Power your mind with great reads that encourage healthy life style choices.
By Joshua Gaskins, Senior Fitness Trainer, Fitness & Wellness Division, Department of Human Resources
Let’s face it, this pandemic has forged unprecedented challenges into everyone’s life. However, new challenges can bring new opportunities. So, whether you are working from home attempting double duty with your job and homeschooling your kids, or you are an essential employee tasked with new responsibilities and workloads, or a mixture of both, there is something to learn in the midst of these perilous times. I believe there is no better time than now to focus on what you can control and influence when it comes to maintaining or achieving good health and immunity. Your nutritional habits have tremendous power. Food can either be your pitfall or advantage.
Are you indulging in self-sabotaging habits such as binge drinking, late night snacking, and mindless eating? Well, becoming more intuitive, or mindful, of your eating habits can equip you with the arsenal you need to win the battle for your health. Intuitive eating is the ability to stay tuned in to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Many benefits are associated with this tactic including the following:
It seems simple to ask yourself ‘am I hungry?’ before eating, or to stop eating before any discomfort sets in, but the key to becoming more nutritionally intuitive is through the power of intentionally and repeatedly making good choices over time—this starts with a change of your mindset! As you make positive, healthy choices every day, your new habit will have long-term positive impacts on your health. Thus, the purpose of this article is to not only provide intuitive eating strategies for your Health Trip, but to, also, equip you with effective solutions that will make you stronger than before.
Strategy #1: Using the hunger scale.
The Hunger Scale below is an effective, yet simple strategy to discover how you should and should not feel when eating intuitively. The idea is to stay within the green zone and avoid the caution and red zones when you begin and stop eating. For example, begin eating when you are mildly hungry (zone 4) and stop when you are satiated or mildly full, with no discomfort (zones 5-6). The feeling of starved or famished (zones 1-3) and eating to the point of discomfort, or feeling sick, (zones 8-10) should be avoided. Practicing this routinely will yield a positive impact on your energy levels and lessen negative emotions, such as irritability or being “hangry”.
Strategy #2: Stop and think.
When learning to become more intuitive, using the stop and think rule may help. For example, try asking yourself these questions before making the decision to eat:
If you deduce that your reason for eating is an emotional decision due to stress or boredom, try distracting yourself by going for a walk or some form of activity. Reminding yourself of your eating schedule and understanding the benefits or detriments of your food choices can help you stay on track with your health and fitness goals.
Strategy #3: Journal your wins!
Remember, becoming more intuitive requires a change in how you think. Try keeping a handwritten journal of your wins. A “win” would be each time you made a positive choice regarding a food selection or food avoidance. For example, you figured out your desire to eat was due to an emotional eating response, so you went for a walk instead. WIN! When you journal your wins repeatedly, it increases the likelihood of building a new habit.
Strategy #4: Enjoy your food.
There is truth in the philosophical quotes: “food is fuel”, “food is the way to my heart”, “food is love”, “food is life”, “food is medicine”, and “food is good”. When you enjoy something, you are more apt to adhere to it long-term. Thus, pursue new ways you can enjoy healthy, mindful eating.
Strategy #5: Eat slow and savor your food.
Not only will this allow you to enjoy your food, but the action of eating slowly will enable you to eat less. Chewing more, having conversation while eating, and putting your fork down between bites will increase the length of time it takes to eat your meal, triggering satiety without overeating.
Strategy #6: Avoid restrictive eating practices.
Recently, an article by U.S. News & World Report identified the best diets of 2020, and those which were restrictive (i.e., Paleo, Whole 30, and Keto) were not at the top of the list! Restricting entire food groups is not sustainable for many reasons: It is harder to get all important nutrients, it disrupts satiety, it is harder to promote long-term weight loss (2 years or more), is less protective against diabetes or heart disease based on available evidence, and is harder to comply with (Cooper Institute 2020). Thus, a diet plan that includes all food groups in moderation leads to a long-term healthy lifestyle. Diets such the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH Diet, or Weight Watchers are notable for success.
Strategy #7: Have a plan of action.
True success or change is not achieved accidentally, but intentionally. It has been shown that individuals who set goals have a higher likelihood of being successful. This is because when you set a SMART goal it comes with a plan of action. Planning is a key factor in becoming more intuitive. Try these action plans to become more successful at intuitive eating:
Strategy #8: Reward yourself.
