Last spring I took a class on weight loss froma new perspective. It was called Weigh to Go, administered by students in Bastyr's nutrition department, and was a combination of individual counseling sessions and group sessions, including a lot of recipe sharing. I thought it had real merit for anumber of reasons.
First of all, the group sessions were attended by all the participants and nominally run by a group of students. But the students simply offered up a topic of interest around food and our relationship with it, and then let the participants have at it. One day, a student handed around strawberries and talked us through a conscious eating exercise where we used all of our senses to experience the strawberry before finally eating it. A few ideas were reinforced (such as, strawberries don't make a lot of noise, but they smell heavenly), and some new ones introduced. Particularly when we got to the part where the demonstrator for the day listed all the ingredients in Cool-Whip and artificial strawberry flavoring on the board next to the words: strawberry, heavy cream, vanilla, sugar.Which would you rather eat?
It really opened my eyes about the difficulty found when trying to eat healthily and yet avoiding processed foods labeled "low-fat" or "light". Foods that are highly processed, even if they tout fewer calories, are a far cry from healthy, as much as we are taught to seek out words like "low-fat" and "fat-free". We discussed how fat is an important component in telling your body when you are full to prevent overeating in addition to all of the ways that your body uses it for tissue and cell repair. Without fat in our diet, especially with access to processed foods, people tend to not see their stopping point, eating 2 or 3 or more times the suggested serving, which cancels out the point of buying things with fewer calories. Finally, foods that are highly processed are stripped of fiber and nutrients found in whole foods. Even if they carry less calories, we're still not seeing the nutrients we need to survive that we find in more calorie-dense whole foods. As overweight as our culture is, it is also a culture of malnutrition and deficiencies because of our reliance on processed foods to fill the void.
A truly healthy diet is one that is based strongly in local, fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, augmented by protein in the form you choose, meat, fish, or vegetarian. A healthy addition of fat allows us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K) as well as providing essential fatty acids for our optimal health. Unsaturated fats, those that are liquid at room temperature, should be our primary sources, but solid fats such as real butter, coconut oil, almonds, and avocados should be used as well. Other saturated fats, from red meat or from hydrogenated oils should be ingested sparingly, if at all. With so many sources of healthy fat, and proper portion sizes, weight loss is much simpler because we feel full after eating an appropriate amount and have less desire to overeat.
Another point that was addressed (particularly in my individual sessions) was the effect of emotional eating. Now, for many, emotional eating equates to an extra brownie covered with vanilla ice cream after a break-up or a tough day at work. For me, emotional eating comes in the form of celebrations. If something good happens, i reward myself. If there's a big family event, it revolves around food. And not just the eating of, but the planning of menus, the preparation for the party (including multiple shopping trips), the creation of the dishes. Ninety percent of my conversations with my family revolved around what marvelous meal I had recently eaten or what my mother, aunt or sister was looking forward to preparing for friends. And no one in my family has been in the food industry for years, if at all.
The student running my individual sessions told me she always looked forward to sessions with me because she would hear about such wonderful food. But, it was counterproductive to my goal of weight loss just to be regaling even more people with temptations and delights I'd experienced. She suggested I try to find another way to celebrate the next big event in my life, which just so happened to be graduation. I signed up to learn how to sail at Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats, an eight-week course on the water where I would learn the rudiments of sailing a small sloop single-handedly. Saving up for the class turned out to use up all of my restaurant money for the whole quarter and some nights I came in so exhausted and excited about learning to sail that I fell asleep before dinner or after forcing down another bowl of lentils and rice that I didn't even taste. My counselor was right. There are many other great ways to celebrate without eating and I was lucky enough to begin on the path to my dream hobby by exploring one of them. And a boat is a great place for a picnic.