What Influences Our Eating? (an intro, for now)

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

my lecture notes from class (and my cool sparkly, animal-print notebook, because I like to embrace my inner child while learning).

Last week, I started another year as a nutrition student as the fall semester commenced. So far, I really like the classes I’m taking. One class called “Energy & Exercise” is going to be a favorite, I think. This class is focused on weight control methods, exercise physiology, and energy balance. We’re also going to learn about eating disorders and how to prevent eating disordered behavior through promoting healthy eating habits and fostering a healthy body image in our future clients’ lives.

In yesterday’s lecture, we discussed some factors that influence our eating. This topic is of particular interest to me because of my own experiences and my belief that mindful eating is the most natural, effective way to eat healthfully while maintaining a balanced approach to diet.

Most people think that hunger, advertisements, being around food in a social setting, and emotions/stress are the top influencers of food consumption, however, I’m learning that there is SO much more to it. Neuropeptides and hormones such as neuropeptide Y, galanin, agouti-related protein, prolactin, and gherlin all have an effect on our appetites. I won’t go into too much detail about the science, because we’ve only just brushed the surface in class, but so far I’m learning that it’s a common misconception that all it takes to control ones appetite is willpower. I actually think I always knew this, because I consider myself (mostly) strong-willed, but still cave into cravings. It’s interesting to have scientific evidence that our feeding and food intake is not always so cut-and-dry.

It’s helpful to learn that there are physiological factors that lead us to eat certain foods because many people who have not struggled with their weight are quick to judge those who are overweight. It’s not always as simple as “eat this, don’t eat that” because, as I’m learning, there are so many factors that go into weight and food intake regulation. It can be frustrating when you look to diet books or magazines advising you to follow a strict diet and then you fail (or perceive failure when you haven’t lost ‘x” amount of lbs), but I hope that as a (future) dietitian, I can help my clients understand that weight has many influences to it, and then help them make the best dietary choices to counteract some factors that may be out of their own control (genetics, hormones, etc). Keep reading and I’ll continue to elaborate on this topic in future posts. There’s so much I have yet to learn and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

-Jess

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Chocolate Chip-Granola Compassion Cookies

Cookies in the morning sunlight

Cookies in the morning sunlight

Greetings and happy (almost) summer solstice! The recipe I’m sharing today has nothing to do with summer. After all, chocolate chip cookies can be eaten year-round and aren’t necessarily something I think of as a summer treat. Regardless, I’m sharing this recipe because of the reasons why I decided to wake up early this morning and create these cookies in the first place. Lately my schedule has been jam-packed due to taking an intensive summer class (microbiology and a microbiology lab) and the start of a new job. These two factors have led me to indulge in some not-so-healthy eating, in the form of coming home late at night and indulging in some of my favorite healthy, yet, junky foods. I realized this past week, that I keep buying foods that I tend to overeat (cereal, granola, chocolate chips, and trail mix, although healthy, are my weaknesses and I never eat just one serving). As I’ve written in previous posts, using food during stress is common, but it shouldn’t be your go-to way to relax. With this in mind (and after eating one too many bowls of granola in bed this past week), I decided to make it easier for myself to not over-do my granola + chocolate chip habit by baking cookies that I can share and give to others. If you find yourself eating the same foods during times of stress, or simply when you’re not actually physically hungry, one easy step to alleviate this problem is by getting rid of the “trigger food”. Instead of being wasteful, either make a dish for someone else or donate the food item to a food bank. If the food is already opened, see if you can contact any organizations that accept fresh yet opened food (many do) or if you live in an area with a visible homeless population, consider showing some kindness and giving your food to a homeless person directly. Kindness towards yourself (by not using food to cope with stress) and kindness towards others (by donating said food items) is a win-win. Here’s my recipe for chocolate-chip granola cookies, or as I’m calling them “Compassion Cookies”. Enjoy and share your food!

Compassion Cookies 

photo.PNG-4

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour (it can be whole wheat, spelt flour, almond meal, gluten-free, whatever floats your boat)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (softened, I microwaved it in a bowl for 45 seconds)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk (or almond milk)
  • 1.5 cups granola (I used Nature’s Path Cinnamon Raisin Granola)
  • approx. 8 oz. vegan chocolate chips (I used sunspire organic 65% cacao chocolate chips, but I know trader joe’s also makes vegan chocolate chips)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • Create a well in the dry ingredients and add applesauce, vanilla extract, and melted coconut oil.
  • Add the soy milk
  • Add the granola and chocolate chips.
  • Mix well.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with non-stick spray
  • Using a spoon, spoon cookie batter onto the sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes
  • Remove from the pan, allow to cool.
  • Share and enjoy!

