In this post, we’ll begin the discussion on the Eating component of the Karma Sense Eating Plan (KSEP). Over time, we’ll look at each of the 5 mantras that I’ll ask you to consider when eating. Parts of this discussion will get into the details of the specific foods to eat. But this first section discusses the how and not the what of eating. The “how” is Eat Slowly and Stop Before You’re Full.
If you need to get caught up, the full series of posts on the Karma Sense Eating Plan can be found here. The first post in the series is here. And with the housekeeping behind us, there’s nothing to do now but discuss…
Batman and The History of How We Eat
In the U.S., back before there was MyPlate
Even before The Food Pyramid
there were the Basic Four Food Groups (a dietary plan that is so embarrassing in its nutritional naiveté, it’s difficult to find a public domain image for it). Now we all have our own little jokes for what we consider to be our Basic Four. For the six year old version of me it was hamburgers, ice cream, french fries, and food that seemed better suited as a toy than as something to put in my mouth. For me, food was more of an edible form of Legos than a source of nourishment. And so at family meal time, I was inevitably still picking away well after my brother and sister went off to do whatever preteens do when they’re not eating, sleeping, or primping. The other straggler was my dad who was an accomplished slow eater. I’ve extolled the virtues of my dad’s ahead-of-his-times health habits in multiple posts. Mindful eating is just another example.
So, with my dad as the benchmark of what the maximum time to complete a meal should be, if I was still not finished with dinner by the time he declared himself done, there were consequences. Oh, silly parents! To think you could motivate a six year old boy to not play with his food. Can you stop the tides from rising? No! Can you stop the sun from setting? No! Well attempting to get me to hasten my pace eating was somewhat akin to that.
Then one day, some brilliant TV network executive decided to broadcast the critically acclaimed series known as “Batman.” Now we all know that this version of Batman starring Adam West is not only the best version of Batman ever created but is probably the best piece of dramatic entertainment ever produced on any medium ever. It was appointment television. At least it was for me. And that got my parents thinking. “What if we restricted the lad’s access to Batman if he didn’t clean his plate by the time the show aired?”
Yes, I know, you all are reading this and wishing you had a time machine just so you could go back to 1966 and call Child Protective Services to haul my parents away. Unfortunately, you can’t do that. And that is how I made the transition from someone who truly enjoyed his food (although not necessarily in the intended fashion), to someone who wolfed it down. It didn’t matter whether I was hungry or full. No one ever had to wash my dishes again because the food would be gone before it hit the plate.
Yes, that was the turning point for when I went from mind-FULL to mind-LESS eater. Not coincidentally, I also started to become a chubby kid. Many people have had a similar experience in which the pleasures of eating were grabbed from them. It may have been being coaxed to eat because there are starving people in <insert-name-of-far-off-place-to-which-you-could-not-send-your-food>. It may have been a family member’s need to watch something on TV at meal time. Or perhaps you needed to get some nutrition in you while being shuttled between piano lessons and soccer (which I believe is American for football) practice.
Regardless of how it happened, ever since around the end of World War II the balance of supply and demand for calories has continuously shifted in a way to encourage consumption of low quality calories as frequently and as quickly as possible. But with one simple change in our relationship with our food we can turn that tide back in our favor. That change is….wait for it…
Eat Slowly and Stop Before You’re Full
Well maybe that’s two not-so-simple changes instead of one simple one but we’re going to simplify it for you. We’re going to simplify it and help you thoroughly enjoy your meal. The goal here is to get you in touch with the many cues associated with hunger. Furthermore we’re aiming for you to stop eating when you’re at the point of satisfaction and well before the point of feeling full. If you’re not already eating this way, the end result should be a reduction in the quantity of calories you consume.
I could wax poetic about the complex interplay of organs, muscles, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones that are involved in the act of digestion. But first I’d need to figure out what the expression “wax poetic” actually means. These are two words that seem to have no business appearing adjacent to each other. Besides, the only poetic form I ever mastered was the limerick:
There once was a hormone named Cholecystokinin
That’s secreted in the small intestine.
It stimulates bile
And stops hunger for a while.
Without it rotundity’s predestined.
Maybe mastered is too strong a word. Instead, I’ll “wane prose” and just say that when it comes to the feelings of satiety or fullness, it takes about 20 minutes for the symphony of signals to reach your brain and declare “surrender.” This geezer-like pace conspires against us and leads many to eat more food than they actually need or want. (see this article for research confirming this statement minus the geezer reference.) Here’s that threatened prose…
Holy Slo Mo, Batman!
You’re walking through your neighborhood and some car goes speeding down the street at an unreasonably high speed. Your natural inclination is to yell, “Slow Down!” How well does that work for ya? Even with the benefit of speed limits, people drive at the speed they’ve become accustomed to. Most people react the same way if you guide them to slow their eating pace (i.e. not at all). It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that they need more information. There are no speed limits for eating. However, there are some decent guidelines and an infinite number of strategies you can use to slow your pace and I list many of them here. As a warning, one strategy contains such a long description, I documented it in a separate post.
Before getting into any of the strategies there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- KSEP recommends a pre-meal ritual that is a step towards improved health and well-being on its own. In addition, it also helps rewire your brain to adapt to the new slow-eating habit.
- Our target should be a minimum of 15-20 minutes for a meal. This will allow that satiety mechanism to kick in.
And with these as givens, here are some strategies for slowing your pace.
