Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Tao of Eating, part 2: Awareness

The experience of eating should be just that- an experience. If we fail to consciously register our food with our five senses, our brain has no idea it has eaten. Think about it. Has your brain ever taken in even a morsel of food? Of course not. Your brain experiences eating through your senses. It smells the food cooking, sees it steaming in the bowl, then tastes the warm comforting goodness as it caresses your mouth and tongue. If we fail to recognize the sensual nature of the eating experience because we are distracted and stressed, our brain may crave more food no matter how full our stomach may be.

In a culture that rewards multitasking and insists upon productivity, it is no wonder that so many Americans find themselves overweight and unhappy with their diet, no matter how health minded they try to be. It is so common, it almost goes without saying that people will eat while they drive, talk on the phone, read, write, watch TV or surf the net. Most people probably feel guilty for “wasting time” if they are simply eating, without engaging in one or more other daily tasks and assignments. Many of these same people will finish eating on the run or at their desk and within a few minutes will feel empty and unsatisfied, craving more food, even if their stomach feels full. This is because their brain has not yet eaten!

It is scientific fact that your brain plays a large role in your digestion, and it is also fact that there is another equally important and highly developed nervous system located in your abdomen, sometimes referred to as your “gut brain.” This circuit board of nerves controls every craving you have ever had and records every good and bad food choice you have ever made. It knows when it is ok for you to have chocolate and when you should definitely avoid that chili dog at the game. It understands what your body needs and sends a signal to your brain to cue that craving. If you listen very closely to your stomach, figuratively speaking, you will hear it tell you what it wants for dinner.

It is far more effective to allow your body to eat what it craves, when it craves it, than to try to enslave your “gut brain” by depriving it of what it needs based on calories alone. Your body would not crave a food that would give you thunder thighs.

Now, before you go raid the fridge, remember…. You must truly listen. Try not to go bonkers with this information. As you learn to quiet your head brain and listen more closely to your gut brain, you will hear it tell you more often than not that it craves healthful foods. You may have a need for a high fat meal, and your body may tell you it wants avocados, cheese or eggs. Or you may crave sweets, but your body passes up that double layer cherry cheesecake and chooses a chunk of dark chocolate or some fresh fruit instead.

Remember that it is alright to indulge in a food you truly love once in a while, as long as you are aware while you are eating it. That means no cramming it in your mouth before someone else notices, no eating the whole box of cookies or ice cream frantically, and absolutely no pigging out while you watch TV or do other tasks. Your cravings will only be satisfied if you are fully experiencing the food with all of your five senses.

The idea is that if you allow yourself to experience what you desire, you will be satisfied, and your cravings will decrease in frequency and intensity. Eventually you will be able to listen with awareness to your body and know exactly what you need to eat at any given moment. You will begin to eat more healthfully on a daily basis, it will be easier to turn down dessert and those late night munchies will disappear.

If you find yourself wondering how to listen to your body, try this simple exercise. When you begin to feel hungry or notice a craving coming on, take one minute to close your eyes and relax. Breath deeply, and try to clear your mind of thoughts and distractions. It is not necessary to completely empty your mind or achieve a deep state of meditation, you are simply trying to tune in so you can hear your intuition.

Ask yourself, “Am I truly hungry right now, or am I craving something other than food?” Often we use food to cover up and “medicate” other issues in our life, such as emotional distress, lack of intimacy and daily stress. It is important to make sure you are not using food as a distraction for other areas of your life that are out of balance, because emotional and stress eating leads to more dissatisfaction and inevitable weight gain.

If you find you are genuinely hungry, ask yourself simply, “What foods will nourish and satisfy me right now?” The first few times you may feel confused with what you “should” eat based on calories, strict diets or nutrition trends, but as you continue to quiet your head and listen to your gut, you will eventually be able to hear it’s infinite wisdom.

While you are eating, make sure you take the time to see, smell, and taste your food to the fullest extent. Take your time and relish the experience. Turn off electronic devices and try to remove yourself from other distractions. If you are eating with others, enjoy! Food always tastes better and is more satisfying with friends.

