NOTES from The Psychology of Eating

Thanks for attending my latest workshop, it was a pleasure learning with you. I loved seeing your light bulb moments, it reminds me of the times when I first learnt this!

I hope you took value from it and can apply it into your everyday life. I also hope that you can share this information with people that you love and care for. Always try to lead by example, attempting to change people who don't want to change is exhausting. 

One quick thing I didn't say:

There will be times when you can enjoy eating mindfully. Then there are the other times, the times when you just want to go for it! You won't care about taste, health or consciousness! And that is just fine!

Now on to the notes...



The notes 

It seems crazy, but it's possible to lose weight, without deliberately changing what we eat. This is done by becoming more aware of how we eat.

How we eat is an expression of who we are, regardless of the quality of the food. The enjoyment of good food and good company creates such an inner joy that it’s possible to taste the sweetest of nectar in even the simplest foods.
— Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods

Conscious v’s Unconscious Eating

Make eating a conscious act, not another mindless habit.”

We eat for more than just energy, calories or macros. The food we eat (and the way we eat) effects the expression of our genes, our personality and how fast we age.

I emphasise conscious eating because we do so much eating:

3 meals a day x 365 days in a year = 1,092 meals a year

I've been alive for 30 wonderful years, 1,092 x 30 = 32,850 meals! Crazy right? 

If we do something so much let's get it right. It's the small things, accumulating everyday that make a big difference in the end! Or as some famous painter once said:

 


Unconscious eating

I spoke about Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He classifies thinking into two categories:

System 1 - Fast and automatic

System 2 - Slow and careful

Both systems have their strengths and weakness. Remember System 1 is working to keep us alive and doesn't always make the best decisions. System 2 is more logical and can help us make better decisions. But what this book really highlights is how much of our thinking is unconscious.

 
Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
 

Much of the eating we do is unconscious and habitual. Choosing which foods to eat can be conscious or unconscious. And they can be lead by System 1 thinking, or System 2 thinking.

When we repeat something enough our brains create a habit. We do this for efficiency. If we had to think about every little thing we do on a daily basis, life would be painful! But it's critical to question the habits we have created. We must ask ourselves where have they come from. If we don't, we will continue to do what we've always done. Sometimes there's logic behind our unconscious behaviour and sometimes there's none!

For example: 

- Why do I always finish everything on my plate?

- Why do I binge on certain foods?

- Why do I eat three meals a day, is that the best for me?

- Why should I eat with a knife and fork? Does this slow me down?

- Why do I always have a dessert after dinner?

- Why do I always eat cereal for breakfast, is this the best I can do for myself?

And so on...


What happens when we become more conscious

Conscious eating has the power to change our habits without force. With it, we become more aware of the poor food choices we make. As a result, inferior foods become less interesting. Their qualities are negative and we prefer not to pollute our bodies and degrade our minds with them. Practising mindfulness also helps us think before we act.

Becoming more conscious changes our physiology and supports our health. Our autonomic nervous system has two opposing branches:

  1. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
  2. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)

They both control the same functions in the body, but have the opposite effect. The SNS speeds things up and the PNS slows things down. The SNS prepares the body for fight or flight and is the go, go, go setting! This setting helps us when we are under stress, like when we have to meet a deadline or whilst playing sport.

The PNS slows everything down and relaxes the body and mind. It stimulates all our rest and digests processes. Conscious eating stimulates the PNS.

A state of chronic stress, suppresses the PNS. Which is why animals defecate when they're scared. Voiding the digestive system, makes animals lighter, helping them to run away quicker. 

Those who suffer from chronic stress are in a constant state of freeze, fight or flight. In this state, the body has no time for digestion, the priority is to survive.

Conscious eating switches on our PNS, which supports healthy digestion. This helps us absorb all the nutrients we need to be healthy. Poor digestion is the root of many health problems. Which is why Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said:

“All disease begins in the gut.”

Mindful Eating

 

At this point we practised a mindful eating exercise. I asked you to:

  1. Consider the journey that food has taken to reach your plate.
  2. Give thanks to all the people involved.
  3. Contemplate the role of the sun in the creation of all living things.
  4. What do you taste?
  5. What is the texture like?
  6. What does it smell like?
  7. What is the temperature like?
  8. Think about what you can do with the energy you are consuming.
  9. Think about who you would be without this food.

One last thing...