 

-Jess

 

Mindfulness Matters: Keep a Food Journal to Limit Stress-Eating

Keeping a mindful eating guide can be helpful, and can be stored with your food journal.

Keeping a mindful eating guide can be helpful, and can be stored with your food journal.

As I’ve written in previous posts, the connection between stress and how we eat, or what influences our eating is huge. Nutrition is obviously important, but the reasons for why we decide to consume food (whether it is hunger, celebration, or emotionally-driven eating) is equally important. For me, I know during times of stress, food can be comforting. As someone who is trying to practice what I preach, the keys to stopping emotionally-driven eating involve some work but the payoff is worth it. Food journaling has been shown to not only help people become more aware to the specific foods and amounts one is consuming, but it also helps diminish emotional or stress-eating, which is something we’ve probably all done from time to time.

I’ve always been a fan of food journaling, but it’s only been recently that I’ve paid more attention to the reasons why and how I eat, rather than what. If you have a basic knowledge of nutrition and you’re maintaining a healthy weight, chances are, nutritionally- you’re doing something right, but you may be struggling with turning to food at inappropriate times. The first piece of advice I would give to anyone who feels that they use food during times of stress, would be to buy a notebook and write down when you feel stressed. You may be so anxious or stressed-out that you don’t even realize it or can’t even pinpoint a specific stressor, but it’s important to let your mind be free and write it all down. No one else has to read your words, so using a free flowing writing style is A-ok in my book. Next, write down why you think food can help you. Be completely honest with yourself. If you’ve already eaten, and you’re doing a post-meal/snack/binge “confession”, write down what you think led to your eating indiscretion. There is absolutely no shame, despite what your brain might tell you. The key here is to not place blame on yourself. Chances are, food has been your go-to stress-relief for a while, so being nonjudgmental towards yourself in a situation that may have produced guilt in the past is really important.

After you’ve written down your feelings about the food and eating, it’s now time to examine better ways to handle a stressful situation next time. One way to stop a stress-induced-eating episode is to keep your food journal with you at all times and right before you’re about to eat, remind yourself to write down how you’re feeling. Ask yourself, “will food solve this problem in the long-run?”. Although food might provide some immediate comfort and distraction, the answer is probably no, food is not the solution (unless you are actually hungry, then please, do eat something!). Being able to identify healthier ways to deal with stress is a baby step onto real, serious change, so even pausing and writing in a food journal shows great progress. Creating an eating plan for the next day may sound like a good idea, but if you feel that may add additional stress to your life, keeping the focus off food is better. Instead, resolve to pause before eating, take a walk when stressed, or practice meditation. Even sitting for 2 minutes before deciding to use food during stress may help calm your head and change your mind.

Journaling and mindfulness are two ways to get in touch with the factors that lead you to eat, but if you’re facing a problem that you just can’t seem to fix and food is the only solution you can think of, it’s important to get help. Confiding in a friend, social worker, psychologist, or other person you can trust can help you deal with the issues at hand, and may help you find solutions to your problems and also guide you towards diminishing problematic behavior such as stress-eating.

Since I’ve decided to make my blog a little more personal in certain posts, I was actually inspired to write this because I have found much help with the use of a food journal and even on days when I do have a food faux pas (that’s my code for “stress eating episode”!), the use of a journal has helped me immensely. Today in particular I was feeling stressed out due to an issue unrelated to food or school, or anything related to this blog, and I came home and ate a sandwich. Afterwards, I continued to eat some snacks, and then I started to feel uncomfortably full. I took my food journal, and wrote down what I felt, and I wrote an entire page of what was plaguing me throughout the day. It made me realize how important it is to examine my thoughts as they’re occurring, or simply not give into cognitive distortions that my mind is telling me (if you haven’t guessed, yes, I was a psych major). Even though I did eat more than I was hungry for and even though I did happen to give into my stress, it’s great to be able to realize that I can face an issue simply by writing down my thoughts. Sometimes we have to go through a process, whether it seems imperfect in the moment, to be able to realize that we may have the answers within ourselves. Allowing a screw-up to happen is okay, if we’re able to grow from it (and we’re not hurting anyone else in the process. Luckily eating a few extra snacks is not terribly destructive). My final piece of advice is to allow yourself to feel, experience, observe, and write without judgment and see how far you can go!

