slowEating

MASTERING NOW ONLY WHAT YOU EAT BUT HOW YOU EAT IS VITAL TO ACHIEVING OPTIMAL HEALTH.

Hair loss can be a clarifying experience. It prompts greater attention to weight management, overall health, the quality of your complexion – and perhaps how you are the sexiest thing on wheels with your new look.

But it’s endemic to our culture to turn worthy goals, particularly weight loss, into misdirected strategies. Think grapefruit diets, cabbage diets, low-carb diets, the Beverly Hills diet and others. In hundreds of diet books written, even the good ones, the message almost universally boils down to choosing certain foods over others.

What you eat is important. But missing from much of the discussion is the matter of how to eat. To our loss – the place and pace of dining can make all the difference in the world. Where and how you consume food affects both the net calories you consume, your digestive health in particular and how much enjoyment you derive from your meals.

Guidelines on how to eat right

Eat at home. The cold facts of food eaten outside the home were uncovered a few years back by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a New York-based non-profit that objectively reviews industries, products and marketing claims to see how they affect our health. The group calculates the average meal made outside the home contains 1000 calories – about half a day’s needs – plus more sodium than what should be consumed in an entire day. By their calculations, meals prepared at home have a third fewer calories than those made elsewhere.
“The problem is these over-sized foods come with over-sized calories, saturated fat, and sodium,” says Jayne Hurley, RD, chief nutritionist for CSPI. “It used to be you got a single entree, and now in some cases you’re getting three entrees on your plate.”

Eat sitting down and in one place. Obvious, right? But in a multitasking world, it’s hardly unusual to see someone walking or driving with one hand holding the meal of the moment. Or, you “sample,” generously, while cooking. There is a tendency to think the calories simply don’t count, therefore it’s pretty easy to go back and eat more as long as you stay in motion.
That’s wrong, of course. Respect yourself and dedicate a few moments, seated, to savor what you’re eating. As you take in nutrients remain conscious of the value they bring to your health – and how tasty it is.

Eat like it’s a reward. This is probably the hardest directive for anyone, but also the most rewarding and effective.

The much-vaunted Mediterranean diet – made up of plants, legumes, olive oils, cheese and smaller portions of meat, fish and poultry, along with a glass or two of wine – also has a component to it that America forgot. It’s about eating slowly, one meal over several hours sometimes. Of course, the immediate question is, “when do they go to the gym?” Fair enough. But the point is we’ve lost the idea that a meal is an occasion, an event that is a celebration of a day worth cherishing. It’s about so much more than just fueling up.

Slower eating brings several physiological benefits. You feel fuller sooner, consequently less inclined to gorge. Your taste buds are given more opportunity to experience each bite, creating a greater awareness of good (and mediocre) tastes. You’ll digest your foods with greater comfort because more chewing stimulates more saliva (which is integral to the digestive process), concurrent with a more gradual filling of the stomach. You might learn to make better food choices, because less-nutritious processed foods generally are blander (they have to appeal to mass tastes). If you are with friends and family the interaction will be richer. Eating alone, the process can be meditative and full of self-respect because you and your health are worth the moment.

Eat something new. In a world full of ethnic cuisine of all kinds – both in restaurants and on grocers’ shelves – you owe it to yourself to try new dishes. But don’t just chew and swallow. Ask questions about spices and preparation methods. Challenge yourself to eat a food – cabbage for example – prepared according to the traditions of a different culture (e.g., Korean kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage). It will be an entirely different experience from the sauerkraut or pigs-in-a-blanket your grandmother might have made.

Food is one of the greatest pleasures of life. In an otherwise fast-paced world, taking time to enjoy a homemade meal with friends and family is what distinguishes basic existence from truly living.