It's a New Year and my new teaching schedule has commenced. Over the weekend I grabbed my hoard of printed articles and training materials that I’ve collected over the years to get me back into health promotion and behavior change mode. I’ve read about this topic intensely, but my recent refresher reminded me of one of the more important factors in successful behavior change: our perceived self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is the extent or strength of one's belief in one's ability to complete tasks and reach goals. In more simple terms, confidence. The level of our perceived self-efficacy plays a central role in personal change since unless we believe that we can produce desired effects by our actions, we have little incentive to act or persevere in the face of difficulties. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura in Health Promotion by Social Cognitive Means:
The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goals people set for themselves and the firmer their commitment to them. Self-efficacy beliefs shape the outcomes people expect their efforts to produce. Those of high efficacy expect to realize favorable outcomes. Those of low efficacy expect their efforts to bring poor outcomes. Self-efficacy beliefs also determine how obstacles and impediments are viewed. People of low efficacy are easily convinced of the futility of effort in the face of difficulties. They quickly give up trying. Those of high efficacy view impediments as surmountable by improvement of self-management skills and perseverant effort.
So…the question of the day is: How can we strengthen our perceived self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy is not a genetically endowed trait. Instead, it develops over time and through experience. According to Bandura and others, self-efficacy beliefs are not static -- they are constantly informed, energized, or depleted through at least five sources:
1. Mastery Experiences – Successfully completing tasks, reaching goals, and overcoming obstacles is the most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy. Recall my recent post on S.M.A.R.T. goals? Setting specific, measurable, actionable realistic and timely goals and tasks can ensure our ability to experience mastery. When we experience mastery and feel confident that we have what it takes to succeed, we persevere in the face of adversity and more quickly rebound from setbacks.
2. Vicarious experiences - Seeing people similar to ourselves succeed by sustained effort raises our beliefs that we too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities required to succeed.
3. Social persuasion – When we are told by significant others, like parents and teachers, that we possess the capabilities to master given activities we are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it.
4. Physiological and emotional states – Our actual and perceived physiological and emotional states (like stress, fatigue, anxiety, fear, joy, anticipation) can influence our self-efficacy beliefs. Our mood can also affect our sense of personal efficacy. Positive moods enhance perceived self-efficacy, despondent moods diminish it. The ability to reduce our stress reactions and alter our negative emotional tendencies is a key way to enhance our sense of self-efficacy.
5. Imaginal experiences – Rehearsing successful or unsuccessful performances, be it deliberate or while ruminating, can affect our coping strategy and self-efficacy for the better or worse. Examples include imagination-based interventions, experiential exercises like mentally rehearsing a speech, and role playing.
Pretty interesting stuff, right? Seems like putting ourselves out there more, ensuring our goals and desired tasks are S.M.A.R.T., fostering a strong support network and practicing stress management and visualization exercises can all help us achieve a stronger perceived self-efficacy.
I also want to reflect on the key word in this whole topic: perceived. As I wrote in a prior post about self-talk, our perceptions make our reality! Like Henry Ford said, if you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you are right. It's all about that self-efficacy, baby!
New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and it’s likely that resolutions are being pondered upon. Though every moment can be an opportunity for a new start, the New Year provides us that more symbolic time to look back and reflect, celebrate and move forward with renewed intentions. We can decide which habits we’d like to let go of and new habits/goals/practices we’d like to integrate (or reintegrate).
According to a study at the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions; however, only 8% of us are successful in achieving them. Where are we going wrong? Perhaps it’s in how we set our resolutions/goals.
Maybe you’re considering a more active lifestyle for 2015? Want to lose weight? Get your finances in order? For me, it’s practicing mediation and mindfulness. All of these goals sound great, but making them S.M.A.R.T. will ensure our success. S.M.A.R.T. stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic (or relevant) and Timely. You may have heard of this mnemonic acronym in a business or project management class, but it’s also at the root of effective goal setting as it enables us create a clear map behind our goals and encourages us to address our beliefs and barriers. So let’s get to it!