“Breathe deeply, chew thoroughly.”

The art of chewing

The act of chewing mindfully brings relaxation to the body and mind. In an ideal world, we would chew every mouthful thoroughly. This begins digestion and makes food easier to breakdown in the stomach. 

Chewing food between 30-50 times is a guideline to use when practising. Chewing like this takes time and time is what we need. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to communicate with the brain to say stop.

The more we chew certain foods, the better they taste. This is especially true for simple food, that we often take for granted. In contrast some food tastes worse the more we chew it.


PHYSIOLOGICAL VERSUS PSYCHOLOGICAL HUNGER

We explored the many reasons we eat and feel hunger. When it comes to feeling hunger it is either physiological or psychological. Hunger from the stomach or hunger from the mind! 

Becoming more conscious of our hunger can teach us when to listen and when to ignore our desires. When we get dehydrated we can crave food to find water. We also crave food because we are lacking a certain vitamins or minerals. We developed these hunger mechanisms a long time ago, in a time when only natural food was available. But today we are surrounded by unhealthy food, so when we feel hunger we go for close and convenient foods.

We feel hunger for other reasons too:

  • Fat cells are an active endocrine gland. They release hormones, such as leptin, that act on the brain to control hunger. When our fat stores are high, they communicate to the brain to reduce hunger. In an unhealthy body this mechanism doesn't work. Fat cells keep telling the brain to be hungry and search out more food!
  • What we eat effects our hunger. Snacks and meals too high in carbohydrate send our blood sugar on a roller coaster journey. When blood sugar is low we crave more sweet food to bring us back into balance.
  • Gut microbes and parasites in our gut, communicate with our brain and can cause food cravings.
  • Hormonal imbalances during a woman's month cycle also effect hunger.

By eating the right diet we can reduce food cravings, but more on that in the next workshop!

Psychological hunger 

Almost all humans experience psychological cravings, but for many different reasons. Some seek food for comfort, some for pleasure and some to avoid boredom. 

Some argue that we all our actions are because of our innate fear of death. On a deep psychological level the mind doesn't know that supermarkets exists. That same part of the mind thinks impending doom is just around the corner.

We must recognise that we are hard wired to survive. A simple way to increase our chances of survival is to eat more food than we need. Eat more food, store more fat and if the food ever runs out, we stand a better chance of survival.

To differentiate between physiological and psychological hunger, we need self enquiry. We need to think is our hunger physical or psychological. Can we feel physical hunger in our stomach? If not, was there a psychological trigger? Did you fight with a loved one? Get jealous at the sight of someone you're envious of. Did someone offend you at work?

Many different feelings can cause psychological hunger, the key is to enquire. As soon as you become aware of triggers, they will begin to diminish. This is the power of consciousness.


Food is not good or evil

How do we feel when we eat food that we have labelled bad? It's common to feel guilt, anger, shame and disappointment. The lesson here, is to see that it is our thoughts about food that do us the most harm, not food itself.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.”
— Byron Katie
 
 
 

When on a health kick, we're likely to abstain from 'bad' food. But what happens when we cave in and eat some thing 'naughty? The chances are, if you're anything like me, you eat a little, feel bad, then demolish the rest of the packet!

Eating just one biscuit is not bad, but ten biscuits? Ten biscuits will most certainly knock us out of alignment. The cause of our misery is often related to not allowing ourself certain foods. When we say we can't do something, our inner child kicks off! The inner child in us doesn't appreciate being told what they can't do!

When we upset the inner child, they won’t leave us alone until they get what they want.

But as a teacher, I happen to know two strategies to soothe the inner child:

  1. Distraction - remove the temptation or move into another room, go for a walk, drink a cup of tea or play some mood changing music.
  2. Delayed gratification - tell your inner child that they can have it but not right now! They can have the treat but only after working out.

Here's a incredible book, that I recommend you read, to learn how to manage our inner child/ chimp/ Labrador!


Tactics

When living in a world of plenty, surrounded by temptation, we have two options. Option 1 is the victim mode. We go around unprepared for life's temptations. Or Option 2, we develop a plan. This plan helps us avoid the traps that we so often fall in.

There's an old Chinese saying:

“All food tastes good to a starving man.”

 

 Which is why I say control your hunger or it will control you.

