As a past psychology student, I found that people often associated studying human behaviour with the Freudian image of a client lying on a couch talking while the psychologist asks ‘and how did that make you feel’ as they scribbled away on a notepad, nodding knowingly. As a result of this stereotype I would often get asked in a condescending tone ‘how does that make you feel’ or ‘so what am I thinking?’ because apparently when I started studying psychology, I magically received the power to read every ones thoughts. That’d be nice (in some instances) but that certainly wasn’t the case.
In university these stereotypes annoyed me but lately I’ve noticed myself asking friends the same, ‘how does that make you feel?’ when they are telling me about their new diet or their attempt to cut processed foods out of their diet. I also ask this question of myself and I encourage you to do the same thing.
Why? You may ask. Well I believe that focusing on how we feel is critically important. When asking friends how removing processed foods from their diet made them feel for example, the response is often along the lines of ‘I felt really good’, ‘I didn’t get bloated’ and ‘it was easier than I thought’. Or at times when people are resistant to change I hear ‘it’s too hard’, ‘I couldn’t possibly give up bread’, ‘I can’t be bothered’ and ‘it’s in everything, they’d be nothing left for me to eat’. I bet you could add more excuses to that list, either your own or from someone you know.
For years I was concerned about calories, about losing weight, limiting fats, etc. How I felt was important as well but it definitely wasn’t my main focus. Now however, my focus has changed. I’ve given up checking the scales (my weight has increased a little but I’m ok with that), my diet is much higher in fats (the good kind) and I no longer count calories (although I do keep a food diary at times). Instead I choose to focus on how food makes me feel. Do I feel energized? Have I experienced bloating or discomfort? Will eating this food help me achieve my health goals or could it potentially give me a headache/fatigue?
Here are some tips to help analyse how you feel.
- Keep a food diary: while I don’t recommend counting calories, by keeping a food diary you can record your meals along with any emotions, cravings and symptoms. Fill it out during the day or before you go to bed.
- Be honest: the diary is for your own eyes only (unless you choose to share with a health coach or naturopath and they usually don’t care if you discuss your bowel movements).
- Decide in advance: When dining out decide what you will have before you go. Check the menu online or make a conscious effort to pick a meal without obvious allergens.
- Just breathe: take 3 deep breathes before each meal or take the time to say a prayer.
- Consciously chew: If you wolf your meals down you place extra stress on your digestive system and you won’t feel as satiated.
- The plainer the better: I love flavourful food but if you are trying to work out what is causing nasty symptoms then eating meals without an abundance of ingredients can make the task easier.
- Before you order ask yourself ‘how will (insert food here) make me feel?’
- Or, if it’s too late instead ask yourself ‘how did that make me feel?’
- Wait for it: You may feel great an hour after eating a certain food but sometimes you may not experience the symptom/s until a few days later. This is where your food diary comes in handy.
- Stress triggers: despite having a perfect diet if you are experiencing extra stress (i.e. by over exercising/working, not sleeping or being involved in unhealthy relationships) then your digestion may suffer as a result.
I guarantee that if you try and make lifestyle changes based on how you feel and the health benefits you can achieve instead of because someone (myself included) told you to eat a certain way or because the Australian dietary guidelines (don’t get me started) recommend you eat 6 serves of grains every day, then you will feel so much better. I won’t be surprised if you end up eliminating or reducing the amount of processed food in your diet (give it time). But hey if eating pies, chips, drinking soft drink and smoking a pack of cigarettes a week make you feel great then I won’t force you to stop but I do encourage you to try crowding them out of your diet by increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables and good quality proteins and fats.