Positive reinforcement, or a reinforcing stimulus, has been shown to promote the behavior you are trying to achieve. Try setting up a reward system for achieving your yearly, monthly, weekly or daily goals. Here are some examples below: (rewards listed based on current social distancing guidelines)
In summary, becoming more intuitive may seem challenging, but the long-term benefits are priceless. When you make the decision to form a new habit remember that persistence is key, and perfection is unrealistic. Failures may happen along the way and that is ok. Learn from your mistakes and keep pursuing your goal(s)—focused attention and perseverance pays!
For more resources on healthy habits, visit Power Henrico.
For a jumpstart into intuitive eating, join the 21-Day Intuitive Eating Challenge May 1 – 21, 2020!
Think back to a favorite vacation. Did you spend most of the day in the sun, perhaps on a sandy beach? Or was it an escape to the mountains spent skiing or hiking? Regardless of where you went or what activities you chose to participate in, the best vacation memories come from spending time in the great outdoors.
Medical research is shining light on the fact that connecting with nature boosts productivity, creativity, resiliency, mental focus and happiness. As Americans, we have grown accustomed to a mundane schedule of working, watching TV and sleeping. We are attached to technology, leaving us inactive and indoors. The combination of a sedentary lifestyle and not getting outside can lead to poor physical and mental health.
While now is not the time to plan a vacation, it is the time to do our individual part to practice social distancing and perhaps self-quarantine due to our current public health crisis. It is the time to be intentional about scheduling in ‘nature time’ everyday (weather permitting). Eat your lunch outside, go for a walk, move your exercise time to the backyard, or even catchup on email in a nearby green space. Take a breath of outside air!
Believe it or not, breathing in fresh air (oxygen) does affect your sense of well-being and happiness. Oxygen levels in your brain are tied to your levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects not only mood, but appetite, memory, and social behavior. Too much serotonin and you become irritable and tense. Too little serotonin and you can become depressed. Breathing in fresh air can help regulate levels of serotonin and promote happiness. All it takes is 20 minutes!
Boost your happiness and join the 21 Days to Connect with Nature Challenge! Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for details.
Research shows that there’s a surprising connection between elevating your mood and shedding stubborn pounds. It’s difficult to feel calm when you worry about what to eat, when to work out, and whether your effort will pay off – all while keeping up with your everyday obligations. So, someone suggesting you relax during this process is laughable.
Stress, like a roll of fat above your waistband, isn’t easy to shed. But by learning a few ways to slow down, put yourself first, and yes, relax, you can get both your stress levels and your weight under control for good.
THE ‘YOU FIRST’ EPIDEMIC
We all have times when we fall into a self-neglect rut, but lately that seems to be almost an epidemic. The American Psychological Associated reports that 44 percent of Americans believe the level of stress in their life is increasing, but only 9 percent think they handle it well. In studying the relationship between stress and being overweight, researches have zoned in on a key hormone called cortisol. You’ve probably heard of it, but it’s not necessarily a bad hormone. Our bodies use it to maintain blood pressure, and it plays a key role in the way we metabolize both fats and carbohydrates for energy.
The trouble happens when we are under chronic stress and secrete too much cortisol for our bodies to break down properly. A common side effect of extra cortisol is increased appetite. Being constantly hungry is bad enough, but cortisol also tends to direct pounds to accumulate in the abdomen, rather than the hips, and this belly fat is closely linked to heart disease and stroke. Stress has the biggest impact on weight gain in individuals with an already-high body mass index (BMI), making stress and weight gain something of a vicious cycle.
BREATHE YOUR WAY THIN
One of the most effective ways to manage stress is also one of the simplest: Just breathe. You hear this a lot in yoga class, but you don’t need a mat to practice it. Simply set a timer for eight minutes and find a comfortable position. Now begin. Inhale for a slow count of eight, hold, and then exhale for a count of eight. The first few times you try this, your mind will likely wander. Be patient – when you notice thoughts creeping in, just return to counting your breaths, and when you lose track, start over.
When the eight minutes are up, stop. Shooting for eight minutes a day is an amazing first step. Health benefits will kick in with repeated practice. Sticking with a deep breathing meditation practice for 8 weeks will change how your brain responds to stress. You may sense that you become less reactive to tension and that you have stress-proofed your body.