It is amazing how empowered you will feel as you turn away from fads and restrictive diets, and become aware of what your actual nutritional needs are. You will free yourself from feeling deprived and unsatisfied, and your body will thank you by giving you more energy and a slimmer waistline!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Tao of Eating, part 1: Time

Americans have a deadly love affair with speed. How many of your daily meals are consumed while you are at your desk, trying to finish that late report you have been stressing about all week, or while driving to your next appointment, or even skipped completely because you just couldn't find the time to eat?!

Do you grab a cup of coffee on the way to work, then nibble on junk at your desk until lunch, when you are lucky if you can find the time to cram down a sandwich or salad, and then wonder, "Why can I never seem to lose these last 15 pounds?"

I have some surprising news for you. What matters infinitely more than what you eat is HOW you eat!

Think about how much time you spent on your meals yesterday. Did you skip breakfast, or did you gobble up a bagel at the early morning meeting? At lunchtime, did you take a lunch break, or did you work through lunch? How long did it actually take you to eat? Many of us may not even remember, because we were so distracted by life all around us that it was almost as if we weren't eating at all. Do you remember feeling satisfied by what you ate? Perhaps you remember more clearly how sluggish or uncomfortable you felt after you ate.

Here's something to chew on. In order for your body and mind to find adequate nutrition in the food you eat, no matter how healthful it is, you have to actually experience the eating process. That means, for most of us, to SLOW DOWN! Realize that this is your opportunity to nourish your body and create energy, and that it is quite probably the most important thing you will be doing that day.

The simple process of slowing down and being present while you eat will not only improve your digestion, but it will also help you shed unwanted pounds and inches.  You see, when we are rushed at meal times, we send a message to our bodies that we are stressed, creating adrenaline which causes the body to store food as fat.  Being in this constant "fight or flight" state when we eat will cause unnecessary stress on our digestive and immune systems.  It literally weighs us down with stored fat.
 If you are normally a fast eater, or someone who thinks they have no time to eat, try rearranging your schedule so that you can have at least 15 minutes of UNDISTURBED time to eat your meals. Make a commitment to do what it takes to ensure that you do have the time. You may have to get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. You may have to work 15 minutes later than usual. Or it may be as simple as talking to your boss or coworkers and letting them know that you need a little break to maintain your energy and focus. You may find that there are others in your office who would also appreciate this, and feel free to invite them to join you for lunch! New habits are easier to form with support.

When you sit down for a meal, (and I mean that literally, you need to sit in order to relax and align your body for proper digestion,) take the time to look at and smell your food before you begin. While you are eating, concentrate on chewing each bite 20 to 30 times and pay attention to how it tastes. Set down your fork between each bite and take a deep breath and small sip of water, if desired. Ignore the phone (that’s what voicemail is for, right?) email, or other distractions and try to remain focused on enjoying what you are eating.

When you do finish, take just a moment to reflect on the experience. How do you feel after your meal? Do you feel satisfied, content, relaxed? Now imagine what you will do next. Do you feel better prepared for whatever life throws at you now that you have taken the time to give yourself the energy you need?

Congratulations, you have taken the first step towards improving your nutritional wellbeing! Now I will challenge you further. After a week or two, push the allotted time for your meals up to 30 minutes. Challenge yourself to take the full 30 minutes to finish your meal. If you eat with others, see if you can be the last one to finish eating, then pat yourself on the back for being the most aware of your digestive health at the table.
If you believe in the importance of eating for energy, nutrition and overall health, you can find the time to do it! You may need to think creatively and arrange your schedule in advance, but you will find that it is worth it when you no longer feel unfulfilled, uncomfortable, or lethargic after meals.

Do your body a favor.  Experience your food!  You will be amazed how great it feels... and tastes!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dinner Time Tantrums

As a mother of a three year old boy, I know how hard it can be to persuade your children to eat right. Sometimes they refuse to eat at all, other times all they want to do is eat, but what they want is snack food. The dinner table can feel more like a battle field than a comfort zone.

Many parents are frustrated that their children won't try new foods, or will only eat a few select meal options. While it is true that a variety of fresh whole foods are essential for young bodies and minds, we must understand why our children behave this way, and more importantly, how to handle it.

Our ancient ancestors' offspring developed instinctual behavior to avoid an accidental poisoning. Once the little ones learned to walk and were able to explore, they no longer wanted to pick everything up and put it in their mouths to determine what it was. They became more cautious of unknown plants and would not eat anything unless they watched their parents or other tribesmen eat it several times first.

