The Sit Down Diet
January is BlogHer's Month of Little Steps to Health & Fitness, and we want you to share your favorite easy health tip! Click here to see how to play along. And check out all the tips so far in the Month of Little Steps to Health & Fitness series.
"Oh my dear! Are you okay?" The little old lady left her free sample table in Costco to rush to my side. Her eyes widened, "Are you pregnant?" (Incidentally this is not the strangest question someone has ever asked me at Costco. That prize goes to the woman who asked me, "All your kids look so different! Do they have different dads?" At the time I just stared at her but I still wish I could've come up with a zinger of a retort. If you have a good one, please tell me in the comments!)
Despite not being pregnant, I was tempted to just nod and feign morning sickness because the real reason I was sitting on the dirty floor in the middle of an aisle during rush hour at a food warehouse clutching a paper cup of 3-bean salad is kind of hard to explain.
The short answer: I like 3-bean salad. And I absolutely must sit down to eat my food. It is my one inviolable food rule (this coming from a girl who once had so many food rules I had to go on TV twice to explain them all; the best part being they illustrated my comments with a picture of a squirrel).
The long answer: To have it make any sense, we have to go way back to when food and I hated each other. I've never had an easy relationship with food. I started my first diet at nine. I ended my last diet at 32. In the intervening years I've been anorexic, orthorexic, a compulsive over-exerciser and even ED-NOS or "eating disorder not otherwise specified" - years during which I can honestly say that food was public enemy #1.
After years of self hatred, I finally decided I was done. Done punishing myself. Done dieting. Done counting and weighing. Done done. The catalyst was the birth of my beautiful baby daughter. Up until that point I had fooled myself that my boys could not inherit my disordered eating tendencies because they were, well, boys. But I knew first hand the impact on a daughter of having a mother who is always on a diet. I would not leave her with that legacy.
It was then I had my Oprah a-ha! moment - literally because that was when Oprah read Geneen Roth's book "Women Food and God," the primer about how to "eat intuitively," and told America they all better read it too. Call me a sheep, but I love me some Oprah (call me!). It was exactly what I'd been searching for my whole life. It isn't a diet but rather reteaching your body what it once knew how to do perfectly: to feed itself. This sounds silly and simplistic, but if you look at the number of people around you who don't know how to feed themselves properly you'll start to appreciate the genius.
While Intuitive Eating has 8 "guidelines" for eating, the second one is the one I have found most helpful: Always sit down to eat. Roth likes to say (and even titled her book thusly), "If you're going to eat at the refrigerator, pull up a chair." How many times a day do you find yourself mindlessly nibbling something? For me it is the ice-cream sneak attack. I'll walk past the freezer and the ice cream will sing its siren song of sugar. But I know I shouldn't eat ice cream! But I want it! Diet disaster! Must-have indulgence! So I end up with a fork eating it straight out of the carton with the freezer air blowing in my face because that way I can eat it whilst pretending that I'm not really eating it. Not exactly a pleasant gustatory experience.
Sitting down to eat - whether it's a full meal or that handful of stale mint chocolate chips left in the bottom of your cupboard - has many benefits:
- It forces you to be conscious of the food you're eating. (What's that in my hand? A third cinnamon roll? How did that get there?)
- It helps you enjoy your food more by allowing you to appreciate the flavors and smells and appearance. (Turns out that stale mint chocolate chips are really kind of awesome and that green is so pretty!)
- It helps you be respectful to yourself. You would never serve a guest food that way so why treat yourself in such a way?
- It shows you that you do have control over what you eat and how you eat it. Some of the most disheartening moments of my life have been while eating something that I didn't want, didn't like even, and yet couldn't stop eating. Choosing to sit down means you're choosing to eat this particular food.
After years of hating food, sitting down while I eat - even if it's someplace ridiculous such as a public sidewalk (check), a gym floor (check), or my sticky kitchen floor (double check) - is teaching me how to love food again. It's the simplest diet tip ever (no equipment, no math, no book required!) but the payoff is huge. For your Little Step today, I want you to just try it. Even if it seems silly. Just try sitting down every time you eat something. If nothing else, it will help you be a lot choosier at the sample tables (hint: warm chicken salad is never a good idea).
When you eat do you just eat? Or are you a multitasker like me and eat half your meals in front of the computer? Anyone else had to reteach themselves how to eat?
Written by Charlotte Hilton Andersen of The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!