The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Eaters
Updated: Jan 31
We place a huge amount of emphasis on what we eat these days…particularly in the nutrition profession; something which is indeed the foundation of health and disease prevention. That being said, the how we eat is also important. As a functional nutritional therapist, I spend a lot of time discussing and observing food habits; and I often find that it is not so much the food, but the habit aspect of health that my clients struggle with the most.
It is not difficult to create delicious and healthy food. It may take some re-education, but it is not difficult. What is challenging is changing our thoughts, habits and disciplines around the ceremony and treatment of the foods that we eat.
I have previously discussed my observation of highly dysfunctional eating habits in the modern world. Today, I would like to share with you what effective eating looks like.
If you look at the Blue Zone areas; countries such as Italy and Japan, which have been studied for their remarkable level of health into old age you will begin to notice not just similarities between their diets, but also between their lifestyles. Food is deeply respected and embedded in their cultures; as is the body which it is offered to. This is evident in their attitude and basic principles of eating:
1. Eat until you feel satisfied or about 80% full
What this means is that we should not overeat. When we overfill our bodies, we put stress on the entire digestive system. This can make it more difficult for the body to digest and break down our food, which can lead to inflammation, fermentation and dysfunctions such as bloating, Candida, nausea and stomach aches. On a deeper level, when this behaviour is repeated the increased level of inflammation in the gut can contribute to a myriad of other disorders such as anxiety, depression, obesity and food intolerance.
2. Eat at the table
While meal time is also a social gathering among many of these cultures, even if you are eating alone it important to step away from other tasks and prepare your body for the meal it is about to receive. Simply by maintaining a routine of sitting at the table to eat, you are inadvertently signalling to your body that it is about to receive food, allowing it to release the necessary gastric and digestive juices required for efficient digestion.
3. Maintain a schedule
You will notice that a clear eating schedule is often maintained in these cultures. Breakfast is at 7am, lunch at 12.30pm and dinner at 7pm or similar. What this does is not only regulate the digestive cycle in the body as it knows when it can expect to eat but it also minimises the stress of surprise, which has a huge impact on our ability to minimise inflammation and fully absorb the nutrients from our food.
4. Feel hungry
We never feel hungry anymore and this is not good for our health. Humans have survived millennia operating in an environment of feast and famine. In fact, we know that the body relies on a fasted state for cellular repair and recovery. If we are constantly snacking or grazing, not only does it impact our body’s hunger signals, but it is also impeding our body’s ability to heal and repair itself. Rather, focus on eating three balanced meals per day and allow the body to fully digest and feel hungry for the next meal. Snacking between meals can not only increase our appetite, but it also stimulates insulin release, keeping our blood sugars raised throughout the day which we know can lead to fatigue, increased weight and even pain.
5. The kitchen is closed after dinner
If you have fed your body to the point of nourishment and satisfaction, then any ‘hunger’ or craving you experience for a food thereafter is coming from a place of 'mental', no physical hunger. While it is perfectly fine to enjoy a treat now and again, opening a packet of biscuits after your dinner should not be common practice if you want to live a long and healthy life.
6. Food is eaten and prepared in the kitchen/dining area
We have developed a habit of eating in front of the TV in the western world. Whether we are on the couch or in bed, we just love to munch while catching up on our favourite shows. However, this not only impacts our interpersonal wellbeing, but it strengthens the disconnect with what we are putting into our bodies.
7. Meal ending ritual
Something that is very common in the Italian culture is to finish a meal with a piece of fruit. This simple act may not be seen as anything extraordinary, but in fact it is sending an important message to the brain that your meal is coming to an end. Now while I don't necessarily recommend fruit as the best post-meal option, having a habit that signals the end of your meal is a great thing. It could simply be leaving the table, washing the dishes or maybe putting on the kettle for a warm cup of herbal tea. When we reach for a piece of chocolate, or bring a packet of biscuits to the couch after dinner, what you are doing is forcing your body to restart the first digestive stages which takes focus away from the absorption and detoxification phase of digestion which are key to our health.
So, tell me, do you practice any of these eating habits? Do you notice a difference in how you feel when you do versus when you don’t?