Thursday, December 25, 2014

HSPs and Overeating

I have written earlier about learning to honor your own instincts when you are figuring out what kind of exercise would work best for you. For me, it's been yoga because of its scope for gentleness and its emphasis on the mind-body connection.

The other part of this equation is learning to eat correctly. Instead of opting for the standard, one-size fits all solution, as HSPs, we need to look at our eating from a holistic perspective. What works for everyone won't necessarily work for us.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's book Intuitive Eating is one book that breaks away from the follow a diet mentality and nudges us to make healthy changes. Instead of putting pressure to do a total diet overhaul, they help us examine and re-define our relationship with food.

One thing that they talk about is the fact that we need to re-discover the pleasures of eating. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, letting ourselves enjoy what we eat ultimately adds up to eating less in the long run. This is because we are satisfied and not craving things and crashing and burning.

Some questions that they urge us to ask ourselves include: "What do I feel like eating?" "What food aroma might appeal to me?" "Do I want something sweet, salty, sour, or even slightly bitter?" "Do I want something crunchy, smooth, creamy, soft, lumpy, fluid, etc?" "Do I want something light, airy, heavy filling, or in-between?"

Asking these questions is important because most of us are so out of touch with our bodies and what would satisfy us. We are also used to using food as a reward or relating to it with guilt or self-inflicted punishment when we break a diet rule. But when we tune in to our bodies to ask ourselves what we need, we can change our relationship to food.

Instead of a reward or a punishment, it becomes a source of nurturing. If we really take into consideration what we want, we might accept that in this cold weather, a warm breakfast would satisfy our basic hunger. We might think about the textures of food and realize that we want something crunchy, something we can really bite into.

Tribole and Resch talk about clients who after learning to tune in, become aware of how only specific foods give them that feeling of satisfaction. Learning their own preferences and including it in their meals makes eating a more pleasurable experience and helps them be satisfied now, so that they can eat less later.

We all know people who eat like this instinctively. They check in with themselves about what they want. They let themselves savor and enjoy their food. While they eat healthily, they don't deprive themselves or eat only health foods.

If they love sweets, they let themselves eat a high-quality rich dessert instead of settling for something that is sub-standard or one that has artificial sweeteners. Research shows that calorie-free, artificial sweeteners offer only partial activation of the food reward pathways in the brain. This means that we are not fully satisfied even after eating, and are motivated to eat more.

Research also indicates that artificially sweetened food may actually encourage sugar cravings. This is because the more often we are exposed to a flavor, the more this becomes a preference for us. So, if we are used to the intense sweetness of artificially sweetened food and beverages, we start favoring them more than naturally sweetened food.

Our perception of these foods as being lower in calories also causes us to overeat.

Instead of falling on the diet bandwagon, if we can honor our hunger and check in about what our bodies need and want, we can start moving towards becoming an intuitive eater. As part of this process, I have become aware that I want food with a creamy texture nowadays. That means that soups and broths are highly satisfying. I also know that I always enjoy a warm breakfast, especially in the winters, but regardless of the weather. I also love the satisfying crunch of sugar snap peas and I love food with specific tastes like ginger.

Including these different preferences in my daily meals makes for a more satisfying experience. It also means that I am nurturing my self by giving importance to what I like and don't like. It helps me look for satisfying and healthy options without making food into something bigger than it is.

This is only one step in learning to eat intuitively, but learning to take pleasure in what we eat is a good place to start when we are re-deciding how we want to eat and live.   

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