30 June 2009

Mindful vs. Mindless Eating

This post will catch me up on my one per month promise. You may have noticed that the post I did last month didn't count because it was just a bunch of links.

Fitness Black Book blog did a nice post about mindless eating and some of the studies that have demonstrated how external cues indirectly cause people to eat more.

You may recall that I posted about mindful eating some time ago.

I will reiterate part of what I said then:

"Fourth, eat only when you are hungry. People eat for reasons besides sustenance. Sometimes there is an emotional attachment to eating in which food is used to medicate one’s psyche. This is a type of addiction. Other times people eat because it just tastes sooooo good or they simply don’t want to waste food. If you find yourself using food for emotional support or overeating at special events, try to find a way to stop that."

I was traveling last week, visiting some friends. I found myself eating and drinking because it-was-time-to-eat-and-we-were-at-a-nice-restaurant-with-good-wine. I wasn't hungry. I ate and drank a lot anyway. I gained a nice layer of subcutaneous fat over muscles that had previously been visible. Not just from one meal, but from a whole week of similar temptations and behaviors.

This is especially a problem at restaurants. They give big portions because they can charge more for them. Then perhaps you eat all of it because it's a hassle to take it home or you don't want to bother. Buffet restaurants are impossible for many people. Holiday celebrations can also be a time of overeating. Don't succumb to the pressure to eat everything, but listen to your hunger and and take your time eating. Hunger is driven by a number of factors including empty stomach, and cells not receiving sufficient nutrients. You can get past the empty stomach part, but if your cells are not receiving enough fuel to do their jobs, it will eventually override your "willpower."

So in thinking about all this, I had a realization. Most people are in a pattern of eating at certain times in the day. We wake up and eat breakfast, then around noon have lunch, then finally at 7 in the evening we have dinner. It is important socially to have meals with other people and especially family. We get our three square meals on a set schedule. But in doing so, we lose the sense of our natural rhythms. We eat when we're not hungry, and we eat what is put in front of us. When that happens, we find ourselves complaining about problems with portion control.

What To Do Then

The solutions are obvious but there are two prerequisites: a body that is hormonally able to burn its own fat as fuel (low insulin environment) and mindfulness about eating when you do not feel hungry. Eat very lightly so you can fulfill the social needs without blowing your diet, or if you foresee a big meal coming up, skip the one before it or after it to compensate.

The other thing to think about is to consider your bad week as a break from your diet. This is actually a good thing as pointed out by Lyle McDonald.

Link to the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

20 June 2009

Dear E4E. A Letter to Myself

Dear E4E,

My 20 year old son who lives across the country with his mother, seems to want to have nothing to do with me. I have called him, texted him, and left messages on his facebook page. I get no response from him.

Recently, he left his job (released for being late). Now he contacts me and wants to visit. Yay.

Except, when I try to contact him to set dates, he doesn't respond. It's really odd. For the life of me, I can't think of anything I've done to anger him or drive him away. I feel hurt and sad about this.

What the heck is going on?

Signed, Baffled Engineer

Dear Baffled,

Regardless of whether you slighted him, the answer is the same--continue to reach out. Hold out a hand of unconditional, non-judging love.

Yes, you feel hurt and maybe want to punish. Perhaps you think it's terribly undignified or weak to reach out unrequitedly. Forget that.

But he gave you the cold shoulder and maybe you didn't deserve it. It doesn't matter. But you're a dude. You learned a long time ago not to take crap from anyone. To return disrespect with greater disrespect.

That's OK in battle, but this is not battle. It's not a power or blame game. This is family. Families are not a democracy, they're more like a benevolent dictatorship, or even communism (from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs).

You are the parent; you are the adult. That is your role in this scenario. Unless a family member is actively hurting the family, your job is to strive to maintain cohesiveness.

Now try to look at it from your son's perspective. He's 20 years old, he was out earning lots of money and feeling pretty independent. He probably lost sight of the importance of family; maybe he didn't really understand the importance of maintaining contact. Perhaps you could have done a better job over the years of keeping touch with him. (Remember Cat's in the Cradle by Harry Chapin?)

Perhaps, he didn't think that he was meeting your expectations (good grades, go to college, etc.) and was feeling ashamed about that. Perhaps he had a secret that he thought would disappoint you in some way. Again, it really doesn't matter.

Remember, it's not your job to judge him or try to change him. Regardless of his emotional age or maturity, he is an adult now. Accept him as he is and do what you can to help him succeed in his life. Be proactive in keeping communications open. Hope that he will come around.

Good luck.