I sometimes get asked, by people wanting to lose weight, what exactly can they eat, in order to drop the stubborn pounds? There seems to be much confusion these days around the topic of what to eat, exactly, in order to achieve our optimal health and weight.
The answer I give is, well, it depends. And since I prefer not to forbid any foods, I find myself somewhat at a loss for words.
Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food”, famously said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. This was his short answer to the supposedly complicated question of what we should eat in order to be maximally healthy.
I agree that lots of salad and non-starchy vegetables is a wonderful thing to be eating. However, I would add, eat plants (and everything else) only between physical hunger and satisfaction. Munching on carrot sticks to alleviate stress is still risky, because one day we might tire of carrot sticks and mindlessly reach for the potato chips instead….so the habit of mindfulness is at the core of good health.
When my book “Losing It in France – Les Secrets of the French Diet” was published in 2011, the media attention it received was accompanied by lots of images of croissants, baguettes, whipped cream, red wine and camembert. The message this alluded to, was very much about eating indulgent, rich, “forbidden” foods with abandon and still dropping kilos, which, of course, is not true.
While we all secretly dream of eating whatever the heck we want in copious amounts and still losing weight, the habit of overeating is not listening to our body cues or cultivating a healthy relationship with food. I would explain to my coaching clients that the goal is to tune in to our bodies and remain in the “pleasure zone” when eating, so that our bodies can signal to us when we have had enough to eat. Leptin, which is the hormone that enables us recognize the “off switch” when eating works effectively when we slow down our eating, chew and digest properly and eat real food such as protein, healthy fats and plants.
If you’ve ever eaten a top quality steak or salmon with a salad made with good olive oil, and perhaps a some baby potatoes, followed by chocolate mousse, made with real cream and a top quality dark chocolate, you’ll understand how difficult it is to overeat. Good quality food is very satisfying. It cuts hunger. It fills us up without making us feel bloated and uncomfortable. When we choose quality, the need to eat in excess or to overshoot satiation is naturally reduced.
When we pay close attention to our bodies and how certain foods taste and make us feel after eating them, I believe we are naturally drawn to fresh, quality foods, which in turn, reduces the desire and need to overeat beyond comfortable satisfaction.
The French Paradox has often been perceived as somewhat of a mystery, and sometimes gets reduced to the idea that the French are ‘genetically blessed’, so they can get away with eating “sinful”, calorie laden food, drinking wine with every meal and still remain enviably slender. Truth is that healthy fats and proteins are extremely satiating which leaves little room for “le dessert”. Three bites of a decadent, rich sweet usually will hit the spot.
Eating intuitively and mindfully, a la French, is not about eating as much as we want and abandoning nutrition altogether. Croissants have no resounding nutrition, apart from the butter. However, the croissants in France and the croissants in America are in fact, not created equal. Studies have shown too, that American croissants tend to be “supersized” and often made with cheaper fats, such as seed oils.
However, losing weight is not about rigid rules either. Slim Americans eat croissants too. When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods, without feelings of guilt, we naturally want to honor our health and taste buds, so we are naturally more aware of quality because we want to feel physically and emotionally satisfied after eating.
To be honest, I am not a fan of “labeling” when it comes to eating. I am not loyal to one way of eating. I like to go by feel. For example, some meals I might feel like eating Vegan, even though I don’t identify as Vegan. Sometimes I eat meatless, even though I’m not a vegetarian. Sometimes I eat Keto meals, because that is what I fancy at that particular moment in time. I buy Paleo foods, even though I don’t call myself Paleo. I like dairy, because I tolerate it fine. Sometimes I intermittent fast, because it suits my schedule. Sometimes I drink almond milk, but mostly I prefer whole, full cream milk. I do, however, chose to eat gluten free, due to my Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition I suffer from, which also causes an underactive thyroid.
However, if I slip up at a restaurant or while eating at someone’s home, fortunately, eating gluten will not make me topple over in pain, as it can do to a celiac, for example. I may, however, suffer from a migraine a day later, which is never fun.
I have to admit, too, that it took me no less than two years to fully commit to being completely gluten free, in honor of my health. Sometimes I admit, I do feel deprived when I can’t eat certain cakes or pizzas with my husband and kids. However, I often plan ahead with alternatives for myself and it is becoming a lot easier these days when eating out. Being gluten free also encouraged me to get creative in the kitchen with dinners and with baking, which I’ve enjoyed experimenting with.
Admittedly too, it was only when I fully understood what gluten was doing to my gut (basically punching holes in the gut lining every time I ate it) and antagonizing my immune system that I was able to commit, wholeheartedly, to being gluten free forever. The hardest part for me was travelling to Paris in 2018 on vacation with my family and not being able to enjoy baguettes and the delicious pastries in every delicious looking boulangerie. I did, however, hunt down gluten free bakeries which offered amazing gluten free versions of my favorites!
I am not saying everyone needs to be gluten free, it’s just something I choose to do for my health. However, my husband and kids are not gluten free and have no apparent intolerances.
I often say that worrying about nutrition and the anxiety involved in making sure we’re eating the healthiest foods can be an added form of stress, in our already stressful world. With this in mind, my recommendation is to relax and take pleasure in eating mindfully, between hunger and satisfaction.
Ironically, when we raise cortisol levels in our body, due to stress, it becomes difficult to release our excess weight.
Therefore, instead of forbidding any foods in particular, focus on quality and the joy and satisfaction of each meal. When we take the time to consider what we are really craving on that particular day and honor our cravings, we are better able to stop eating at just enough. Eating around our cravings can sometimes mean we feel deprived and overeat later on. Our bodies really do know best, when we truly listen to them.
G'day. Welcome to my blog, where I write about mindful eating. My name is Sally Asher and I'm a wellness author of three books. I hold a Health Science degree and have a passion for behavioral change. I live between South Florida and Melbourne with my husband and two teenagers. My husband and I run a real estate investment company. I love to help people eat mindfully and reconnect with the innate, intuitive sense of eating that we are all born with.