I was a child raised to ‘clear my plate’ - there was no leaving the table until everything was eaten. My mum was a part of the baby boom generation who grew up in a post war world of food austerity and poverty. Therefore, her mark (and my Nana’s) of a healthy baby was a fat baby! A happy toddler was a chubby toddler, a good child had a good appetite BUT … a fat adult needed to go on a diet. Many people I meet have the same story to tell.
So, how to approach food and meals in a different way?
Eat until you’re 80% full and then pause. This is often enough for now. Intuitively listen to your body. We should be aiming to eat to ‘80% full’, this alleviates stomach discomfort and bloating. It also gives the body time to process and use the food effectively. The Japanese have a proverb which illustrates this perfectly “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor”.
Our stomachs are resilient. The stomach is very elastic in quality and stretches to accommodate food, as this passes lower into the digestive tract the stomach returns to its former size. This is its job. In fact the stomach can comfortably hold 2 cups of food or about one litre of liquid. However, by constantly overeating, the stomach muscles can stretch making this the ‘new normal’. A stretched stomach means we can consume more food (and therefore again over-consume), to continue stretching the muscle. A very slippery slope that leads to other health complications, the most obvious is weight.
By eating to 80% full, we give our digestive system the space to work. It is not over burdened by food quantity. From mouth to stomach to small intestine, the average time varies, from 6 to 8 hours. From mouth to anus it is 12 to 24 hours. These timings differ person to person, by gender, exercise, metabolism and diet. A meal heavy in meat and / or processed carbohydrates takes longer than a plant based dish.
Change how you eat in 4 easy steps
1. Are you actually thirsty?
Hydration is key to daily life. However, the body’s thirst mechanisms are so subtle that most of us miss them if we’re not in the habit of drinking water. The brain therefore registers ‘hunger’ when actually we need a drink.
2. Are you hungry?
A crazy question, but is this habitual / emotional / stress / boredom / reward eating or are you hungry? When you’re hungry, eat mindfully, it is a pleasure and for many a luxury time with family, friends or alone.
3. Serve less food.
Reduce your portion sizes. For family meals, I have extra available, but I start with an 80% portion. If there’s a pudding, sometimes less than 80%, so everyone gets to enjoy the desert.
4. Eat organic.
Where you can, eat organic. If the quality of your food is higher you need less quantity. Organic food is easier on the digestive system (no pesticides, antibiotics etc for the liver and gastrointestinal tract to process) and it is a richer source of protein, minerals and vitamins than non-organic.
By changing my eating style to 80% full, I’ve been rewarded with more energy. Instead of a lot of energy being internalised to process and digest food, I’m harnessing it externally in my day. There’s a bounce in my step.