Mindful Eating, Conscious Decisions

Over the weekend I realized something. I wanted nutrient dense foods, I craved some good ol' fruit and vegetables. The past few months I have been working hard to liberalize certain foods in my diet such as chocolate, maple syrup, and donuts. I used to feel guilty about eating them and now it's just another food. I wake up and ask myself if I want maple syrup in my oatmeal. At night, I ask myself if I want some chocolate or something else to end the meal. Sure, some days I still struggle with a twinge of guilt, but most days it's just a question. It's no longer an internal struggle.

Maple syrup in my oatmeal and maple water in my mason jar!

Over the weekend I ate a lot of french fries, movie theatre popcorn, ice cream, donuts, and drank quite a bit of wine. That usually happens when I spend the weekend with my twin sister. We also ran a half marathon and crushed it so clearly we wanted all the food! I also tend to eat fewer fruit and vegetables when I am traveling. There is only so much you can do and you know what? One meal or one day or even one week is not going to make or break you.

One part of mindful eating is accepting that sometimes you need to eat what is available. 

When I was in Portland I ended up having an atrocious time finding parking and a restaurant to eat at. I wanted something nutritious, but knew that I didn't have a lot of time to spend looking for a restaurant and likely didn't have time for a sit down restaurant. I likely should have eaten where my meeting was, but I had to pick up donuts before they sold out (priorities, right?). Then after driving around in circles for close to a half hour I finally found somewhere to park and proceeded to walk around looking for a place to eat. So many people were out and about eating that I finally settled on this fast-food-esque burger place which had no line. I wasn't thrilled about the choice because my body wanted something a bit more nutritious, but I knew I needed food. Therefore, I made it as nutritious as I could by getting the chicken sandwich wrapped in lettuce for extra veggies!

There is a Cabot annex store in Portland, Maine!

Where I wanted to eat but didn't have time...look at the cobblestone!!!

One part of mindful eating is being aware when you are eating for reasons other than hunger. 

After my meeting in Portland I was feeling a bit frazzled. By the time I got back to Julie's I was ready to put on my sweat pants and open a bottle of wine. Being the lucky girl that I am Julie shared a delicious bottle of wine that she had shipped from Napa. It actually tasted like graham crackers! So yummy. Greg also shared some ciders that he bought and grilled up a storm while I prepared a salad. I knew I wanted some vegetables so a massaged kale salad it was. But after dinner I chose to wallow a bit more and enjoy another donut (I had one earlier in the day and I did get 24...) Dark chocolate sea salt blew my mind...even if it was gluten free.

Soaking up those rays.

Could live my whole life in this backyard and be content.

One part of mindful eating is listening to your hunger and fullness cues. 

I struggle with this on a day to day basis. Growing up in a clean-plate-club household dulled my hunger and fullness cues. I also value sustainability and hate to waste food. When things go bad in my refrigerator before I can eat them it's a true moral dilemma. Do I eat the bad food or dispose of it?! Anyways, when I am sick or overly emotional it's that much harder for me to listen to my cues. I basically just tell myself to eat because I know that I need to. Marathon training also has thrown me for a completely new loop.

One part of mindful eating is being non-judgmental. 

Food is food. It fuels our body so that we can do the things that we love on a day to day basis. Food helps me to succeed in school. Food gives me the energy to run my training runs so that I can crush PRs. Some days I eat more nutritious foods or more balanced. Other days I indulge on donuts or have fries multiple days in a row. Some days I listen to my hunger to tell me when to eat. Other days I eat according to a schedule or eat when I am not hungry. Every eating moment is an opportunity. And just like with life, some opportunities are better than others. Just learn from it and move on :)

Now that the weather is getting nicer I am excited to incorporate more salads and fresh fruit and vegetables. I think I've managed to eat all of the Dairy too! Overnight oats are on the horizon!

Sweet(s) Love

If you want a cookie eat a cookie. If you want ice cream eat ice cream (it's FREE CONE DAY so you better be eating ice cream). If you want a donut eat a donut (I want a Holy Donut). img_5773

(How many times will I show this picture...)

It's Girl Scout Cookie season. It's Easter season. It's OFFICIALLY creemee season!!! Heck, it's Spring and it's rainy and that just makes me want to enjoy some sweets (hello, instant gratification).

creemee

I came across an article today that left me speechless. I won't get into the specifics of the article because let's be honest, the journalist was just doing his/her job. The article was a perfect example of what is called diet culture (aka restrictive eating, labeling foods as good/bad/off-limits, calorie counting, etc.), but it inspired me to write this post.

