When it comes to good nutrition, sometimes the way we eat is more important than what we eat.

Last month, I decided I wanted to read again one of my very favorite books, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the book, the author goes through a difficult divorce, and decides she wants to spend a year living abroad:  in Italy eating, in India praying, and in Indonesia finding love again.

Obviously, the part of the book most relevant to this post is the time the author spends in Italy. She fills her days learning the language, meeting wonderful people, and most of all, enjoying the incredible food. In fact, one of her favorite experiences in Italy involves creating lunch using fresh asparagus bought from a local vegetable stand, paired with cheese, olives, salmon, and boiled eggs. Elizabeth describes it this way:

For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.”

The author is truly embracing the sixth and last of my nutritional tenets:

Enjoy your food!

Unfortunately, we all can’t just take a year off to travel to Italy to eat. However, we can take a few moments to pay attention and savor our food, even in the midst of our hectic lives. When it comes to good nutrition, sometimes the way we eat is more important than what we eat.  Slowing down to appreciate a meal makes us more aware of the food we are putting in our body and allows us to tune in to our body’s feelings of hunger and fullness.

In addition to taking the time to enjoy a meal, this tenet also has another meaning, and that is to give yourself permission to enjoy all foods.  Women in particular have a tendency to categorize food into either good and bad, or should-eats and should-not-eats, and attach feelings of self-worth to their diet. It takes the joy out of eating when foods are eaten only because of diet “rules” that we follow. Or sometimes, we might eat everything in the kitchen trying to avoid the one food that we are truly craving.  As a colleague once reminded me, after I was chastising myself for eating a slice of chocolate cake, “Food is not bad. Food is fuel.” Our bodies need food to give us energy, feel well, and operate properly. That being said, there are certainly some foods that are better and more health promoting for us than others.  But if we have a more flexible eating strategy, wherein all food is acceptable in moderation (see Tenet #1: 80/20) then we are free to enjoy food for its taste, texture, aroma, appearance, etc.  In fact, research shows that giving yourself full permission to eat enjoyed foods means you will be less likely to overindulge, less likely to binge, and enjoy your meal with less guilt. If eating without guilt is something that you struggle with, I highly recommend reading the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch or consider participating in our Ask-an-Expert Program.

Finally, to help turn these ideas into practice, here are a few strategies to help you enjoy your food:

  • Turn off the TV during meals!
  • Eliminate other distractions as well – cellphones, loud music, arguments between family members
  • Sit at the table—try to avoid eating while standing up, driving, or sitting on the couch
  • Focus on the food – ask yourself how it really tastes, what does it look like, how does it smell?
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy all foods
  • Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues—check in with yourself during the meal to see if you still need more food or if you are satisfied
  • Chew slowly and put your fork down between bites
  • Share a meal with family or friends
  • Cook — and remember that it doesn’t have to be fancy
  • Set a timer for at least 10 minutes and allow yourself that time to savor your meal

Happy Eating!

CS

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