Today, as I was driving to the Farmers Market in Berkeley to enjoy my weekly ritual of buying local grown and produced fruits, veggies and animal protein, I happened to catch a bit of the show “Your Health and Fitness” on KPFA. The host posited the assertion that “health” bestows on each of us the opportunity to live a full life. I gotta say, I loved the simplicity of this notion, and all that it really implies. Then I got home to read the following comment on my recent post regarding yoga for healthy eating, full of more wisdom born out of personal experience. It came from an old friend and colleague of mine, and with her permission, I share it with you now:
Kudos on taking on such a complicated subject! I have a few ideas I think are worth adding to the discussion on mindfulness and healthy eating, and when I say "ideas", I really mean personal opinions I've formed along the journey of nurturing my personal health.
The first idea that really drives my weight management is focusing on eating more good food rather less bad food. "Eat less" is very common advice, but when we set out attempting to do this, what happens is, we end up eating meals that are less than we need to feel satisfied, and then, when we are inevitably hungry in an hour or two, we reach for a convenient snack. This snack is rarely nutritious, and does two things; it keeps us from our goal of losing weight and gives us a sense that we are inept in managing our food. This second part is often the killer. When people ask me for advice about weight loss, I always say the same thing; "EAT MORE VEGGIES". If you add a large serving of vegetables to lunch and dinner, you will not be hungry in between meals. And these vegetables are of tremendous value to your long term health. Your body will shift naturally a healthier size. Eat more, not less.
Also, I believe that living in the modern world means being absolutely inundated with information about dieting, and most of this information is not helpful. Find a plan that works for your lifestyle and stick to it. I've used the same food plan through two terms of weight loss (one in my early thirties & one after my daughter was born), and I generally use the same plan for maintenance today. Find a plan that works for your lifestyle and stick to it.
Lastly, I think exercise is vital to weight maintenance, not because it assists in weight loss (I've actually found it to hinder my weight loss), but because it helps with stress reduction and confidence in the long run. Stress is perhaps the most important factor in why we eat and why we fail at weight loss. When we find exercise that we enjoy and we can integrate into our lifestyle, we have a useful tool in managing our long-term health through stress reduction. Secondarily, we gain in the process an enjoyment of our bodies that is necessary to continue on a path of nurturing self -care. Exercise we enjoy makes us feel good. Feeling good helps us to want to continue on the journey.
Hope this is helpful to the greater discussion.
The practices of yoga, starting with pranayama as a beginning method to quiet the normal mental chatter and give the busy portion of the mind a rest, can be quiet helpful in this process of introspection. From there, dharana and dhyana, one-pointed concentration practice and continual meditation practice, will refine and sharpen the ability to be receptive to these deeper goals. One of the qualities that is always mentioned in either succeeding or failing at these sorts of attempted changes is the presence of “will power.” And according to Stanford psychologist, author and yoga teacher Kelly McGonigal, scientists now consider will power to be like a muscle, versus something you either have or don’t have. We all have the muscle, and you can strengthen it with practice. And yoga is a discipline that teaches us about practice, or abhyasa, as one of the main tools for succeeding in meeting our highest goals.
So to recap Amelia’s wisdom:
- Eat enough good food (VEGGIES!) to satisfy your energy needs and satisfy you hunger.
- Find a plan that works for your lifestyle and stick to it, ie practice it everyday!
- Don’t underestimate the value of exercise as a stress reducing and confidence-inspiring tool (a strong asana practice could be part of that I’d think!), as stress is a huge trigger for unhealthy eating. And exercise makes us feel good, which has a positive feedback on motivation.