EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting, LLC

Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition


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Hunger & Fullness: Honoring Our First Biological Instinct

“What are you hungry for?” 

This seems like it should be a simple, uncomplicated question. So, why do so many people struggle with a simple answer? You probably know how this goes! Whether you’re asking your kids, husband, guests, or yourself, we often get the response: “I don’t know!”

We are all hungry for something and there are different types of hunger. There is, of course, physical hunger for food, but too often people aren’t really hungry for food – or don’t know how to recognize their physical cues.

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Some people – including kids – are hungry for comfort; others are hungry to fit in or belong; while some are hungry for feeling safe, secure, successful, or happy. Others crave to be the best, to win, or to be perfect. In fact, our tendency to overeat or constantly choose highly palatable treats over a simple piece of fruit (as the above image suggests) limits the opportunity to really figure what you’re hungry for.

Before we dive into this topic, it’s important to understand that there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of our favorite treats or goodies (unfortunately referred to by many as “junk food”). I don’t find this language helpful, nor descriptive of some of these favorite dishes that are often heirloom recipes reflective of time-honored traditions.

I do believe, from personal and professional experience, that it can be easy to get off track from recognizing and honoring our internal cues of hunger and fullness – which are really one of our first biological instincts that we are born with. So my hope is that with a little lesson in terminology, along with some simple nutrition interventions, your awareness of physical cues can be differentiated from other times when food is perhaps being used for another purpose.

What is the difference between hunger and appetite?

Hunger is a physiological need for food.  Appetite is a psychological desire or craving for food or drink, in other words, what sounds good?  Both hunger and appetite determine what, when and why we eat.  At times we are not hungry but have an appetite, such as seeing a dessert after eating a meal. Or, we may be hungry but not have an appetite, such as when we are sick.

Hunger:  “An uneasy sensation occasioned normally by the lack of food and resulting directly from stimulation of the sensory nerves of the stomach by the contraction and churning movement of the empty stomach.” ~ Webster’s Dictionary

What is the difference between fullness and satiety?

Fullness is usually associated with a satisfied feeling in the stomach or, if you overeat, an uncomfortable feeling. Therefore, fullness is a function of the amount of food you eat.  Satiety; however, is feeling satisfied, or not being hungry, that lasts after the initial feeling of fullness subsides.  Macronutrients in the food you eat can influence feelings of fullness and satiety.  For example, while fiber in food may promote a feeling of fullness in the short term; protein and fat have a lasting affect on satiety.

Satiety: “The quality or state of being fed or gratified.” ~ Webster’s Dictionary

How do you know if you are hungry or full?

The ability to use your internal cues to notice hunger and fullness may be difficult for some people and are only noticed until they are strong or intense.  For example, you may not notice the physical signals of hunger because of consumption of coffee or diet sodas. Eventually, you may become “famished”; and consequently overeat, not realizing how physically hungry your body really was.  On the flip side, you may not recognize the feeling of fullness until you feel uncomfortably stuffed.  The following scale is designed to help you become aware of your internal cues so you can manage your intake.

hunger and fullness scale

Why do I feel “full” but not “satisfied”?

Feeling full is a function of the amount of food you eat; for example, the amount of food on your plate also takes up room in your stomach.  However, sometimes it’s not just the amount of foods eaten, but the characteristics of that food that lead to fullness.  For example, the water and fiber content of the foods we eat can all influence fullness.

Satiety is a measure of many factors, most important being the macronutrients (such as protein and fat) in the meal that signal the brain you have had what the body needs.  For example, I could eat a whole plate of lettuce or drink a 20 ounce diet soda.  It will certainly take up a lot of room in my stomach, but shortly you will get urges to eat more because the proper nutrients weren’t supplied.

The impact of individual macronutrients on satiety is typically measured in experimental studies.  From this research, we know that sugar and fruit provide a quick source of energy, but are quickly digested and absorbed, so don’t stay in the stomach as long, compared to complex carbohydrates, fat and protein that take longer to digest.  A food that is reported to have high satiety tends to produce a longer “intermeal” period (a period of time between eating episodes during which an individual does not experience hunger).  Foods containing protein and fat tend to promote longer satiety between meals. There are many other factors, including food temperature, pleasure of food, individual issues such as blood sugar and hormonal response to food, or trying to use food to solve a problem (which it can’t do) that may continue to trigger the urge to eat or not feeling satisfied.

What can I do to better honor my internal cues of hunger and fullness?

Awareness of your internal cues of hunger and fullness is a great first step.  You can do this by using the sample hunger and fullness scale and noticing how you feel before and after meals and snacks.

