I was fortunate to be raised in a family who was more interested in creativity, nature and science than in appearances, which is perhaps part of the reason why I’ve never have struggled with an eating disorder. The closest I ever came was when my weight crept up to a size 16 after a physical injury reduced my physical activity. It wasn’t so much how I looked that bothered me. After all, I didn’t grow up surrounded by fashion magazines, mirrors or women concerned about the way they looked. My magazines were national geographic, my TV was David Attenborough, and we were too busy creating art and exploring nature to bother with mirrors!
What bothered me was the way I felt. I didn’t feel as comfortable in my own skin. I felt heavy and I had lost some freedom of movement. As soon as this realisation kicked in, I did something about it. I booked into a gym and found exercises that worked around my injury. The first month was great. The weight dropped off beautifully. Unfortunately, the environment was a bit toxic for me because there was a crazy over-emphasis on weight loss that messed with my head. For the first time in my life, I gained an insight into what it might feel like to become obsessed with food. For a few weeks I found myself constantly hungry simply because eating less for weight loss had become the mantra. I wasn’t hungry because I was hungry, I was hungry because food had suddenly become a black-market no-go zone. What a horrible way to live!
Needless to say, I quit the gym, found my own ways to exercise away from all the ‘lose weight’ hype, and quickly repaired my relationship with food. I have always loved eating! And left to our own devices, my body and I have a pretty good relationship. What I did have trouble with was a slight tendency to over-eat at times, and I knew there were some foods that weren’t helping my waist-line, so I came up with my own approach to tackling these issues.
First, I removed bread from my diet. It contains yeast and wheat, which I am sensitive to. When I say sensitive, I mean that I cat easily digest these foods and they don’t make me feel good in my body. Instead of glowing skin and easy breathing, I get eczema and mild asthma. Instead of a happy bowel I get all sorts of crazy shit going down!!! haha! We all have food we don’t digest so well, some of us more than others, and this can mess with our ability to maintain a healthy weight.
Besides avoiding bread for sensitivity reasons, I also removed it because it’s a lazy food! When I eat bread, I’m taking up tummy space that could be filled with the biodiversity of whole-plant foods. Luckily, I wasn’t much interested in pasta and pastry, which are two other lazy foods that take up valuable eating space. The thing is, once we reduce our reliance on these foods, not only does the biodiversity and quality of our food tend to improve, we stop craving the lazy food because it tastes bland and makes you feel heavy and stodgy. Bleh!
Then I removed refined sugar from my diet. It only takes a week for the cravings to disappear, but if it takes longer, you can always start a love affair with dates and fruit. Vegan desserts made from whole foods are incredibly delectable! You still get to eat sweet food but you stop being ruled by cravings. Blissful freedom!
Then I listened to my husband. “You eat when you are thirsty”, he told me. “Drink water first and if you are still hungry 10 minutes later, eat.” Good advice. It worked. He was right as usual! I combined his sage wisdom with a little piece of inspiration garnered from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the opera singer: making friends with hunger. I learned to feel comfortable with an empty stomach rather than rushing to fill it.
And I listened to my body rather than just shovelling food in automatically just because it tasted good. If you are an habitual over-eater, you can retrain yourself to eat healthier quantities by listening very carefully to your body. It helps to eat a little slower, and to not bury yourself in a book or the television, otherwise you won’t hear your body talking to you. There is this sweet moment of satisfaction, a tiny whisper that gets louder when you honour it, where you could easily keep eating but stopping right then and there in that moment is perfect. We don’t have to finish what’s on our plates (it can be saved for later).
And when you listen to this whisper of satisfaction with your food, you start to recognise other whispers of satisfaction in other parts of your life. Less becomes more. The grass becomes greener right here. Excess becomes uncomfortable and cloying. Elegant sufficiency is all the sweetness we need. For me, this is intimately tied in with being happy with (and grateful for) who I already am and what I already have.
I find it intriguing that the psychology of satisfaction links in with the physiology of digestive satisfaction via the body chemical seratonin. Developing a satisfaction mind-set can stimulate seratonin, which can lead to better appetite control, and visa versa: learning to feel contented with less food and physical-belly fullness can help you feel contented with life.
Seratonin not only helps us feel more contented, it helps us to be creative and innovative, and to be less impulsive. With a healthy seratonin balance we are more generous with the world around us, because we feel full and happy. The lovely thing is that this generosity then bumps up our endorphin levels, making us feel even better!
Here are some tricks to help you improve your seratonin levels:
*Eat plenty of high-protein plant foods like legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Potatos, kale and broccoli are good vegetable sources of protein. The best sources for seratonin building are seeds such as pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.
*Source your sugar hits from fruit!
*Spend plenty of time outside in nature. Get some sunshine!
*Keep regular sleeping routines. Go to bed and get up at set times.
*Have regular massages and/or touch-sessions.
*Spend loving time with animals.
*Have plenty of down/rest time.
*Enjoy exercise but make it relaxed and easy-going rather than competitive, intense or driven.