Let me break this down. First, all cookies/cakes/ice creams/donuts are not created equal, nor should they be. Sure the peanut butter cookies have more calories than the plain sugar cookies or an ice cream with mix ins like nuts or candies has more calories than a plain vanilla. The peanut butter cookies contain peanut butter, though (shocker, I know), which is nutritious and has vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, etc. "Plainer" sweets have fewer nutrients, but also fewer calories. No cookie is better than another. A cookie is a cookie (and I love cookies). No ice cream is better than another. None are good. None are bad. Maybe some taste good and maybe some taste bad, but cookies/cakes/donuts/ice cream do not have moral value. Eat because you want to or because you are hungry. Consider the nutrients that you're providing for your body. Consider how the food makes you feel. Does the food bring back memories?  I remember all my previous free cone days in the land where Ben and Jerry's originated and this may be my last one here for a while (grabbing a tissue). Today I tried Frozen Flakes, which is Ben and Jerry's rendition of Frosted Flakes. I grew up eating Frosted Flakes every day as a child and my dad always commenting with, "Theyyyy'rrreeee great!" when he came downstairs in the morning.

Second, why can't we enjoy desserts (or all foods for that matter) in peace without thinking about what we need to do to burn them off? This stimulates disordered eating and the dichotomous thinking that sweets are bad and once they touch our lips we need to compensate because immediately that cookie goes straight to our hips. Wrong. We are sculpted by society to believe that we "need" to cut back later in the day (aka restrict) or burn off what we should not have just indulged in in the first place. That is disordered eating. Dessert is part of normal eating. Cookies are food. Donuts are food. Ice cream is food. Dessert is not the enemy. Sweets provide calories, fat, carbohydrates and some protein (maybe).  What makes dessert different from dinner or breakfast? NOTHING. Because sweets are not bad. Eating cookies is not wrong.

apply cake

Legalize all foods, including Girl Scout Cookies, donuts, ice cream, etc. And if you can't then seek out a dietitian to help you trust your body and learn to enjoy all foods again. I am not saying this is an easy process. But what I am trying to say is that the media supports diet culture and society encourages restriction. If this is ever going to change we need to look at articles with a critical eye and wonder if what is being said is supporting the diet mentality. Guaranteed most of the time it is. If you truly want a cookie eat the cookie and enjoy it. If you want to go to Free Cone Day then enjoy Free Cone Day! Every eating event is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your body. Isn't that exciting?

 

Special thanks to my friend Christine for editing this post and providing insight.

March Running

Tomorrow is the first day of April. Where did the time go?! In about 6 weeks I will be done with graduate school and getting ready to get my diploma! Excuse me?! But how?? March was a month of accomplishments in my opinion, mostly on the running front. I am feeling really good right now and after a tough Spring Break I have been doing well with my tempos and (some of) my speeds.

In March I ran 151.44 miles! 

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I ran my farthest mileage to date. 15 miles -> 17 miles. To come this weekend: 18 miles.

Reaching 40 miles per week. I thought it would suck and some days it does because it's hard for me to feel energized and ready to run when I'm still in graduate school and working 16-24 hours a week. But once I get into my groove the runs usually feel great!

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With that said here's an update on my relationship with mindful eating. I would say it's not going as well as I would like, but part of mindful eating is being curious and treating every eating opportunity as an experience. Some days I am better at listening to my hunger, but other days (usually when I am at work) I find myself eating snacks because I have a break or I know if I don't eat then I won't have another chance for a long while. What truly helps and what I have been slacking at immensely is setting the table and actually sitting down to enjoy a meal. I need to get back to doing that because it makes meals much more satisfying!

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Legalizing food is going great. I no longer feel tied to chocolate or maple syrup because I know it's there. Sure at first I wanted it every day and did have it every day. And sometimes I want to have more than just a little bit or a typical serving size and that's okay too.

My hunger is no longer as insatiable, but I do notice that I have been getting hungry later in the evening. Tonight around 9pm I was feeling a bit hungry (either that or I really just wanted some banana bread). I think that with my increased mileage I need to start having a consistent snack at night. I am going to make and freeze some banana bread this weekend because I can't get enough. I have some almonds, cocoa roasted almonds, pretzels, and popcorn in my pantry right now so those are options as well. I've never really been a huge post dinner snacker, usually just some dessert, but it may be helpful to get the calories and carbohydrates that my body needs. It's trial and error!

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For a while in March I was feeling a bit off. I felt like my clothes weren't fitting well and that I was putting on some weight. BUT weight is not everything. I have been running a lot more and this can definitely impact my body weight and size. I've also been eating more and differently with the increase in activity and having more time to spend with my friends. My sister and I were also just talking about how we are in food funks. The weather has been terrible and the gloominess gives me no desire to cook and put effort into my meals. On the plus side I love having the time to go out with friends or hang in with friends. It's been so refreshing!