Following are some additional strategies for helping you increase your awareness of your internal cues:

  • Keep a journal. Record when and what you eat along with rating how hungry you are before and after a meal or snack.
  • Awareness of emotional eating. Check in with how you are feeling (bored, happy, sad, angry, frustrated, etc.) before you eat.  Are you eating because you are hungry or to “fix” a feeling?
  • Include a balance of macronutrients in meals and snacks. Include protein and fat in meals and snacks to promote satiety and decrease overeating between meal.
  • Identify and challenge negative beliefs about fullness. A history of dieting often promotes the idea that “fullness” equals “fatness.”  Remind yourself that it is normal to feel “comfortably full.”
  • If it seems you are out of touch with your internal cues (i.e. always hungry, never feel full, or never hungry), planning your meals ahead so they are well balanced, and include moderate portions, is vital to help you reconnect and relearn your hunger and fullness cues.

Dr. Susan Albers (www.eatq.com) has a number of resources and books to help individuals improve their relationship with food and eating. Following is an infographic that illustrates a decision tree for discerning the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Beginning to increase your awareness of these difference can be a great first step to reclaiming and honoring our first biological instinct!

SUSAN ALBERS LLC DECODING HUNGER


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Food Rules: What are the Costs?

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Labeling food as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy is an example of a food rule. Food rules have seemingly become “normalized” in our culture as being helpful.  They are often suggested for dieters to use because they provide “limits” that often help the eater feel more in control.

Labeling Food:   Categorizing foods as unhealthy/healthy, bad/good, legal/illegal, fattening/nonfattening, safe/dangerous usually backfires.  The intent of labeling foods is to help people get control of their eating for the sake of losing weight, for example, and thus categorizing foods as either fattening or nonfattening provides a sense of control.  However, deprivation often increases desire.

Some possible benefits from food rules include:

  • Focusing on the “rules” is a great distraction from focusing on more distressing issues
  • Helps you feel safe or in control.
  • Produces a “high” when you are successful at following the “rules” which in turn,  perpetuates the eating behaviors while feeling self-righteous or disapproving of your previous eating behaviors.

The downside is that these behaviors often promote rigidity and limits and individual’s choices with food, eating, health, exercise and weight. Simple, healthful guidelines become complex, demanding and powerful.

Another problem is that deprivation often increases desire. When the individual gives in to this desire and eats the “forbidden” food, feelings of guilt or shame are the result often leading to overeating or other compensatory behaviors, such as increased restriction or excessive exercise.

And the cycle continues… Eventually, a person begins to feel as if they cannot live without the strict rules and eating continues to become more rigid and disordered.

Therefore, following are some of the costs an individual suffers by relying on food rules:

  • Food rules prevent the development of confidence in your own body, skills and judgment
  • Rules exacerbate dieting behaviors and rigidity with food, exercise and weight
  • Rules increase your sense of guilt if a rule is violated

Negative thoughts and perceptions about food, weight and eating patterns make it difficult to successfully change certain behaviors.  You may be overly critical of yourself, have a low self-esteem, or view foods as being either bad or good – which can all sabotage your efforts of achieving peace with food and your body.

 Following are some examples of food rules:

  • I can only eat one meal per day
  • It’s not okay to eat after 7 pm
  • Labeling foods as “Good” and “Bad”
  • It’s never okay to eat between meals, i.e. snacks
  • I can’t eat in restaurants because…
  • No fried food
  • I can’t eat red meat
  • It’s not okay to feel full
  • Never eat more than ______ calories
  • If you eat a “bad” food, or break another rule, then ….
  • I have to exercise at least 60 minutes every day, or …

Most would proclaim they want to stop this fight with food and their body, but having unconditional permission to eat feels very scary.  One of the most effective solutions for eating problems of all types is to begin to return all foods to a neutral status – to stop and give yourself permission to eat all foods, trusting you will find a healthy balance.

Legalizing food and eating requires action.  There are 3 things you will need to do:

1. Have a plan. Make a plan to bring forbidden foods into your home; (with support), you want to begin to expose yourself to foods you crave.

When you begin to expose yourself to foods you enjoy, it’s helpful to have a plan that includes: where to start, how to challenge negative thoughts, who can support you, etc.  Remember your goal is to stop the food fight and find a peaceful relationship with food and your body.  You cannot do that if you continue to evaluate food in terms of “good” vs “bad” or in terms of “fat” and “calories.”

2. Replenish supplies of favorite foods. When it feels safer, begin to have your favorite foods around, so you don’t feel deprived.

