Becoming An Optimal Eater

Becoming An Optimal Eater

Kathy Smith Dec 2011 Park City-Chef  158Last week, we looked at the scale of functional eating (if you missed it, click here). Now that you’ve identified which level of eater you are, it’s time to decipher how to move up the ladder from out-of-control to optimal eating. Moving up the ladder will jumpstart your weight loss journey .

Each step of the ladder –moving from, say, step 5 to step 4 to step three—represents real developmental progress in food believes and food behaviors. In order to help you make that progress, each level has a specific task.

If you are a “Level 5: Out-Of-Control” eater and want to move to “Level 4: Rigidly Controlled Eating,” then:

The most critical skill here is learning to distinguish between true hunger and satiety (the sense of satisfaction you get form eating, not overeating, a wonderful meal). If you’re stuck in Level 5, overwhelmed by food chaos, this skill may seem as attainable as reaching the summit of Mt. Everest on a skateboard. But it’s important to start working with your body and its needs, not against them. Knowing when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough are the most basic cues that lead to independent eating.

One exercise I know that gets great results is choosing to eat only part of the food on your plate. Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, pretend the last few or several bites aren’t there at all. Give yourself ten minutes or so to let what food you’ve eaten settle, then ask yourself if you’re satisfied yet and whether you actually want the remaining portion.

Remember, it’s especially important to avoid getting over-hungry, because over-hungry people are especially prone to overeating.

If you are a “Level 4: Rigidly Controlled Eater” and want to move to “Level 3: Eating by The Rules,” then:

While you may have a sense of “enough is enough” now, you’re probably still hoping someone will tell you exactly what to eat—even though it’s a fact that if you did indeed have a food master lording over your food choices, you’d get sick to death of that person’s reigning you in all the time. That’s why the challenge facing you at this important level is learning what works best for you, and letting the “food police” meddl in someone else’s living room.

That said, it’s critical at this level for you to build on your new ability to listen to your body’s food-related signals. You’ll soon learn to determine whether a higher carbohydrate food pattern works for you, or maybe one that contains a little more fat and protein. The focus here is on food composition – the balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat in your diet. Remember, everyone is different.

When you try different food patterns, pay close attention to how you feel after eating, as well as how long you feel satisfied. Note any differences in how your body looks, or how you feel. I recommend keeping a food diary (or photojournaling your experience on social media). In this food diary, record your observations after every meal, week to week; they’ll lead you to a much clearer and easier understanding of which food patterns work better for you in the overall scheme. And that insight will prove invaluable as you continue making more and better functional food choices while moving up the ladder.

If you are at “Level 3: Eating By The Rules” and want to move to “Level 2: Functional Eating,” then:

Graduating from Level 3 to Level 2 is probably the most challenging move of all. Because now comes the time to test your limits and your boundaries.

The point of functional eating is to let go fo the rules about what you eat, what you should eat, how you should eat, when you should eat. Realize that all growth, all risk-taking is scary!

Each time we pick up a restaurant menu, walk down a supermarket’s isles, or browse through the refrigerator, somewhere, faintly audible from the depths of the brain, comes the “You shouldn’t eat that” or “You should eat this” voice. The outcome of the struggle between the two decides what we buy and eat.

Well, I’d like you to do your best to ignore all those voices. The name of the game here is accountability. At this level you no longer blame experts, diet plans, or your own rules for what doesn’t work in your food choices. Your goal is to realize that, for better or worse, you’re in charge of choosing your foods. And only you can be accountable for those choices.

Several steps are involved at this stage. First, you have to identify those foods that you consider “good” and “bad.” That shouldn’t be hard.

Start by dividing a sheet of paper into five columns. Your first column should be titled “Good Food;” the second, “Bad Food;” the third, “Reason,” the fourth, “Foods I Like,” the fifth, “Foods I Dislike.”

Fill up the first three columns with entries. Maybe you think steak is bad because it has too much fat, or broccoli is good because it has a lot of fiber. Just write them down and in the “Reason” column, add a brief description of why you think they’re good or bad.

Fill the last two columns, — Like and Dislike. Then notice how many foods you really like that are in the Bad column, and how many are in the Good column. In the same way, compare the foods you dislike.