- Eat with your non-dominant hands.
- Put your utensils/food down between bites.
- Take smaller bites.
- Chew your food extensively. Count how many times you usually chew your food before swallowing and extend that number by 10-25%
- Dish out your meal on a smaller plate than usual. Set a timer for twenty minutes. No matter how long it takes you to complete the food you dished out, do not eat any more until the twenty minutes is up. Assess your hunger and do not take more food unless you’re hungry (you should not be evaluating whether you are full or not. you should be evaluating if you are hungry.) Of all the ideas I like this one the least. It focuses on the before you’re full part at the expense of eat slowly. But if it works for you, proceed.
- Be a truly mindful eater. This process allows you to regain the child-like wonder you once had about food. As if the experience of eating was brand new, without the whole strained-peas-in-ear issue. In a nutshell, we’re going to break down your meal (Break it down) so that you appreciate it as the composed dish that you are eating and the individual parts that make it up. You’ll also focus on how each of your individual senses perceives the meal. Finally you’ll focus on how you feel while you eat it. If that intrigues you, the full process is here. The mindful eating exercise is not something you need to do every time you eat. It is a good thing to do over several different meal settings (e.g. time of day, location, etc.)
Those are just some quick ideas on how to eat slowly. With your pace slowed down, the Boy Wonder now declares…
Holy Contentment, Batman!
Contentment, satisfaction, fulfilled, sated. These are the feelings that we’re aiming for. When you have these feelings, the Karma Sense Eating Plan asks that you stop. Do not pass Go! Do not collect another bite in your mouth. This is perhaps the most challenging part of KSEP. It’s very difficult to know when we’ve reached that state. We have years of cultural and other pressures telling us to clean our plate, to have another helping. To not do so is a waste. It’s an insult to the people who prepared our food. Meanwhile it’s well known (and research supported) that portion sizes have grown over the years. These aren’t easy tides to fight.
It’s also very hard to detect. It’s so subjective. All of those different physiological processes that revolve around digestion take so long to kick in. It requires a keen connection between your brain and your body. It depends on all 5 of your known senses as well as your common sense. It depends on your Karma Sense.
How do we deal with this? Trial and error mostly. First, we need to reestablish the feeling you’re aiming for when it’s time to stop eating. You’re striving for the point when you’re no longer hungry. A good way to gauge that is to take stock of how hungry you felt prior to eating. A better way is to follow the mindful eating exercise that you can still find here.
When you’ve finished your first serving or it’s been 15-20 minutes since you started eating (which ever comes first), take stock of how you feel. Wait a few minutes. Do you feel the same? More contented? Hungrier? Respond accordingly, deliberately, and slowly. What we’re ultimately trying to achieve here is to fight back all that cultural and marketing pressure to consume more calories. I know, consuming calories is pleasurable. But the feeling of contentment? That’s getting it just right.
Whatever you ultimately do, eat more or quit, don’t fret about whether you ate too much or not. Instead use the time that follows to see how you feel every hour or so after the meal. Again, do you feel the same? More contented? Stuffed? Hungry? If you get to 5 or 6 hours and you’re still not hungry, you may have eaten too much in the previous meal.
I can’t say it enough. This is a hard concept to master. The benefit, however, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, is that if you can master it, you should lose weight and you’ll be doing it without having to measure calories, macronutrients, and without eliminating foods you love. The Karma Sense Eating Plan has other mantras for you to follow that can help you make further progress. But this one is the superhero.
As we navigate through the Karma Sense Eating mantras, we’ll look at few special considerations depending on what your goals are. Usually this section will give summary information if you’re trying to lose weight, maintain your weight but eat healthfully, or gain weight in the form of muscle. The Karma Sense Eating Plan book will look at some other special situations that may effect how you implement the Karma Sense Eating Plan.
Implement this mantra as is. If you can master it, you should move towards your goal with no other restrictions on your diet. If you want to lose faster or have difficulty, the Karma Sense Eating Plan would be implemented with further guidelines. A Nutrition Coach 🙂 can help you with this.
Maintain Weight but Eat Healthier
Implement this mantra as is but monitor your weight. This mantra should not cause you to gain; but you may lose weight. If you’re moving too far in that direction, try to increase your portion size. Although eating faster will help, it’s better to continue eating slowly. The advantages to digestion, sleep, and so on are just too good to give up.
Gain Weight in the Form of Muscle
Surprisingly, this mantra is a good fit depending on your body fat percentage. However, if you’re losing weight and not gaining muscle you need to eat more. If you’re finding it hard to eat more, then eating faster may actually be a solution. By the way, if this is the problem you’re having, most people hate you. But not people who follow the Karma Sense Eating Plan. They have no room for hatin’
- History, physiology, and the big food industry are conspiring to get us to consume as many calories as we can as quickly as possible. The way to reverse this trend is to follow the mantra Eat Slowly and Stop Before You’re Full.
- There are many strategies one can adopt to Eat Slowly. A Mindful Approach to eating is my favorite one because it gives you permission to reacquaint yourself with the joys of eating.
- It takes some trial and error to Stop Eating Before You’re Full. It is the most flexible way available to reduce calorie intake and lose weight.
- The mantra Eat Slowly and Stop Before You’re Full is sensible for most people regardless of their nutrition, fitness, and health goals. People who want to gain weight in the form of muscle may need to ignore this mantra.
We’ll continue onto Mantra #2 next time. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.