Healthy eating is a sine qua non subject, especially among the health and fitness buffs. But what is healthy eating? When asked, we eulogize natural foods, organic foods, with prevalence of vegetables, grains, and fruits. Mentioning kale, quinoa, acai and other so-called super foods is a must and a sign of sophistication.
The conclusion drawn from these conversations is almost inevitably the same. If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, eat copious amounts of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and fish.
Yet, recently we learned about a certain science teacher, John Cisna, who decided to eat the unhealthy McDonald’s food for three months and see what happens. John Cisna did two critical things though. Firstly, he limited his portions to 2000 cal a day, about 400 cal lower than USDA’s recommendation for an average man. Secondly, he started walking for 45 minutes every day.
How did he fare on the profane McDonald’s diet? Lo and behold, he lost 37 pounds and his cholesterol level dropped from 249 to 170.
An affront to our intelligence you think? Just read the next story.
A professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, Mark Haub, went on a diet of sugary cakes and cereals, Doritos and Oreos. He wanted to prove that, when it concerns weight loss or gain, a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from – the notion passionately refuted nowadays by many health pundits.
Mark Haub cut his daily calorie consumption to 1800 cal for 10 weeks. As a result, he reduced his BMI from 28.8 to 24.9.
Like it or not, he explicitly demonstrated that eating moderate amounts of sugary crap is as effective for losing weight as eating moderate amounts of healthy foods. But that’s not the end of the story. Most astonishingly, there was a dramatic improvement in one of the characteristic health biomarkers, cholesterol. Professor’s LDL (bad cholesterol) dropped 20 percent, while his HDL (good cholesterol) increased by 20 percent. Take that, pundits!
What lessons can be learned from these experiments? I think, instead of paying too much attention to what we eat, we should pay more attention to how we eat. It’s good to remember that first and foremost obesity starts with overeating. And I mean, overeating of anything - red meat or fish, pasta or kale, ice cream or Greek yogurt.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate consumption of junk foods. I am just concerned that too many people think they can eat unlimited amounts of healthy foods without consequences. “We gorged ourselves on healthy stuff”, one of “The Biggest Loser” participants boasted in front of the entire world. This is not the message we need to hear.
Pay attention to how you eat! Eat slowly! Eat mindfully! Use your grey matter to override reflexes and instincts! That’s what we should shout about from the rooftops.
Talking about reflexes, when it comes to deciding when to stop eating, most people rely on their stomachs as the satiation indicator. The reflex is very simple - the consumed food expands the stomach walls and activates its mechanoreceptors; mechanoreceptors send the “I am full” signals to the brain to terminate food ingestion.
Here’s the caveat. The stomach is a pretty expandable organ that can hold up to 4 liters in volume - 50 times its original size. Is this amazing expendability a reliable indicator of fullness and satiety? Seriously, is it okay to consume 2-3 liters of food at a time? Well, that depends...
In the beginning there was the Caveman Way. Cave dwellers relied on their stretchy stomachs to create fat deposits to endure the lean times. The amazing stomach elasticity allowed cavemen and cavewomen gorge on food. Cave people wolfed down food until their stomachs were seriously overexpanded. Feeling the squeeze, the mechanoreceptors in the stomach wall were eager to unleash a barrage of SOS signals on the satiation centers of the brain. And only then, the food ingestion was terminated.
The Caveman Way remained a great asset and an important survival mechanism for millennia right until the advent of the industrial revolution. But when the industrial revolution created food abundance, that instrument of survival started to falter.
As food became more available, the overweight people began to traipse the streets of fast growing cities. And lately, as natural foods have been pretty much replaced by processed soft junk, stomach elasticity has become a sore liability. Its nifty capacity to stretch is one of the biggest contributors to obesity nowadays.
Of course, the stomach is not the main culprit. The human primal brain and our genetic memory wield undue influence on our current behavior. Our primal brain is preprogrammed with the empirical knowledge that food is hard to find, capture, kill, and consume. Meaning, our primal brain still perceives a five-minute drive to MacDonald’s as a dangerous endeavor. A feat akin to hunting a ferocious wild boar, chopping its carcass with primitive stone tools, charring its flesh on crude fire, tearing off and grinding down the tough meat with the rock-hard molars.
So, here’s the catch - your primal brain expects a long arduous chase, which is rewarded by barely edible (by modern standards) food. Instead, you are instantaneously gratified by loads of uber processed junk.
These circumstances trigger a very unfortunate chain of events: overeating, redundant fat deposits, metabolic syndrome, and progressively deteriorating health.
How do we deal with these unfortunate events? It’s simple. We say “No” to the Caveman Way. We apply the most powerful tool given to us as humans – our mind...
1. Understand the benefits and flaws of the foods you eat.
2. During meals, focus on the foods and avoid distractions.
3. Stay in control while eating: small bites, thorough chewing.
4. Don’t rush, pause between bites and reflect on taste and texture.
5. Never forget to thoroughly enjoy each morsel!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Mindful Eating.