Specific – A goal needs to be specific. A goal to get healthy sounds great, but it’s too general as there are so many ways to do it. Is it exercising more? Cutting back on added sugars? Managing stress? Perhaps your one goal can be broken into a few mini-goals? Make it specific by asking yourself the Five 'W'’s and How…Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? If your goal is to exercise more, for example, you’ll want to specify the type(s) of exercise, when and where you’ll be doing it and how - what tools and resources will you need to succeed? Maybe a new pair of running shoes, set of dumbbells, or fitness buddy? Lastly, why? Why do you want to achieve this goal? Is the motivation coming from within you or from outside influences? Research shows that the more we can align our goals to our internal motivations, rather than external, the more successful we will be in achieving our goal.
Measurable – It’s impossible to know whether we’re making progress towards our goals if they aren’t measurable. Measuring progress helps us stay on track and usually involves asking some How’s: How much, How many, and How we’ll know when it's accomplished. For exercise, we'll want to track our frequency, time and intensity (amount of weight, number of steps or heart rate, for example). For nutrition, perhaps you'll measure the cups of water you drink or servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner. For me, it’ll be the time and days per week spent meditating.
Actionable – An actionable goal is one with clearly defined actions/steps that we must take in order to achieve the goal. Its one where we are in control over whether or not these actions take place. In other words, it’s not a passive process like taking a pill in hopes for more energy. It requires us to be an active participant in the change process, step by step. In the case of wanting enhanced energy, perhaps a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be to get one more hour of sleep on weeknights or eat a more sustaining lunch with complex carbohydrates and protein to keep us going.
Realistic (or relevant) - It is essential to set realistic goals - otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure, which can diminish our motivation. A goal should require us to stretch beyond our normal routines and abilities, but allow for success based on our current skills and time available. Goals should also be meaningful and relevant to our abilities and interests. Set goals that are important to where you are in your life right now. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain.
Timely - Knowing that we have a deadline can motivate us to get started and keep us focused. Experiment with short and long-term timelines, but check in regularly to monitor your progress.
Research also tells us that those of us who make resolutions are most successful when we have belief in our ability to succeed, have the skills to change, and are ready to change. As we reflect on the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, let’s all take some time to step back and think about our beliefs and our current skills. Before deciding to exercise more, do we need instruction from a trainer? Need to sign up for a cooking class before we can start making dinner 5 days a week? What support, tools and/or resources will you need in order to succeed? I know that I will need some sitting props to meditate more comfortably.
My S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015 is to practice intentional mindfulness in order to achieve more equanimity. Life’s been good, but I often feel controlled by impulsive thoughts, actions and emotions. There are tremendous benefits to mindfulness and meditation (more to come in future posts), one of which is an enhanced ability to expand the space between action and reaction. My S.M.A.R.T. resolution is to practice quiet sitting/meditation 2 times per week for 5-10 minutes before my 20 minute yoga routine. I’ll keep you all posted with my progress and would love to hear yours! What is your S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015? I’d love to hear from you!
Earlier this week I attended a speech by Dr. Robert Lustig. He’s a pediatric neuroendocronologist (studying how our metabolic hormones affect our brains), author, researcher and speaker who is spreading the word about our broken food system and all the scientific evidence that shows how eating too much added sugar is linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
I left the event excited and inspired by all I learned and impressed with his ability to transform complicated scientific and technical information into a form a general audience could relate to and understand. Concepts he was really hitting hard were the dangers of fructose and its role in fatty liver disease and cognitive decline (more on this in a later post) as well as the danger of visceral adipose fat (or the fat around our liver and abdominal organs). According to Lustig its our waist, not our weight, that matters.
It has long been recognized that our body mass index (BMI) can predict our likelihood of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death). The higher our BMI, the more at risk we are for numerous chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. However, more and more science is revealing that it’s where our fat is stored that makes the difference. This is where waist circumference comes into the picture, since the fat surrounding our liver and other abdominal organs, aka visceral abdominal fat, is very metabolically active. It releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that ultimately lead to higher LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Its associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disorders including insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertension and several cancers.
