Let’s Talk Quantity

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One characteristic of Whole 30, paleo/primal-style, and other clean-eating nutrition systems that sets them apart from others is that they ignore issues of quantity.

And with good reason. Firstly, they are conceived to be lifestyles, not temporary diets. And so while programs like the zone and strict macro-nutrient counting/rationing certainly have purposes and places, such attention to detail every. single. day. for the rest of one’s life is not particularly useful.

The problem emerges, though, when someone like me is told: “Eat meat, vegetables, fruit, some nuts and seeds, and no sugar.”

I think to myself, cool. I can do that. And then I proceed to eat an entire pound of sunflower seeds.

Well, I exaggerate. But you get my drift. I can pretty easily make all the right choices about WHAT I’m fueling my body with, and the entirely wrong choices about HOW MUCH I actually need as fuel.

The best lesson I ever learned about portioning was not about weighing ounces or counting calories; it was about measuring time and attention. Unfortunately, it was one of those lessons I was given early and didn’t really learn until much later. Growing up, I was the oldest of four and my sibs and I behaved like a pack of wolves. If you ate fast, there might be enough left for you to have seconds. And my mother would admonish us: “EAT SLOWLY. CHEW YOUR FOOD,” because we were basically in a race with one another for that last Banquet Salisbury Meat Pattie. And so I didn’t really listen to her. I was hungry, and I liked meat and gravy, and I wanted more.

The problem is (and we do all know this, yes?) that your stomach is slow to recognize when it’s full, and slower still to send the message to your brain that there’s no more room. So by the time you actually FEEL full — especially if you’re eating like a savage — you’re probably overfull.

And I’ll speak from experience here: being overfull of bacon and Brussels sprouts is just as miserable as being overfull of pepperoni pizza.

So, the next time you sit down for some lovely steak and zucchini, grilled chicken and asparagus, sweet potato and sausage, whatever: pay attention to HOW you eat. Are you distracted, eating while checking email and Facebook? (Guilty.) Are you rushed, eating quickly between meetings and classes? (Guilty.) Are you thinking about something else, like trying to guess the 13.2 open WOD, and not fully present while you eat? (Ohh. So guilty.) Are you being social, visiting with friends and moving hand-to-mouth as you discuss workplace gossip? (Man. I’m just writing about me, here.)

For some of you, quantity and mindless eating are non-issues. And I’ll speak for the rest of us and say: you’re a bunch of lucky bastards. But everyone can benefit from sitting quietly for 15 minutes to eat slowly; mindful eating can make a huge difference in how well we’re fueling our bodies. Now, I’m not advocating that every meal be a mediation session. But trying it once or twice allows us to pay attention in small ways — such that the next time you’re eating socially, even when the food you’re eating is clean, you have a small space of awareness for how much you’re eating and how full you feel.

Photo courtesy notspavin. Used with permission via Creative Commons.

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