Have you ever worked hard on something but felt like you were missing a step? It’s easy enough to find that missing piece if, say, you’re putting a puzzle together and a piece is missing. 🧩
Weight loss can feel like something is missing all the time. You know there’s an important piece you need somewhere to make the process A LOT easier… where there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to the process.
One of the crucial pieces I was missing in my weight loss was this: I was ignoring how I ate. I didn’t realize this was an important lesson to learn if I wanted to not only lose weight, but to keep it off.
Changing How I Ate
When I was studying to be Level 1 Certified in Exercise Nutrition with Precision Nutrition, I lasered in on something so obvious yet so foreign to me. 🤯
There are three levels of nutrition most people fall into when they want to improve their health: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3*. As a coach, these levels help me know how much my client knows about nutrition, what their goals are, how competent and skilled they are to accomplish those goals, and most importantly, how consistent they are in taking those actions to reach those goals.
Consistency is the central factor that lets me know what level my client is in. You can think of Level 1 as the foundation where you build sturdy and sustainable habits to improve your health, achieve a lean and strong body, and perform well athletically. Each level increases in complexity and difficulty based on your health goals.
For a few years, I thought I was proficient at Level 3, which is extreme body composition… and it’s about where I wanted to stay. The thing is, with my bingeing and constant anxiety around food, I was holding onto my Level 3 goals by a thin thread. 😬 I was getting worse at staying there, and it was because I hadn’t mastered the basics. I had to relearn what it was like to behave at Level 1 and learn how to eat again, especially with the long-term goals I ultimately wanted to achieve for my body and for my health.
Relearning The Basics and Not Making it Mean Failure
I was afraid of “going backwards” and what that might mean… that I was never really capable of reaching my ultimate physique goal. That the athletic, lean figure I really wanted to live my life in wasn’t in the cards for me. 😞
My body made the decision for me. I was not recovering from my workouts because I was using them to stay ahead of my bingeing and overeating episodes. I wasn’t sore anymore because I was constantly in fatigue and some pain. 🤕 I took a leap of faith and went “backwards,” down to Level 1. Besides, what I was currently doing wasn’t working. I asked myself, “What do I want ‘normal eating’ to look like for me? What would it look like if eating was easy?”
I went to my younger self to tell me. 👧🏻 Have you seen how toddlers and kids eat? They know how to eat. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied. They’ll sit with half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for hours on the couch enjoying every lick, bite and taste. They’ll tell stories in their mind as they eat with that peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a sidekick. They truly enjoy the food. Part of the joy of their existence at that age is enjoying food.
I wasn’t enjoying food at my adult age anymore. I was scared of food, I was anxious around it, and I was mad at it. I didn’t want to eat food feeling this way anymore.
The more I read about the human body from the physiological standpoint – meaning, I looked at my body without the drama of my thoughts and emotions swirling around my body’s basic needs – the more I considered that perhaps my body knew what it wanted rather than me imposing on it what I thought it needed based on what I had read on a short Instagram post from a #fitfluencer earlier that week.
Here’s some science about eating:
Did you know that your brain starts the digestive process, not your stomach? 🧠 If you’re hungry – physical or emotional – your brain starts to decrease the intensity and urgency of that hunger as soon as it senses food is on its way to your digestive system.
The problem is, we inhale our food so quickly and with such large bites that our brain doesn’t transmit the signal to your digestive system until you’re possibly a few hundred calories in. And if you’re trying to lose weight, and especially if you want to never gain the weight back, then you must pay attention to how much you’re eating and be deliberate with how much you eat.
Kiss Your Food 💋
Think about your mouth, specifically your lips. Physically (remember, sans thoughts and emotions) your brain registers food coming in as soon as you smell food and when the food hits your lips. Your lips are the first muscles that help your body digest its food properly. 😋
If you’re struggling with overeating because you’re worried about “feeling hungry later,” then have you paid attention to how you’re currently eating your food?
How big are the bites you take?
Do your lips spend any time on the food on your fork before it’s all in your mouth?
How much food do you try to pile on your fork?
Do you let your lips assist in tasting the ingredients on the fork, or do you skip past that step and go straight to your tongue? How does the texture change as you’re chewing?
Is your experience of eating one bite fun, sad, or meh?
This is where you get to change things for the better. 🤩
When you change how you eat, you’ll change how you overeat.👈 Most importantly, you’ll change your attitude about your how you eat and gain some self-trust and agency in the results you get from just changing how you eat. If you’re like I was and you don’t trust yourself around food because you think you’ll just eat it all if left to your own devices, then this step is crucial for you to take.