Our children may have been born thousands of years later, but they retain the same instincts. Studies have shown it can take up to 15 times of being exposed to a new food before a toddler will actually eat it. Once the child has tried it, they become more acquainted with the food and are more likely to eat it again in the future, even if that means years down the road.

The best thing you can do to help your children learn to eat well is to eat well yourself and continue to introduce and re-introduce healthy meals and snacks to them. It may seem pointless to serve peas and carrots to your child because she never even touches them, but if she sees you eating your vegetables every day, she will grow up knowing that it is a healthy and mature practice.

Remember that children learn by example and through repetition.  And they want to have fun!  Getting kids involved in the kitchen helps them become more excited about wholesome food.  My son loves to help stir, add ingredients, and occasionally cut fresh veggies with my supervision.  Smaller children love to mimic cooking with play food and empty pots and pans. 

Growing plants with your child is another way to help them connect with whole foods.  If you don't have a garden, try a potted tomato, bush bean or your favorite herbs.  Kids instinctively find vegetables much more attractive if they have watched them grow.

If your child is not eating something you've served, try not to draw attention to it, and never try to force a child to eat. Offer the food to them, and talk about its smell and color, etc. but just ignore it if they don't eat it. And for heavens sake don't offer them anything else if they won't eat what you have served. The last thing you want to teach your child is that if they turn up their nose at your home cooked meal they will get rewarded with a hot dog instead.

If you offer a few food choices at each meal, most kids will eat at least one of them, and even if they don't, they are not going to starve. Stick to your guns, moms! It will all pay off in a few years when your children are eating all their veggies and asking for more, please.

This post is linked to Real Food Wednesdays.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attitude of Gratitude

Buddha said, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”

Gratitude is often something that is overlooked in our busy lives, but it can have a major impact on our outlook and attitude. 

Try on an Attitude of Gratitude each morning by listing ten things you are grateful for, and see just how much you may have been taking for granted lately.


1.  My family, even if we are a bit dysfunctional.

2.  My work, no matter what the monetary gain may be.

3.  My friends, there may be a great distance between us, but I love you all!

4.  The Earth.  Face it, without her we would really be living in oblivion.

5.  Water.  So simple, yet it is the life force of all things.  And it helps me get through the day.  There is no   pick me up like a big refreshing glass of pure H2O.

6.  Local Farmers and farmer's markets.  Even if my green thumb is a bit moldy, thank goodness for those who can grow food taller than the weeds.

7.  Children, who are the future, and also a gift of joy and light to everyone they encounter.

8.  Pets, who give so unconditionally their love and ask so little in return.

9.  My Intuition, which guides me to my own Path to Wellness every day.

10.  The Internet, without which I would not be able to connect and share with all of you who have enriched my life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Tortoise and the Hare

In my experience, there are two types of people that operate on two very different daily speeds.  There are the fast types, which I will call the Hares, and of course you may have guessed that the slower types will be called the Tortoises. 

A Hare lives life faster than fast.  She has a ten mile long to-do list and somehow manages to scratch off everything on it each day.  She never slows down for anything.  She drives fast, she eats fast, she thinks and talks fast.  She is annoyed with people who can't seem to keep up with her but also wonders why everyone else seems to be less busy than her. 

A Tortoise lives life for the here and now.  He will procrastinate even the simplest chores and always takes time to do what he wants first before completeing his work.  He often is so busy relaxing that he will forget or put off important tasks or appointments simply because they are not as important to him as his latest hobby or pass-time.

Both Hare and Tortoise types can benefit from taking a few minutes to reflect each day.  I suggest setting aside 10 minutes each morning to do some self reflection.  You can meditate, read, write in a journal, start a poem or short narrative, sketch an idea, or simply sit and relax.  The point here is not what you are doing, but that you are doing something just for you each day. 

Hare types benefit by taking some time out of their hectic schedules to create a little peace in their lives.  A Hare who takes 10 minutes each morning for journaling, meditation or a hot bath will feel more in control and less hurried the rest of the day.