Lustig's take home message was that being “thin” is not a safeguard against metabolic syndrome. I can be as tall and weigh the same as my best friend and therefore have the same BMI, but if I store my weight in my abdomen and she in her hips I am most at risk. So where do we go from here? Well, let’s get to know our numbers! Diagnosis of metabolic dysfunction includes measurements of cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, blood pressure and waist circumference*. For your best health, your waist should measure no more than 102 cm (40 in) in men and 88 cm (35 in) in women. A lower waist circumference cutpoint (eg, 90 cm [35 inches] in men and 80 cm [31 inches] in women) appears to be appropriate for Asian Americans.
Look forward to more posts on this topic and changes we can make help our belts cinch a little tighter. If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Lustig’s research, here’s the link to his YouTube video that went viral a few years back. He was also interviewed in the amazing documentary that was recently released called Fed Up. And he’s in a current PBS series now called Sweet Revenge. He and his team at UCSF also created an awesome website sugarscience.org that has a resource kit and tons of user-friendly info. Spread the word!!
* To measure your waist circumference start at the top of your hip bone, then bring the tape measure all the way around, level with your belly button. Make sure it's not too tight and that it's straight. Don't hold your breath while measuring.
In a recent class I facilitated, a member reminded me of the importance of our social network and its impact on our activity levels and weight. I thanked him for the valid commentary and recalled a Ted Talk I watched some time ago. It sounds crazy, but it’s true: the people we associate with can have a powerful effect on our behavior - for better or for worse.
Per Nicholas Christakis’s talk and research paper, the effects of our social network are vast – affecting our body weight and even our levels of happiness. Regarding body weight:
A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%.
Christakis and his colleague even found that if your friend’s friends are obese your risk of obesity is 25% higher and if your friend’s friend’s friends are obese your risk is 10% higher. There is additional research that shows how our social environment can affect our physical activity and sedentary behaviors.
So how does this work? Many think that is due to the changes in our social norms - what an acceptable weight is, for example. Or perhaps our perception of our own risk of illness depends on the people around us. Either way, our social networks have value and as Christakis shared in his talk, the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs. That being said, let’s take a step back and evaluate our social network, especially in our effort to Maintain No Gain. If you are surrounded by those who spend most of their time watching TV and eating out, maybe it’s time to expand your social network. Join Meetup.com to find a hiking group or book club. Sign up for a cooking class or intramural sports team in your community or seek out volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood to meet new friends. Can you share some other ways? I'd love to hear from you!
The holidays are here and food, treats and parties abound. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often tough for those of us trying to maintain or lose weight, but I am hoping to share a few tips to help you Maintain No Gain this holiday season!
Maintaining our weight during the holidays is a vital step to curb our risk for obesity since studies show that the weight gained during the holidays is rarely lost. How much weight do we gain on average, anyhow? According to one study it ranges between 0.8 to 3.5 pounds with a net gain of just over 1 pound accounting for post-holiday weight loss. Another study found a similar 1 pound weight gain on average, however, weight gain was greater among individuals who were overweight or obese, and 14% gained >5 lbs. Whether its 1 or 5, imagine yourself 10 Thanksgivings from now – if we don’t make an effort to Maintain No Gain we’ll be 10 to 50 pounds heavier if in fact we don't maintain or shed those holiday pounds!
Maintaining our weight during the holidays does not mean we have to forgo holiday parties or deprive ourselves of our favorite dishes. It just means that we have to have a plan. My proposed plan is three-fold, taking into account our eating habits, activity and our stress management techniques.
We eat to connect, to share love, to celebrate…to live! With mindfulness and strategy we can have our cake and eat it too as they say.
