Commonly when learning about nutrition, the focus is on calories, grams, ounces and macronutrients. While tracking all of these is a wonderful habit to practice and can be a great tool for reaching your goals, what do you do when you find yourself in an non-ideal situation such as at a new restaurant, spending time with family or friends or being on vacation…basically much of life? Suddenly, tracking all of these can become a real hassle and it may not be realistic. Also, the effort to do so can take away from the moments you are sharing with those you care about. For many, these moments can create a lot of stress and can set us off-track from our goals. These times don’t have to be difficult, however, and they don’t need to veer us off-course. When in non-ideal situations, we fall back on our established behaviors and habits. If we can consistently practice and master our behaviors we can navigate nearly any obstacle life can throw at us and keep moving forward. While there are a great many habits that can help you reach your goals, today I wanted to share five which I have found time and again to help my wife and I and those we work with conquer the obstacles in our lives.
1.) Stop at 80% Full
While this may sound easy enough, it can be incredibly difficult, especially for those who have grown up hearing from their parents to clean their plates because there are children starving and somehow you eating all of your food will help them. If practiced consistently, however, this habit can go a long way to keeping you on track towards your goals when life gets crazy. Tracking your food is not always realistic when you are out to eat somewhere new, on vacation or spending time with family or friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to veer off track. This strategy works because it can take your body up to 15-20 minutes to register how full you are. Your feeling of fullness when you eat is largely dictated by three hormones, cholecystokinin (CCK), Peptide YY and leptin.
CCK is a peptide-hormone that is released largely by the presence of fats and amino acids in the small intestine and acts on the nervous system to slow the rate of gastric emptying (how quickly food moves from your stomach to your small intestine), causes the release of enzymes for digestion and stimulates the vagus nerve.
PYY acts in a similar way, slowing the motility of the digestive tract which aids in the feeling of fullness and also increasing the absorption of nutrients from our meal.
Leptin is one of the main hormones responsible for regulating energy expenditure and is released from fat cells in response to a meal. It acts directly on our hypothalamus, inhibiting the actions of other hormones that increase hunger.
Together, these signals are quite powerful in inhibiting hunger, however, as they are hormones, their actions are delayed as they must travel through the blood to their target destinations. By stopping at 80% full we can allow these hormones time to initiate their effects and realize our true fullness.
2.) Put Your Fork Down Between Bites
Especially in our American culture, we have become very focused on efficiency and doing things as quickly as possible. If you take a second to stop and watch people eat, you will notice we tend to preload our next bite before we have even finished the bite before it. While being fast and efficient may help us in other areas of our lives, for those of us with health goals, it can hold us back. By simply put your fork down between bites, we force ourselves to slow down and give the signals we discussed from the previous habit time to act. By eating slower, we can recognize sooner when we are feeling full and keep from over eating.
While this strategy is tried and true, there are countless other strategies that you can implement to achieve the same goal. Examples include taking a drink of water between bites which not only slow you down, but also hydrates you. You can set a timer and focus on making your meal last for the set amount of time, such as 15 minutes. There are even apps designed to help you practice eating slower. You can eat with your non-dominant hand. Perhaps the most clever example I have heard of from one of my awesome clients is using chop sticks as her lack of skill with chop sticks forced her to eat slower. Whatever your method, if it helps you to eat slower, you are on the right track.
3.) Eat Your Protein and Veggies First
Protein and veggies, while being full of many beneficial nutrients conducive to nearly any goal, contain protein and fiber which are both shown to have a powerful effect on suppressing your appetite. When we eat these first we are prioritizing the most important parts of our meal and leaving us less hungry and less likely to over-indulge on starch carbs or other delicious sides that may lead us farther away from our goals. By practicing this habit, we can still enjoy the great parts of eating out or spending time with family and friends, while helping ourselves stay on track.
4.) Go on a Walk
If you have read this blog before, you likely know that this is my favorite habit as it gives precious time with the ones I love while also helping me stay on track with my goals. A simple 15-20 minute walk after a meal with a friend or family member can help you burn more calories, ease digestion after a meal and bond with your loved ones. I have had some of the best conversations of my life on walks. My wife and I practice this whenever we go on vacation, which also allows us a chance to enjoy the beautiful sites and weather, and whenever we hangout with our close friends. While simple, this one strategy can go a long way to staying on track. To learn more about the power of walking and other non-exercise activities, check out our article here.
5.) Be Mindful
While this one is less of a behavior as a state of mind, it can be helped through behaviors such as removing distractions, such as TV, phones, work and games. By removing distractions, we can focus on the food we are eating and the way we are eating it which not only helps us savor the flavor, but also keeps us in tune in how we are feeling. We can more quickly recognize when we are beginning to feel full and relearn our bodies natural signs of when to stop eating. Also, without all of the distractions, you may find much more interesting and enjoyable conversation with your family or whomever you are enjoying your meal with. Remember, nutrition isn’t a part of our lives we need to make efficient. Slow down and smell the rosemary. Food should be enjoyed, respected and cherished.
I hope these habits help you next time you find yourself in a situation that makes it difficult to stay on track. While simple, these behaviors can be difficult to master, but if you take the time to do so, they can shape your health and nutrition for years to come. As always, we wish you a happy and healthy day!