A Tortoise who sets aside the first 10 minutes of each day for self reflection  will feel more motivated the rest of the day to accomplish their tasks because they have given their mind, body and soul the relaxing moment that is craved at a deep inner level. 

The point is that everyone can benefit from creating some "me time." 

Challenge yourself to get up 10 minutes earlier for the next two weeks and do things in that time that you always want to do, but never find the time or ambition to commit to.  Or just use those moments to relax and thank the cosmos for your amazing existence. 

Let me know how you feel in two weeks.  Are you less stressed?  More level headed?  Or maybe you feel more fullfilled and have a more pleasant attitude.  No matter who you are, you will feel a positive change in your life, just by getting to know yourself a little better. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Today is a day of great potential.  Use it!  Do something amazing for yourself and for someone you love.  Let everyone know that you radiate compassion and love, and don't forget to include self love.  You are an amazing individual, with limitless potential to persue your dreams. 

Today let that shine through by spending the day in your favorite way.  It is a Sunday after all, and whether or not you believe in the vibrational energy of the day, you can't deny that it would feel great to let go and do something you have been meaning to do for a while.  Take a walk.  Paint your nails.  Play at a playground with your children.  Create music or art.  Or just sit in a hot bath and relax for a change!  Forget all those things that you busy yourself with every day and just let yourself feel some genuine pleasure.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fast Food That is Smart!

Have you ever left work at the end of an insanely busy day and felt like the last thing you wanted to do was cook dinner?  Do you open your freezer in those moments and grab whatever frozen lump of preservatives, hormones or empty calories might be lurking in there?  Or maybe you call out for pizza, or chinese, or hit a drive thru on your way home.  I know I have been guilty of all of the above. 

We have been programmed to believe that because it is packaged and sold as "convenience food" that this somehow makes it easier than buying and preparing a more healthy option.  For example, frozen pizzas, chicken strips and french fries take an average of 10 to 20 minutes to prepare in a conventional oven.  Even a box of macoroni and cheese takes at least 10 minutes.  Some brands offer microwave versions, but in addition to being destroyed at the cellular level, microwave food tastes totally disgusting.   

Now lets think about how long it takes to prepare fresh fish, steak or hamburgers under a broiler.  About 10 to 20 minutes.  Thats right, just as fast!  And it takes even less time to dice up a fresh salad or steam some fresh vegetables. 

These things may seem like more work, but in reality, are you really going through that much trouble, taking twenty minutes out of your day to prepare something that is going to nourish your body?  Besides, even microwave packaged food can be quite a chore to prepare.  Lid on, lid off, now stir and now sit there and wait.  You get the idea. 

In the time that it takes to cook a frozen pizza or wait in line at a busy drive thru, you can have steak with steamed vegitables and a garden salad with fresh fruit for dessert.  How much better would that be for your family tonight?!

Now, being a mom, I know it is not always easy to get kids to want to eat dinner at all, much less eat a wholesome one.  They want hot dogs and they want them now!  But if you are patient you can easily encourage them to eat nutritious food and even make it fun! 

I love making up recipes for my son.  Last week I created what I called a "banana boat" by cutting a wedge along a banana and filling it with natural peanut butter.  Then he helped sprinkle the dried cranberry "people" into the boats.  My whole family loved them! 

When I wanted my son to eat fresh vegitables, I got him to try them by offering him different "dips" like all natural salad dressing or honey mustard and "sprinkles" which were usually just salt, dried kelp or herbs.  Kids love grated cheese sprinkled on their cooked veggies, or melted butter to dip them in. 

A great grain choice to try when you are running late is quinoa.  This unique little seed takes only 20 minutes to prepare and is often used as a side dish or mixed with steamed or stir fried vegitables.  It has a light taste and is easy on the digestive tract.

Many soups can be prepared mostly from scratch in 20 minutes as well.  Use an organic free range chicken or vegetable broth and you can add fresh or frozen veggies.  Lentils will cook in 20 minutes or you could use canned beans.  Read the labels on the beans you buy in a can.

I know it is a challenge, but try not to think of dinner as just one more thing on your to do list.  Allow yourself the joy of doing something for your family that will improve their health and happiness for the rest of their lives.  Dinner is not just what you eat today.  It literally does become a part of you.  Make it the best part you possibly can!