Eat mindfully - Perform an internal check-in and gauge how hungry (or hangry!) you are. Listen to your body’s natural intuition and eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Better yet, stop at 80%. In Japanese there is a word for this: hara hachi bu! Pay attention to what you’re eating, chew more and slooww down…you know it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs and all those hormones to communicate to our brains that we’re full, right?
Bring your own dish - Unless you have a favorite holiday dessert that you can’t bear not to make, bring a healthy salad, roasted vegetable side dish or fruit-based dessert to the party!
Start with soup or salad - Studies have shown that you eat less during a single sitting if you start the meal off with a water-based soup or a green salad. It’s all about that Volume!
Sit away from the buffet table! - Sitting or standing near food increases our propensity to eat.
Select a smaller plate or bowl - Larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead us to misjudge that very same quantity of food as being significantly larger. For example, one study showed how those who were given larger bowls served and consumed 16% more cereal than those given smaller bowls.
Watch what you drink - Yes, you should watch your liquid calorie intake, but also beware of alcohol’s power to lower your inhibitions and disregard your hunger/fullness signals.
Research before you eat out - Find the menu online and do research beforehand! Find the broiled, grilled and baked entrees, ask for condiments and dressing on the side. Don’t be shy and ask the waiter if entrees can be made with less oil. Try to pass up the bread and chips and remember to hydrate! Hunger is often confused for thirst.
Just say "No" – From that coworker to the Betty Crocker encouraging you to clean your plate or take a to-go container of sweets, just say “No” (well, preferably “No, thank you.”). Culturally it may be hard, but when you are advocating for your health they should understand. Also, just because it's on your plate or in your hand doesn't mean you have to eat it.
Even following all of the aforementioned eating advice, it’s still likely that we will overindulge and do it more frequently in the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That is why maintaining an active (and even more active…) life during the holidays should be another part of our game plan. Exercise burns calories – and when we’re consuming more than we need, we've gotta burn ‘em off or we will become that statistic and gain those 1 to 5 holiday pounds.
Incorporate fitness into your celebrations – Can you inspire a post-meal walk (or “D” aka Digestion walk) after your family meal? What about a weekend hike, Zumba video or flag football game? The holidays don’t have to be spent sitting around the table 24/7. Spice it up! Hit up the ice rink, pool or gym if you have some saved up passes to share.
Sign up for a holiday Fitness event – there are tons of Turkey Trots to choose from. Sign up for a 5K walk or run and be a healthy role model for your family. Signing up for a race is also a great motivator as you have your event in sight and are motivated to train for it. What other fitness events are in your neighborhood or local gym? Maybe create a challenge organically with your friends and neighbors!
Put on your pedometer! - Did you know that those who wear pedometers walk 2,000 more steps/day than those who don’t? And speaking of steps…have your and your family’s goal be 10,000 steps a day! I know you can do it.
Holiday weight gain is more than just the greater availability of delicious food. Holidays can be a time of stress for many, hosting parties, buying gifts, managing difficult reunions and often experiencing loneliness. We eat not only to nourish but to console, distract and to suppress our anxieties. Stress also seems to affect food preferences, increasing our intake of foods high in fat, sugar, or both. A variety of hormones may be to blame (insulin, cortisol, and ghrelin), as they become elevate alongside our elevated stress.
Stick to a budget – finances are often at the root of holiday stress. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Also, opt for homemade gifts, start family gift exchanges and look for free and cheap holiday options.
Make some time for yourself – The holidays are about giving, but don’t forget to give to yourself! Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Perhaps a walk in nature, enjoy a bubble bath (scratch that…there’s a drought upon us!), get a massage, read a book, meditate or practice yoga.
Journal it up - Before turning to the leftover pie to distract yourself from an argument or the stress of a “perfect” holiday, write down your thoughts. Practice creative problem solving and seek advice from friends, rather than comfort from the fridge. Also, don’t forget that those who use an exercise and food journal loose 2x more weight than those who don’t.
Delegate! - Are there some household projects, decorating or shopping trips that you can ask your friends and family to assist with? Foster an atmosphere of teamwork and connection than being the “perfect” hostess.