-Jess

A Simple Way of Eating

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

Lately I’ve been cooking and creating so many new dishes and even though I’m having a ton of fun in the kitchen, my stomach is starting to complain (I tend to use a lot of spices while cooking and I eat a lot of difficult-to-digest beans and grains). I also find that trying to constantly come up with new meals can take a toll, especially when my main focus should be on school (I’m currently pursuing two degrees, both in nutrition!). So, I’ve decided to simplify my diet and eat pretty basic, nutrient-packed meals for the time being. Besides my stomach pains and limited time and energy due to my classes, another reason why I’ve decided to get back to basics when it comes to eating is an inner feeling that my body just craves real simple food right now, instead of the complicated yet tasty meals I’ve been making. As I’ve mentioned many times throughout my blog, I’m a big fan of (trying) to listen to one’s body. Not only am I an advocate of intuitive eating, I’m also on my own journey to eat more intuitively and be less dependent on external factors (like counting calories and eating at certain pre-determined times during the day).

A blood orange up close and personal!

Luckily, the food stores I shop at have a great variety of fresh produce. Here’s a blood orange, up-close and personal.

I don’t really have a plan of what I’m going to eat, because that would be counter-productive to the goals of intuitive eating. However, I know that for the past few weeks I’ve been eating a ton of oatmeal (see my previous post—all those photos are from my own breakfasts!), tofu, wraps and sandwiches with spicy hummus galore, and a lot of other bean and veggie dishes. Obviously, I eat quite healthy, but my stomachaches indicate I should switch up my diet. I keep craving really simple meals (like fruit, salads, soup, nuts) so I’ve purposely stocked my pantry and fridge with the above. I also had a wild thought of trying to wean myself off of coffee (I’m heavily dependent on the magical bean elixir) but I will get back to you on that in the A.M. hours! (Update: Still drinking coffee, and even wrote a new blog post on coffee!)

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish figs. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish apricots. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

How do you know when it’s time to make a change in your diet? Is your weight the first thing you check, or are you more aware of your energy levels, digestion, and overall wellbeing? Feel free to share your input!

-Jess

When Counting Calories Becomes Harmful, Instead of Helpful

For anyone that has been reading my blog since I started posting regularly, I tend to take moderate approach to eating and diets. That is, I don’t advocate for elimination diets or encourage people to worry about every morsel that goes into one’s mouth. I write this way because I feel moderation and mindfulness are the two keys to having a good relationship with food while staying healthy. I know from experience that for many people, myself included, going on a restricted diet or being obsessed with calories often is just that—an obsession. I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to write about this issue from my own perspective, so I’m going to dedicate this entry to my experiences with calorie counting. Some of you reading may disagree with my own personal feelings on the matter because calorie counting is a legitimate way to lose weight (assuming there is an actual deficit of calories burned vs. consumed). I’m not disagreeing with the laws of thermodynamics, rather I am writing this for people who have counted calories and feel obsessive about it, and for people who have suffered from disordered eating and want to break free of their obsessions with food and calories.

In my experience, once you get into the habit of counting calories and start to get obsessive about it, it can become more destructive than it is helpful. Food becomes only about calories and a lot of judgment can occur based on whether you were “good” or “bad” that day, depending on whether you stayed under your calorie allowance. The pleasure of food is often reduced or eliminated once you begin to see food as calories, which are unwanted to any dieter aiming to lose weight. This is a very destructive mindset to get into, because food is fuel. It can also backfire heavily and lead you to eat in rebellion, because as soon as you eat the forbidden food or go above your allotted calories for the day, you might feel like a failure and simply give up on attempts to be healthier. In a worst case scenario, when this goes on repeatedly it can lead to restricting/compensation eating disorders or binge eating disorder.  Sure, on a “good” day of eating, you may feel powerful and in control, but on a “bad” day of eating, you may feel like an utter failure. This disordered way of viewing food can be avoided by using a different method other than calorie counting to achieve health and weight loss (if desired).

If you feel the need to lose weight, first you need to look at your habits of how you gained weight. Was it a decrease in activity? Increase in junk food?  A combination of both? Once you pin point the definite contributors, you may also want to take a look at what was going on during the period of weight change. Were you under stress for a particular reason? Did you use food to cope with the stress? If so, there are many ways to reduce stress that do not involve food (Listed at the end of this entry are some resources for reducing stress). The next step is to figure out what foods you are likely to overeat. Sweet, salty, high-fat foods are usually everyone’s weakness, which isn’t to say you should completely eliminate them from your diet, but if you keep a steady supply of junk food in your kitchen, you might want to reconsider and only have small portions available or only treat yourself to such foods as a special occasion.

Another change you can make instead of calorie counting is to become a mindful eater. I wrote a post about mindful eating earlier in October, but I will restate the importance of mindfulness with regards to food and eating. Being present during a meal or eating experience is essential for people who eat on autopilot, as well as those who view food solely as calories. It is difficult to truly enjoy a meal when you’re distracted or anxiously calculating the calories in each bite. It is also difficult to gauge your hunger and fullness when you’re not in the present moment. Being mindful allows you to consult your stomach (ask yourself if you are hungry/full/something in between) and your brain (decide what food choice would be both healthy and satisfying) without having to stress out about macronutrient minutia. As you become more in touch with yourself using mindfulness techniques, you’ll probably eat less due to not being distracted or anxious.  Food is also a lot more satisfying, and thus you may require less of it to feel satisfied, when you are actually paying attention to all the sensations that eating involves.

