plate as possible. This doesn’t mean ketchup, mustard sauce and wasabi – we’re talking fresh fruit and vegetables. The old rule was five portions a day; the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services upped that recommendation to nine portions a day. When last did you count up your daily number of fresh produce portions?

4. Embrace slow foodThe Slow Food movement was founded in 1989 with the aim of preventing the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteracting the cult of busyness, and combatting people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat.

What this means in practical terms is not just buying the first processed ready-meal your eye lands on in the shops. It means not swinging past the drive-through or making yourself something unhealthy to eat at home. Buy local, fresh ingredients and learn to cook from scratch – it’s easier than you think, and it doesn’t have to take long. Food activist Michael Pollan puts it like this: don't eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn't recognise as food.

If you don’t know where to start, why not enrol for Italian cooking classes? The Italians are past masters at creating delicious food with the minimum of fuss and a focus on fresh produce. And you can still have a burger or pizza – as long as you make it yourself.

5. Sit at the tableDon’t eat at your desk or in front of the TV – a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found this could lead to weight gain. Why? Because you’re distracted, and so you don’t notice or remember how much you’ve eaten.

The research found that being distracted when eating a meal leads to increased consumption of the immediate meal but has even more of an effect on later eating. Because if people recalled their last meal as being filling and satisfying then they ate less during their next meal. So eating while distracted means you’re more likely to eat more now – and at your next meal.

It is possible to cultivate a more healthy relationship with food, using these simple measures. It just requires that you slow down and acknowledge the food you eat. With practice, you’ll learn again how to eat in a way that truly feeds you: mind, body and soul.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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