Think positive - Positive thinking and optimism are key parts of effective stress management regime. Manage and understand your self-talk and practice gratitude! Its easy to scan the world for the negative, but the more you scan for the positive the more good you will see!
Maintain your sleep schedule – Our time off work may give us more opportunities to stay up late and party, but call it quits early enough so that you can get plenty of sleep. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Best of luck in your efforts to Maintain No Gain! Please share your go-to weight maintenance techniques and let me know on January 1st if your scale looks familiar to what it looks like tonight! I'll be sure to check in with my progress. Thanks for reading!
I struggle with getting enough sleep during the week and I know I’m not alone. Chronic sleep loss is rampant in today's society. The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours; however, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of 6 hours or less of sleep per day and only 31% of high school students getting at least 8 hours of sleep on an average school night.
Sleep is often sacrificed to watch TV and manage our many responsibilities working, doing chores and homework, child rearing, exercising, etc. However, it may be time to review our priorities and see if we can put sleep more towards the top. We can drink our red bulls and pour that second (third, or fourth) cup of coffee, but lost sleep is nothing to scoff at. Beyond it being related to car crashes and reduced productivity and libido, chronic sleep loss can contribute to a host of health problems:
Weight gain and altered metabolism: Sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance and screws up our concentrations of leptin and ghrelin (two key opposing hormones in appetite regulation), making us more hungry. It also significantly decreases activity in appetite evaluation regions in our brains, making us crave high-calorie foods!
Cardiovascular health: Short sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, an exaggerated inflammatory response, and increased stress hormone levels.
Learning and memory: The quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory through its role in the consolidation of memory and enhancing our ability to focus, which are essential for learning new information.
Immune system: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.
Healthy Sleep Advice
If you are having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following to improve your sleep:
Resistance exercise is medicine. Whether using dumbbells or kettlebells, your own body weight, rubber tubing or a jug of water, resistance exercise, also known as strength training, increases the strength and mass of our muscles, bones, and boosts our metabolism. The benefits of resistance exercise are well-documented and ongoing research continues to prove that it's an important activity for us all to engage in, especially as we age.
Benefits of resistance training include:
Heeding the above information, I do my best to incorporate resistance training into my lifestyle. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two days each week, so that is my goal. I have a favorite kettle bell circuit, practice yoga, rent workout videos from the library, and consult my weekly Women’s Health magazine for new ideas. When lifting weights, a typical training program involves one to three sets of several different exercises targeting the major muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, pectorals, and deltoids. Additional exercises can be added for smaller muscle groups, such as biceps, triceps, trapezious, or calves. Repetition ranges are typically 8–15 per set (make sure to use a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue at the end of each set), and rest intervals between sets typically last 1–2 minutes, allowing a strength training session to be completed in 20–30 minutes. For injury prevention, proper technique is essential.
What resistance exercises do you practice? Share with me and others in the comment area below, I look forward to hearing about your favorite exercises and experiences.
The more active we are, the healthier we are. All forms of aerobic activity or "cardio" that get us breathing harder and our hearts beating faster are associated with improvements in numerous health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, insulin sensitivity, osteoporosis, and depression. Muscle-strengthening activities (more on these in a later post) build muscle strength, endurance, increase bone density and can boost our metabolisms. And stretching exercises increase flexibility, can reduce stress and prevent injury. All three of these exercises are recommended, but how much? And how much are we getting?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all adults receive 2.5 hours/week of moderate-intensity* aerobic activity (30 minutes 5 days/week) and muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days per week; however, 80% of adults in the United States do not meet these guidelines with 51.6% meeting the aerobic activity guidelines and only 29.3% meeting the muscle-strengthening guidelines.
Some of the most common reasons adults cite for not adopting more physically active lifestyles include: not having enough time, a lack of self-motivation and confidence in their ability to be physically active (low self-efficacy), find exercise inconvenient, and a fear of being injured or have been injured recently. Our environment can also affect our ability and desire to be active, for example, if we lack encouragement and support from our family and peers or if our neighborhoods lack parks, sidewalks, bicycle lanes or safe spaces.