Some of you, especially dieters who’ve relied on counting calories for a long time, may find it difficult to get out of the calorie counting habit and I can definitely relate. I find it very difficult to NOT count calories because I’ve been a calorie counter since my early teens. My wish for anyone that feels obsessive about calorie counting is to get out of that habit as soon as possible by being mindful and using food as fuel. If calorie counting is working for you or you have a detail-oriented mindset and don’t judge yourself for minor food indiscretions, then keep doing what’s working. For anyone that suspects their relationship with food has taken a destructive turn, please visit the following link for a self-assessment to determine whether you may have an eating disorder.

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/online-eating-disorder-screening

You can also find additional resources on the National Eating Disorder Association website.

Here are some tips for stress relief without using food:

  • Get out of the house/out of the area where junk food is present. Take a ride or walk around your neighborhood.
  • Paint, draw, make beaded jewelry…or take a trip to the nearest art supply store and buy the materials for all of the above!
  • Make an inspirational collage (not using model’s bodies that you wish to attain) but instead, fill it with words of encouragement and pictures of scenery you enjoy. My favorite magazines to use for collages are Outside and Travel + Leisure.
  • Text or call a friend.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Give yourself a manicure.
  • Get a massage
  • Go to an animal shelter and hug some furry friends
  • Go outside and take pictures
  • Do yoga. Instead of judging yourself for any flexibility limitations, enjoy the way it feels as your body stretches.
  • Organize your closet
  • Listen to music and do one or more of the above

Eating disorders go beyond issues related to food and dieting. Although this post was specifically about calorie counting and its relationship with eating disorders, not everyone with an eating disorder is focused on calories specifically and not everyone who counts calories has an eating disorder. In my experience, calorie counting has not been a positive thing for me to focus on and I know many others in the eating disorders and dietetic communities also agree that obsessive calorie monitoring can lead to a distorted relationship with food.

-Jess

How Do You Eat?

We all know how to ingest food, but how does your style of eating influence your health and every day life? Some of you may be asking yourselves, “Style of eating? What is that?”.  Your style of eating can be defined by how you choose the foods you eat. For instance, some people choose to eat whatever is convenient due to their busy schedule, others may plan ahead their meals for the day or week, and others may be more in touch with their bodies and eat what they like, while still focusing on having an overall healthy diet.

I first became aware of “eating styles” when I read the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (both Registered Dietitians). The authors describe several different eating styles, with a focus on how repetitive dieting, stress, and emotions can have a huge effect on how we eat and use food for other reasons besides hunger. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves stressed out about what/how to eat, or to anyone who finds the concept of mindful/intuitive eating interesting (I use the words mindful and intuitive interchangeably, as do the authors of “Intuitive Eating”).

Books on mindful eating approaches

Books on mindful eating approaches

What is mindful eating, you ask? Mindful eating (to me, at least) means being in touch with your body, determining your hunger and satiety signals before and after eating, respectively, and paying close attention to your food and eating experience in the present. Mindful eating makes sense for so many people, from chronic dieters who are fed up with calorie counting, to emotional eaters whose comfort lies at the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Mindful eating has been shown to be very effective in preventing binge eating, which is more common than you think (Binge Eating Disorder affects 2.8% of the U.S. population). Being present (on a mental, emotional, and physical level) while eating also makes food more enjoyable because you’re focusing on the sensual experience of food (taste, texture, smell, which may go unnoticed if you’re in a binge or too focused on the macronutrients of your meal).

While mindful eating is a beneficial practice, it’s still important to consume a healthy diet, and sometimes focusing too much on the pleasurable sensations of eating can lead one to make unhealthy choices (because delicious food is sometimes not the healthiest). Many dietitians/nutritionists advise their clients to have a loose plan of what they’ll eat in advance to avoid being overwhelmed with unhealthy choices when hungry. I know when I’m in a rush or stressed with life in general, I don’t make the healthiest food decisions and this leaves me feeling guilty and physically tired. It’s also incredibly difficult to be a mindful/intuitive eater when you’re used to eating a certain way, therefore taking small steps is a great way to achieve balance between health and pleasure.

How do you find a balance between health and pleasure when it comes to eating? For further information on Mindful Eating approaches, take a look at the links below or pick up a copy of “Intuitive Eating” (Evelyn Tribole, Elyse Resch).

http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/01/11/profile.hawks/

http://www.uhs.berkeley.edu/eda/7Mindful.pdf

-Jess