Here are a list of tactics to help:

  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Go for a short walk (change direction/ location/ rooms).
  • Slow down and chew food thoroughly - avoid swallowing whole chunks of food.
  • It takes 20 minutes for brain and gut to communicate, so wait before having seconds, you might be full.
  • Eat full meals with a balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein.
  • Always use a knife and fork, don't shovel food down with a spoon! Or try eating with chop sticks! 
  • Do a little pre-emptive eating. Eating ahead of time, helps us avoid overeating inferior food.
  • Self enquiry, asking yourself am I really hungry? Is this hunger physiological or psychological?
  • If you are hungry and need something then eat. But don't eat something that is not balanced. Foods high in just carbohydrates, send us into a feeding frenzy!

The perfect environment

Meal times are special, as is the food we prepare. If we eat 1000 different meals every year, let's get it right! Our eating environment should be:

  • Clean
  • Peaceful
  • Pleasant music (no fast beats which speed you up)
  • Pleasing aromas
  • Calm conversations
  • Avoid all negative stimulation - limit TV, internet and radio news that could be distressing
  • Avoid eating on the move or in public if you can
  • Practice giving thanks (doesn't have to be out loud)
  • Avoid eating when tired, too hot, too cold, worried, anxious and standing. These all make food harder to digest. Relax and get comfortable before we eat.
  • Relax after a meal, do not do anything strenuous and do not go to sleep.

Living a demanding life makes applying these tactics tough. For now, focus on doing your best, you are not a monk and you do not need to be perfect. 

The art of eating less

If you don't want to change what you eat there is one simple method to lose weight!

“Just eat a little less!”

 

Yes it really is that easy! We often eat more than me we need to, because of habits and social conditioning. The Chinese recommend only eating until seven parts full (70%). But for some of us, we associate having enough with a full stomach.

One easy way to eat less is by managing portion size. Cook your meal and divide the portions up. Before you sit down to eat, put the rest of the food away. That way you make it harder to go back for seconds.

Buffet style meals and serving food at the table, encourage us to eat more than our fill.

Another simple methods is to change the size of our plates. Scientific studies have proven that we are more satisfied with food served on smaller plates. Plus, the bigger the plate the more likely we are to fill it! 

                                                                                                     Big plate = big servings or lots of space!

 

                                                                                                   Big plate = big servings or lots of space!

Eating less isn't akin to starving ourselves. Unfortunately, our brain often perceives it that way. So it's important not to feed this voice. Instead reinforce it with positive messages, like I am getting enough or I don't need a lot of food right now. 

You might want to look up Calorie Restriction to see that there are benefits to eating less.


Waste 

Waste is a major problem in this country and the world over. There is enough food to go around if distributed well enough. That said, eating everything on our plate makes no difference to a starving kid in Africa. The two events are mutually exclusive.

This was a bride our parents told us to encourage us to eat everything on our plates. At the time we were growing, we are not growing now. We are adults and do not need to eat everything on our plate. If our stomach says we've had enough, then stop eating. That is unless you want to grow more, grow wider that is! 

Food is a waste in the bin as much as it's a waste when it's stored on our waists.


BONUS

One thing we didn't have time to cover was creating positive thought patterns. With practice, it is possible to interrupt old patterns with new ones.

There is something inside of me that will devour food if it’s there. So I make sure certain food is not in my house. But on occasion I'm faced with temptation. 

Take for example when I'm at a friends house and they have biscuits, crisps and cookies on the table. These foods are never in my house, so immediately a part of my brains starts thinking:

"Take it, this is a rare treat, this might not come around for a long time, eat ittttttttttttt!" 

So I remind myself of the following:

“The only reason I want it now is because this food is normally off limits. You only want it now because you’ve said you can’t have it!
I have the money to buy this food whenever I want. If you really want it, have it, but you know you don’t need it. “

Other thoughts, you might want to practice saying are:

  • You don’t want it or need it now.
  • If you still want some later, you can have it later.
  • You will feel much better in the long run if you don’t have it.
  • You can eat whatever you want whenever you want, but only if you really want it.

Another tactic is to use your powerful imagination to visualise the future. Imagine what will happen to the body you have worked so hard to maintain, if you keep giving in to temptation.

Here's a little video to remind us what our inner child is like:

“So next time you’re faced with temptation, just lick it!”

I always reserve the right to use a series of grammar bad&terrible structure sentence and refuse I do to apologise for it'!{>

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