Discovering and addressing our unique barriers to physical activity should be the first step on our path to a more active lifestyle. What are your barriers? Without taking the appropriate time to reflect and become more self-aware of your own habits and roadblocks, they will repeatedly get in your way.
Here are some ways to overcome common physical activity barriers, ways to make it fun and how to ensure your environment supports your goal to move more:
Schedule it in. Treat physical activity like a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on your calendar. Also, keep in mind that all types of activities count as long as we’re doing them at a moderate or vigorous-intensity for at least 7 to 10 minutes at a time. Schedule in small bouts of activity throughout your day and surprise yourself with how much activity you can fit in!
Make it fun! Bust out your favorite tunes on your MP3 player while hiking on the trail or power walk in the house while watching Leslie Sansone’s Walk away the Pounds.
Recruit fitness buddies. Rather than meeting your friends over pizza and beer or for a latte, find a beautiful place outdoors for a walk, some flag football or a kickboxing class. If your friends aren't interested, branch out and hit up meetup.com!
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. When planning your goals, go through all the details. When and where will you do it? How will you fit it into your schedule? What do you need to get started? Writing things down often adds a level of accountability and opportunity for rewarding yourself. (More on S.M.A.R.T. goals in another post)
Get a pedometer. Did you know that those who wear pedometers walk at least 2,000 more steps (1 mile!) per day than those who don’t?
Fit physical activity into your daily routine: walk or ride your bike to work or shopping, walk the dog, exercise while you watch TV, park farther away from your destination, etc.
Get the family on board: having a network of friends and family who support your efforts to move more and eat healthy will be fundamental to your success. Explain your desire to lead an active lifestyle to friends and family; ask them to support your efforts. Partake in post-dinner walks, coordinate a hike over the weekend or rent a Zumba video for a family workout in the living room!
Leverage your lunch hour! Is there time to fit in a walk or some chair yoga into your break? Get your coworkers involved and hit the streets!
Change your mindset: If your barrier is low-energy, convince yourself that if you give it a chance physical activity will increase your energy level; then, try it. You may be surprised by the result. Our mind is truly the first battleground.
Learn a new skill. It’s often our lack of self-efficacy and confidence that prevents us from being active. If that’s your barrier take some time to learn an activity you’ve always been interested in, such as ballroom dancing, square dancing, or swimming.
Plan for setbacks! Effective change involves small changes and problem solving. Roadblocks will always appear, whether it’s the impending holidays or rain in the forecast that may cancel your scheduled walk. Get in the habit of brainstorming specific strategies to overcome your unique roadblocks in advance so you’re prepared to overcome them!
One last note on weight loss: for those striving to lose weight, it has been found that many people may need more than the equivalent of 2.5 hours/week of moderate-intensity physical activity to maintain their weight and up to 5 hours/week (~45min/day) to lose weight. Start where you’re at, reflect on your barriers and try out those tips above.
*You can tell if it’s moderate-intensity by doing the talk test: you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. You can tell if your activity is vigorous-intensity if you aren’t able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’, but what about when you eat? There is a lot of interesting research that suggests when we eat and how organized we are with our meal schedules can affect our weight.
Let’s start with some research you’ve probably heard of: breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day many claim, one which helps students perform better in school. Research also shows that skipping breakfast is associated with increased prevalence of obesity. The thought is that skipping breakfast increases hunger throughout the day, making us overeat at our next meal. Data also suggests that eating breakfast helps minimize impulsive snacking. Not everyone is convinced that this is the case, however. Of course what we are eating for breakfast is a more critical factor. For example, a veggie egg scramble on whole wheat toast vs. a grande mocha and maple nut scone from Starbucks, (containing a 770 calories and 59 grams of sugar - almost 15 teaspoons! - together).