As you compare, realize that more often you avoid foods you really like because they’re on the Bad list, the more unsatisfied you’re likely to be with your current food choices. Not allowing yourself ot eat what you like typically translates into a feeling of deprivation and dissatisfaction—and ultimately resentment.

By the same token, if you eat foods you dislike only because they’re supposed to be “good for you,” you’re more likely to rebel against your food choices. If you don’t feel it now, you eventually will.

If you are at “Level 2: Functional Eating” and want to move to “Level 1: Optimal Eating,” then:

Let me be completely honest: Eating consistently at Level 1 is tough for most people who aren’t on permanent vacation. Because if you keep an ordinary, busy schedule, you  probably don’t have the time or energy to do what’s necessary. Myself included. I can be a Level 1 eater when my schedule permits.

Yes, I would prefer to eat at Level 1 all the time. But, like you I live in the real word—and it’s a busy world. This is where Level 2 eating works just fine. I don’t beat myself up when I can’t stay at Level 1. I just accept the ebb and flow of the process, and utterly savor those times when Level 1 is achievable.

Ideally, I’d like you to spend most of your eating time enjoying the flexibility and choices of Level 1 and Level 2. But, I’d also like you not to beat yourself up as you’re working to move forward from levels 3, 4 and 5.

Make it happen!


See Where You Rank On The Scale Of Functional Eating

See Where You Rank On The Scale Of Functional Eating

See Where You Rank On The Scale Of Functional Eating

I’ve noticed that most people tend to get caught in a vicious cycle of dieting and then blowing the diet. You seek a diet that promises instant weight loss through complete control of what, when, and how you eat. It feels safe, because you know exactly what you have to do to reach your goal. Soon enough you discover that you just can’t stick to it…and you end up right back where you started. And so the cycle continues.

The problem here is that those “diets” treat the dieter like a machine that can be programmed. But the truth is that eating well has to take into account your food’s less scientific side. I want to raise your awareness of those issues that get far too little attention – taking into account what food really means to us.

You need to recognize that eating well has to be seen as an ongoing process in your life. Ask yourself:

Do you:
–       Feel satisfied after eating?
–       Feel nourished, able to physically meet the demands of your day?
–       Like your food?
–       Eat food that pleases you?

The more frequently you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, the more functional your food is.  Your ongoing process of learning to eat functionally enables you to explore your own needs and adjust your food choices accordingly.

The process of making functional food choices begins with some honest self-assessment. Start by examining the following scale of food behavior. It’s arranged with least functional eating habits first, progressing up the scale, all the way to optimum eating.

Do you see yourself or your food behaviors described in any of these five prototypes?

Level 5: Out-of-Control Eating

–       Eating feel chaotic and out of control—or NOT eating (starvation) is a way to avoid chaos and a sense of being out of control.
–       Eating/starving is the way the person copes with life.
–       Eating has no connection to hunger or satiety

Level 4: Rigidly Controlled Eating

–       Desperate attempt to control eating behavior
–       Food is controlled wit ha specific diet plan and/or specific foods.
–       One feels either in total control or slips to Level 5 and feels in total chaos
–       Control is the most important issue
–       Sometimes the security of a controlled, structured eating plan is needed before someone can develop more functional and independent ways to eat

 Level 3: Eating By The Rules

–       General belief that there is one right way to eat
–       Foods are categorized as “good” or “bad”
–       Eating “right” is more important than eating what one wants to eat
–       Eating “bad” foods is considered “cheating”
–       Varying levels of guilt are felt when the rules are broken

Level 2: Functional Eating

Me photo-journaling my edamame.

–       Food choices are made with confidence, and you know you can meet your body’s needs
–       Food choices consider you physiological, physical, mental, and emotional needs.
–       One manages difficult food situations optimistically – there is a workable solution
–       Sometimes food intake is not its best, but it works for the moment.

Level 1: Optimal Eating

–       Food choices are made with confidence, and you know you can meet your body’s needs
–       Food choices consider your physiological, physical, mental and emotional needs
–       There is time and opportunity to make food choices and enjoy eating.

This week, watch your eating behavior and identify what level of eater you are. Then, stay tuned, because next week we’ll discuss how to move through the levels to eventually become a Level 1: Optimal Eater.  In the meantime, photo-journal your foods with me, using the hashtag #reshape on Instagram and Facebook of your meals. I’ll be watching!

See you next week!