You can try this at your very next meal, whether it’s a sandwich 🥪 or a forkful of pasta.🍝 Start eating with your lips. Kind of like you do when you slowly enjoy two bites from one spoonful of yogurt, or when you use your lips to enjoy that first sip of your morning coffee. ☕️
You’ve heard of the “mind-muscle connection” that’s important to make when you’re working out and lifting weights, right? When you eat, pay attention to your “mind-lip connection” 👄 so that you help your brain diminish the urgency of hunger.
Why is it important to do this?
Because eating hasn’t been easy for you. If you’re feeling anxious before, during, and after a meal, then eating isn’t easy for you. And it should be. It’s just food. But if your brain is already thinking anxiously about when your next meal is coming and what it might be/could be/should be, then you’re ignoring the food in front you, and you won’t mentally feel full from it, which means you might think that you “should eat more” so that you can stop worrying about whether or not you’re full. Then you eat more, and the more you do this, the more weight you gain, or the harder you make it to keep the weight off. Pay attention to how you eat and start with your lips.
This is what goes through your brain from a purely physical perspective as the food on your fork is coming into your mouth:
- 👃 Nose: the smell of food signals your brain that food is coming. Retronasal olfaction (smelling of food) is part of the satiety sensation. Keeping food in your mouth longer and smelling the food through your throat as you’re chewing and swallowing lets your brain know (and chill) that nutrients are coming.
- 👄 Lips: Food touches your lips, and the texture and temperature of the food sends even more signals to your brain [to chill].
- 👅 Mouth: Food touches the roof of your mouth, your tongue, your salivary glands, your teeth, which then start to chew the food, then break it down and provide even more smells, flavors, and texture changes as the pieces get smaller.
- The length of time it took you to read these bullet points is a good gauge of how long it takes your brain to register that food is being eaten and transmit what is happening to your hormones. And you’re only on your first bite!
Kiss your food. It’s how you’ll not only have fun with it like you did when you were younger, but you’ll calm your nervous system down because your mind will be focused on the food in front of you rather than stressed about food in the future (which, by the way, only exists in your mind at that moment, not in reality… it’s like being stressed about Christmas cookies but it’s only July🎄).
Let’s Bring Thoughts and Emotions Back In
Having a “better relationship with food” actually means having a better relationship with yourself. Your body knows what to do to take care of itself. It will let you know when it’s hungry, when it’s full, when it’s tired, when it needs to relieve itself 💩, when it has energy to burn off, etc. Your thoughts about those physical signals by thinking they’re bad, wrong, uncomfortable, or inconvenient in some way is causing your overeating.
It sounds counterintuitive, but when you literally slow down how you eat, you slow down your overeating. That means you eventually stop overeating and you’re just eating normally. Instead of letting your mind guide how you eat, let your body do it for you. You can do this in a way and at a pace that feels just right for you. 😊
Here are some ways you can get yourself to that Goldilocks “just right” place where your brain and body are working together. You’ll be eating more normally, you’ll actually enjoy the food you’re eating, and your mind will be more relaxed because it will register fullness because your mind was actually present while you ate that sandwich.
- Plan your next meal. 🗓
Make sure it hits an 8 or above on a scale of 1-10 of satiety and enjoyment (will this meal help me feel physically and emotionally satisfied?). If it’s a 7 or below, change something about your meal until it’s at least at an 8.
- Have water with you. Always. 💦
Take small sips to not only help your esophagus send the food down to your stomach more smoothly, but to also slow down your chewing so that you can taste the food in case you catch yourself eating quickly again.
- Go for a 5-10 min walk after the meal. 🚶♀️
Not only will that help your digestive system do its job well, it’ll help calm your mind by encouraging it to allow that meal to be enough. It’ll help remove the confusion you’ve experienced so many times before after you’ve finished a meal but wondered, “Am I full from that? Could I eat more?”
Kiss your food. It’s a small step, but it’s an important one.
Go get that dream body of yours,
P.S. If starting small is difficult for you because your thoughts and expectations are too strong, then please email me or schedule a consult call. Stopping overeating is possible, and it begins with small but impactful steps like these.
* This content is used under licence from Precision Nutrition Inc. and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or otherwise used or reused in any way without the express written permission of the owner. Copyright © 2021 Precision Nutrition Inc. For more information about Precision Nutrition, visit www.precisionnutrition.com.