What about meal frequency? Is it better to eat frequent, small meals or eat three square meals a day? The jury is still out, but compelling evidence does show that eating multiple, small meals can suppress hunger and overall serum insulin concentrations. This is important news as high insulin levels are associated with obesity and cancer.
One other interesting finding regarding the when is in those of us who eat late at night. Data suggest that the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods in the late evening increases glycogen levels in our muscles. Unless this stored glycogen is burned as fuel, it will ultimately be stored as fat. Therefore, consumption of late-evening meals with carbohydrate-rich foods may also be related to obesity. In addition, eating late at night also affects the circadian rhythms of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which affect hunger and satiation (or fullness). Leptin signals satiation thereby decreasing food intake while ghrelin induces hunger, affecting meal initiation. Eating late at night (as well as being sleep deprived) turns leptin down and raises ghrelin up, a bad combination for those trying to manage their weight.
So…perhaps the when isn't the entire story, but being conscious of it can be a powerful tool for weight maintenance. Don’t skip breakfast or other meals and try to eat every 2-4 hours. Take inventory of your eating and sleep habits and focus on meals that keep your blood sugar in balance (and don't forget the power of Sugar Blockers!)
Have you ever watched with envy a child offered ice cream, take a bite or two then push the bowl away? Children are naturally intuitive with their eating, but we lose this skill with age. Cultural and social factors influence how much, when and why we eat, along with our lack of presence. Children are good at intuitive eating because they live in present time. They aren’t thinking about what they ate today or yesterday or what they’ll eat later or even how the cook feels - they’re only focused on eating when they are hungry, what they want to eat now, and the amount of food to satisfy their hunger for that moment.
The Clean Plate Club is an example of not eating intuitively and a new study reveals that adults fall victim more than children, as we would expect. Researchers analyzed almost 1,200 diners in eight countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands. Despite differences in gender and geography the study found that adults finish 92 percent of what's on their plates while kids eat just 59 percent. Other highlights from the study revealed that men are more likely than women to trust their bodies to tell them how much to eat. In addition, it was found that intuitive eating was lower among those with a higher BMI and that intuitive eating was associated with fewer disordered eating behaviors.
Are you a member of the Clean Plate Club? Have you lost your ability to listen and respond to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals? Well, fear not as there is considerable evidence that intuitive eating skills can be learned (or re-learned). Often called "mindful eating” intuitive eating is also an effective weight management strategy and we can start today.
Using smaller plates and bowls is one solution as they "trick" our brain into thinking we've eaten more. But really, mindful eating begins with sitting down at a table with the TV off. Remove all distractions, and focus on your meal. Setting the table and lighting a candle can help as well. Mindful eating involves honoring the sensations of hunger and fullness and giving ourselves permission to eat. When we tell ourselves that we can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binging. We can pause in the middle of a meal and ask ourselves how the food tastes, and what our current fullness level is. Doesn’t food taste 10 times better when you’re hungry anyhow? If we decide that we are no longer hungry, give thanks to Tupperware, to-go boxes, and refrigeration! And remember, it takes up to 20 minutes for our gut to communicate with our brain that we're full, so slow it down a bit :)
Mindful eating also involves honoring our feelings without using food. Food is often used as a crutch when dealing with anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger, but food won't fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract or even numb us, but food won't solve the problem. What other activities can we enjoy or how else can we manage these emotions?
We can also encourage mindful eating in the children that we touch. Research tells us that mothers who eat intuitively use less controlling feeding practices with their children and that parental monitoring and restriction of food intake can negatively impact our children’s BMI, emotional eating, and Intuitive Eating Scale scores. The more we as parents and caregivers can trust our own bodies, the more easily we can let children instinctively trust theirs.
The journey towards intuitive eating is a process one engages in overtime. It may even pose more of challenge for those who have a long history of dieting, self-imposed food restrictions, or body image concerns. With time, practice and self-compassion we can all re-learn to eat intuitively and pass this gift to those around us.
Do you practice intuitive eating? What are your experiences and bits of advice that can help us on the path to well-being?
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!