One suggestion is to make a list of food or foods you would like to reclaim.  Then, you may want to start with the least feared item on your list.  Then, I guide my clients through a “step-by-step” plan for experimenting with reclaiming this food. In this plan, we identify what are the irrational thoughts about the food, i.e. carbs will make me fat or sugar is toxic. Then, we identify what you will do to try the food. For example, if ice cream is forbidden and there’s a risk you will binge on a half gallon of ice cream if it is brought into the house, then plan to go out for a small dish of ice cream with a supportive friend. We discuss a plan for dealing with the irrational thoughts, i.e. education on how your body uses carbs for energy and finally evaluate how the plan went. Finally, we evaluate why your plan worked or didn’t work and what to do different next time.

3. Create a pleasant food atmosphere in your home.  This step is critical for setting you up for ongoing success.

Examples of changes you may need to make include: promising not to “yell” at yourself for eating foods you enjoy; eating slowly and mindfully at a table so you can truly savor your food; and/or use a realistic meal plan that helps you see the big picture of how these foods can fit while helping you achieve your goals with food, wellness and weight.  Journaling your food intake along with thoughts and feelings can be helpful at recognizing that you didn’t “blow it” when you enjoyed a small piece of dessert.

The point of all this is re-learning to trust yourself and your body with food and eating again. Food does not need to have all the power and deserves to be on the plate – not on a pedestal.


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5 Tips for Managing Emotional Eating

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Emotional eating is when an emotion triggers a person to eat, instead of the physical symptom of hunger.

There are many misconceptions about emotional eating.  One of the biggest myths is that all emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain.  In fact, it is natural to eat for emotional reasons and still maintain your weight.  For example, celebrations with family and friends often include special foods that we have an emotional relationship with.  Having birthday cake with friends, not because you are hungry, but because it feels good isn’t necessarily a prescription for overeating or weight gain.   In fact, a recent study investigated how an individual’s perceptions about eating a food, like chocolate cake, influenced their motivation to maintain a healthy eating plan.  Researchers discovered that those who felt “guilty” after eating a piece of cake were more likely to sabotage their weight loss efforts than those who associated the cake with “celebration.”

So then, what’s the problem with emotional eating?  Emotional eating is a problem when you abuse it.  When a person is out of touch with their feelings and eats to comfort themselves or stuff their feelings down, it can result in overeating.  When an individual engages in this behavior day after day, it is likely to result in weight gain.

Diets and forbidden foods often make the problem worse.  Dieters, or individuals with restricted eating patterns, are typically eating less than they need; less of the foods they enjoy; and, are chronically hungry.  When faced with stress or other emotions, the ability to maintain control of the restrained eating becomes intolerable for the individual who “gives in” and overeats.  In these situations, the individual eats quickly; is distracted; and, is disconnected from his or her internal cues.  Feeling guilty and remorseful, the dieter tries harder to restrict the eating and the cycle continues.

How to stop abusing emotional eating.

  1. Identify your triggers.  Keep a mood food diary and track information about your meals and snacks (including unplanned eating), Write down what you are eating, when you are eating, where you are eating, whom you are eating with, and how you are feeling at the time.  Many of my clients strongly object to keeping a journal for various reasons.  Taking time with a nutritionist or other health professional to discuss strategies to overcome  those barriers may be key for you to take the first step in getting control of your emotional eating.
  2. Don’t skip meals.  Feed yourself regularly while being mindful of balance, variety and moderation in your meal planning.
  3. Eat whole foods.   Eating whole foods that you enjoy, on a regular basis, can help to balance out your mood and provide consistent energy during the day.
  4. Develop alternative coping skills to manage your emotions. Take a moment to create a list of activities you can use when emotions run high.  Things like calling a friend, gardening, being outside, reading, and taking a bath are all examples.  Many activities result in the release of the chemicals in the brain that help us feel better.  I suggest that individuals have their list visible and easily available.  When you notice a trigger to use food for comfort, try one of the items from your list.  After 10 minutes, if the food is still beckoning you, try the 2nd activity for 10 minutes, and so on.  Usually if you make it to the 3rd activity, you will notice that the urge to eat is less.
  5. Try Individual or group counseling. Talking about your triggers and getting support for planning healthy meals and snacks may be the key to making the behavior changes that are needed.


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Lost in a Box of Chocolates?

iStock_heart boxFebruary is American Heart Month! This month is all about spreading awareness about heart disease, especially for women!

At the same time, we celebrate our emotional hearts with Valentine’s Day!

For many people, this is the obvious collision of what so many of us seem to struggle with daily – how to take care of our health and wellness, while being constantly bombarded by highly palatable treats and other carb-laden goodies!