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I keep reminding myself that weight is not everything. Your body naturally changes with seasons, with age, with almost anything. When I run a faster speed or a longer distance I smile and love what my body can do. I think about my legs and how strong and great they are. And how my body has given me so many opportunities. It's been an amazing month of pushing my body to see what it's capable of. Body appreciation. But it's an everyday process and sometimes struggle because of the type of society that we live in.

Instead of focusing on my weight and how my clothes fit, I am going to continue to focus on fueling my body with foods that are nutritious and satisfying, but also with foods that may be less nutritious and just as satisfying. Some days I love whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and healthy fats (hello, have you seen my buddha bowls lately). Other days I just want slice after slice of banana bread, pizza, and french fries with a few drinks on the side. There's nothing wrong with that. Last night I had basil hard cider and crispy french fries! Like I have said before, food is about so much more than the nutrients. We eat food to connect to our culture, to connect to people, and to have an overall experience.

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March was a great month and I spent a good chunk with family. April brings new adventures (another trip to Boston, Julie coming to visit, a half marathon, research presentations, and basically the LAST MONTH of school!) It's so surreal and I plan to soak in as much of Vermont as I can before I move.

Sweet Teeth and My Journey

My family has sweet teeth. I love sweets so much that I definitely have more than one sweet tooth...and it's definitely genetic :) Whenever I go home my dad tries to convince me to make him cookies and if I agree he will eat quite a few when I am not looking. I've started saving him cookies whenever I don my baking cap. img_5629-1

All over the internet these days you see posts about "clean eating", how to cut back on sugar, healthy this, unhealthy that, and. so. on. I cringe when I see these titles and I never read the posts. As a future dietitian I understand that certain foods are more nutritious than others, but I do not label foods as healthy or unhealthy or good or bad. Yes the vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that I ate for dinner were more nutritious than the handfuls (yes, multiple) of chocolate chips that I had afterwards. But food does not have moral value and so the chocolate chips cannot be bad. Chocolate chips are simply cane sugar, cocoa, butter, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract. And you know what, they tasted delicious.

I have been trying to be more mindful lately and really that means being aware of internal and external hunger cues. Today my hormones and my level of tiredness were definite sources of motivation that led me to the cupboard. And I knew I was in a chocolate mood and I accepted that. Therefore, I let myself finish the bag, which was a few handfuls. Sure I could have had less, but I chose to eat the chocolate chips. I knew I was eating out of tiredness, frustration, emotions, etc. Today was one of those days after 8 hours of work and a midterm that I did not have the energy to be intuitive and to analyze why I was eating dessert and what I could do differently. My schedule has been completely out of whack since Spring Break and I acknowledged that and let myself have a larger than usual treat. It's been a trend lately.

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(my treat a few nights ago)

This is not to say that I am not using mindfulness, because I am. I am aware of the reasons behind my choice to eat the chocolate chips. I am aware why I felt driven to consume them.

Some people argue that "people would eat healthier if they just had more willpower..." Is that really all it is? If I had more will power tonight would I have eaten fewer chocolate chips? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I have felt less stress? No. I probably would have felt more stressed by depriving myself of the instant gratification that comes from chocolate for me. And stress can cause it's own problems on the body. Hello tension headaches, upset stomached, and anxiety. Would I have been healthier if I had eaten fewer chocolate chips? No. Because a few handfuls of chocolate is not going to define who I am or my eating habits or eating style. For the most part I consume whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, legumes, etc. Sure I love my chocolate and most days I only have a piece or two to cure that craving, but some days I have a few handfuls of chocolate chips and other days I have a thick slice of peanut butter pie.

Eating these foods do not make me a failure. Healthy versus unhealthy is not black and white like the media and society makes it seem, but rather a continuum and honestly any foods can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. I feel that I am being healthy by allowing myself a few extra handfuls of chocolate to unwind after a long day and what has already been a long week. I am putting less stress on my body. I have added to my health by consuming nutrient dense foods throughout the day and these chocolate chips do not mitigate or take away from that. It's all about the entire picture.

And it's not just about willpower. One of my favorite presentations by one of my professors talks about willpower and how you only have so much of it. If you use all of your willpower and decision making capabilities in other areas of your life (aka at work and school or while exercising) then it makes using willpower to eat "better" that much harder. So no, willpower is not the answer.

Eat to obtain nutrients for your body.

Eat for pleasure.

Eat alone.

Eat with friends.

Eat at home.

Eat at restaurants.

Give your body the nutrients that it needs and deserves, but also acknowledge that eating is so much more than biological. It's social and cultural. It's an event and it can be therapeutic. For these reasons eating is complex. This is why normal eating emphasizes eating a variety of foods (while not labeling foods as good or bad) and overeating or under-eating on occasion. Normal eating is broad and all encompassing so eat and be you. Don't let eating (or certain foods) define you.