Freedom from food (as a source of comfort) is possible! And, it’s a bit more complicated than just reading this blog and wah-lah you’re fixed. But, it does start with awareness and a plan. Therefore, I’m hopeful some of these basic tips will get you started on a path of a new relationship with food – one in which you are sure you are feeding your stomach – and not your heart!

Managing Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is when an emotion triggers a person to eat, instead of the physical symptom of hunger.  There are many misconceptions about emotional eating.  One of the biggest myths is that all emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain.  In fact, it is natural to eat for emotional reasons and still maintain your weight.  For example, celebrations with family and friends often include special foods that we have an emotional relationship with.  Having birthday cake with friends, not because you are hungry, but because it feels good isn’t necessarily a prescription for overeating or weight gain.   In fact, a recent study investigated how an individual’s perceptions about eating a food, like chocolate cake, influenced their motivation to maintain a healthy eating plan.  Researchers discovered that those who felt “guilty” after eating a piece of cake were more likely to sabotage their weight loss efforts than those who associated the cake with “celebration.”

So then, what’s the problem with emotional eating?  Emotional eating is a problem when you abuse it.  When a person is out of touch with their feelings and eats to comfort themselves or stuff their feelings down, it can result in overeating.  When an individual engages in this behavior day after day, it is likely to result in weight gain.

Diets and forbidden foods often make the problem worse.  Dieters, or individuals with restricted eating patterns, are typically eating less than they need; less of the foods they enjoy; and, are chronically hungry.  When faced with stress or other emotions, the ability to maintain control of the restrained eating becomes intolerable for the individual who “gives in” and overeats.  In these situations, the individual eats quickly; is distracted; and, is disconnected from his or her internal cues.  Feeling guilty and remorseful, the dieter tries harder to restrict the eating and the cycle continues.

How to stop abusing emotional eating.iStock_donut choice

  1. Identify your triggers.  Keep a mood food diary and track information about your meals and snacks (including unplanned eating), Write down what you are eating, when you are eating, where you are eating, whom you are eating with, and how you are feeling at the time.  Many of my clients strongly object to keeping a journal for various reasons.  Taking time with a nutritionist or other health professional to discuss strategies to overcome  those barriers may be key for you to take the first step in getting control of your emotional eating.
  2. Don’t skip meals.  Feed yourself regularly while being mindful of balance, variety and moderation in your meal planning.
  3. Eat whole foods.   Eating whole foods that you enjoy, on a regular basis, can help to balance out your mood and provide consistent energy during the day.
  4. Develop alternative coping skills to manage your emotions. Take a moment to create a list of activities you can use when emotions run high.  Things like calling a friend, gardening, being outside, reading, and taking a bath are all examples.  Many activities result in the release of the chemicals in the brain that help us feel better.  I suggest that individuals have their list visible and easily available.  When you notice a trigger to use food for comfort, try one of the items from your list.  After 10 minutes, if the food is still beckoning you, try the 2nd activity for 10 minutes, and so on.  Usually if you make it to the 3rd activity, you will notice that the urge to eat is less.
  5. Try Individual or group counseling. Talking about your triggers and getting support for planning healthy meals and snacks may be the key to making the behavior changes that are needed.


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True or False: It’s Not Good to Eat Carbs After Dark

Question on a forkThis question comes up a lot from my clients and from individuals attending my workshops. It seems to have morphed from another myth or food rule that states, “it’s not okay to eat after 7 pm”.

The short answer for both of these statements is False! There are many interesting theories and anecdotal evidence about this idea for weight loss. But, let’s understand where these myths come from and why they seem to work (at least at first).

The “real” problem often begins with over-eating at night when an individual is tired, bored, stressed, or overly hungry. This is especially true for the person who “diets at breakfast, diets at lunch and blows it at night.” By this time, cravings (usually for carbohydrate-containing foods) become very intense and they “give in” to eating, and often overeating, highly palatable, convenient, serotonin-producing, processed snack foods. Food rules, like “don’t eat after 7 pm” provide structure and and a sense of control when the person feels “out of control.”

So, what are food rules? Food rules often develop along with sincere efforts at eating healthy. Having a list of foods that state “eat this and don’t eat that” or labeling foods “good” vs “bad”, healthy/unhealthy, fattening/nonfattening, etc. provide very clear structure for an individual who is trying to lose weight. Basically, when a person can’t trust themselves with their eating and weight, they turn to something or someone else, like a “diet” or an “expert” with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that they believe they can trust.

Although food rules are meant to be helpful, they often backfire. When an individual follows a rule like “stop eating carbs at night” or “don’t eat after 7 pm”, and they lose weight, it’s easy to believe that the real culprit to their excess weight was because “carbs are bad” or that “late-night eating leads to weight gain.” Unfortunately, when the real problem of under-eating or emotional eating hasn’t been addressed, the individual will likely “give in” and break the rule. Since deprivation can increase desire, this may also contribute to overeating the forbidden food or eating at the forbidden time.

Subsequently, feelings of guilt or shame result because they weren’t able to “follow the rules” which again leads to more overeating…and more self-doubt. Sadly, the cycle continues when the person tries to regain control with even more “structure” – a stricter diet, more food rules, another “expert”, etc etc.

Most would proclaim they want to stop this food fight, but having unconditional permission to eat (at any time of the day) feels very scary. The only way to reduce fears of food is to discover the root cause of behaviors that may be leading to excess weight gain and develop strategies that address those behaviors. For some, that may be giving themselves permission to eat enough earlier in the day or it may be legalizing food and trusting that a healthy balance is achievable.

In either case, this usually means getting the appropriate support for positive behavior change with food, eating and weight. It may also mean setting aside unrealistic “rules” about weight and weight loss. Learning to trust yourself (and your body) with food and eating, rather than a diet, a food rule or a so-called “expert”, may be the real answer to a nourishing and healthy relationship with food, eating and weight.


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Health Halos…A Culprit for Overeating?

healthy crepesI was very amused with this ad in the window of an ice cream parlor during my recent vacation.  It is interesting to me how we can be so “health-conscious” in America, yet continue to struggle with increasing waistlines.  While buzz words such as natural, organic, whole wheat, low fat, gluten free, non-GMO are intended to guide the health-conscious consumer to simple healthy solutions, it seems we just continue to eat more – not less.  Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon from Cornell University have researched this paradox and describe a “health-halo” effect when foods are labeled in this way.  Their research indicates that consumers underestimate how much they are eating and end up increasing their overall calorie consumption.  See article here.

This phenomenon is hardly new in our culture.  I can vividly recall the “Snack Well” era which is another great example of this health halo effect.  Back in the late 80’s, eliminating fat in foods was the solution to America’s increasing waist line.  Therefore, non-fat foods such as Snack Well cookies, Entenmanns pastries, and a slew of nonfat versions of cheese, salad dressings, etc. filled the grocery stores.  Misguided consumers believed that if you eliminated fat in food, you would lose weight and be healthy.  When that didn’t work, carbohydrates were suggested as the culprit for our health problems.  Today, branding foods to help guide the consumer to healthy food options seem to continue to confuse consumers.

When an individual is trying to manage their weight and health outcomes, it is vital to recognize that “eating healthier” doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual has created a caloric deficit that prevents weight gain or result in weight loss.  Instead, staying aware of portions and internal cues versus judging food – not as “good” or “bad” or an opportunity to “indulge” – can help reduce mindless eating.

Remember, eating doesn’t need to be so difficult.


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You are a Gift!

shutterstock_giftAs a dietitian, I meet people everyday who feel inadequate…about the way they look; that they don’t eat right; they don’t exercise the way they “should”; and consequently, aren’t a good enough mom, wife, daughter, etc.

My job description is to provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals. With a professional background helping people who struggle with eating disorders, I’ve learned first hand there really so much more to this complicated world of nutrition than the type or amount of carbs, fat and protein a person needs. Yes, my job is to help people navigate the toxic food environment we live in to prevent disease and live happy and healthy. But, more often, some of the work I do really is about challenging a toxic culture of perfectionism and black-and-white thinking around the issues of food, eating and weight.

To the notion that there is an “ideal model” of health and nutrition, I recently came across this passage in an old college book of mine, called “Priceless People”. This anonymous writing, titled “Unwrapping Gifts” is truly priceless and reminds us that we (and those we treat) are much more than the wrapping.

Unwrapping Gifts by Anonymous

People are gifts which are sent to us…wrapped.  Some are wrapped very beautifully. They are very attractive when we first see them. Some come in ordinary wrapping paper. Others have been mishandled in the mail. Once in awhile, there is a special delivery. Some persons are gifts which come very loosely wrapped, others very tightly.

But the wrapping is not the gift. It’s so easy to make this mistake.

Sometimes the gift is very easy to open up. Sometimes we need others to help. Is it because they are afraid? Maybe they have been opened up before and thrown away.

You are a person. So you are a gift, too. A gift to yourself, first of all. You have been given to yourself. Have you ever really looked inside the wrappings? Maybe you’ve never really seen the wonderful gift that you are. Could such a gift be anything but beautiful?

And you are a gift to other people. Are you willing to give yourself to others? Do others have to be contented with the wrappings? Never permitted to enjoy – you – the gift?