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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Redefining the Word "Diet"

I subscribe to a well-known health and fitness magazine, and have gradually become troubled over some top stories in recent issues. For the past six months, the magazine covers have enticed us to get a flat belly in record time, to instantly drop 10 pounds and leave the fat behind, and to "get thin" by the weekend! I guess this is what sells magazines to a population obsessed with having the "perfect" body NOW. Unfortunately, the way we tend to go about improving our figures is by depriving ourselves of the nutrition we so desperately need and forfeiting the practice of good eating habits. This is a recipe for disaster, since we're not made to withstand such conditions for long. Nor are our families, co-workers, and friends for that matter, who often suffer along with us as we become increasingly grouchy from hunger and frustration associated with trying to undo years of eating poorly.

If this describes you, have you considered making a decision toward mindful eating habits? Are you ready to take the time to plan healthy meals that will ultimately reshape the way you look, think, and live? If so, start by looking at what you purchase at the grocery store, since so much of what you eat depends on what's currently in the fridge or pantry. After all, that bag of caramels didn't walk into your house unannounced one day and surrender itself to Aunt Jane's candy dish. Most likely, you brought it home to add to the arsenal of "comfort food", that which you have come to believe will satisfy something deeper than simple physical hunger.

You may not realize this, but most unhealthy food choices are made when you are tired, hungry, or upset. Emotional eating may be your downfall, but you can begin to be mindful about how you spend your dollar at the market. Make a shopping list that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources -- and then stick to it! Learn to read labels, making note of such things as saturated fat, sugar, and sodium levels. Steer clear of certain aisles in the grocery store (you know which ones I mean!) -- and pay no attention to the "goodies" stocked near the checkout lane. These are merely a last ditch effort to get you to pay for something that you'll later regret taking home.

Let me give you an example of what to avoid doing next time you shop for food. Just today, I was at my local grocery. As I stood in line to make my purchase, I was intrigued, if not puzzled by what I saw. The rather heavy-set woman in front of me was buying 5 "lite" yogurts and a 6-pack of diet soda. Then she grabbed a king-size bag of candy from an adjacent display and added it to her order. The logic behind this action led me to conclude that she was torn between "being good" by eating low-calorie foods (the yogurt was a better choice than the soda, but both contained artificial sweeteners) -- and "being bad" by indulging in a sugary treat that had no nutritional value whatsoever. She didn't seem to have a clue as to how to select foods that would be healthy and satisfying at the same time. And somewhere in her mind may have been the thought that she must reward herself with junk food in order to fill some emotional void. Sadly, this probably happens over and over in this woman's life as she struggles over food choices.

What I'm suggesting here is that we must find a new way of eating, one that redefines the concept of the word "diet" in our society. Something that doesn't call to mind images of starvation and bodily punishment. When the term is used to describe the day-to-day nutrition that you take in -- food to fuel a healthy body -- a positive mindset replaces the frenzied attitude that drives you to drop 10 pounds before that beach vacation, no matter what it costs you in terms of your health and sanity. If you were to learn to enjoy meals that brought you energy and vitality, instead of mindlessly choosing foods out of convenience, past habits, or media influence -- think of how your life would be revolutionized! Mindful eating is something that can and should be exercised on a daily basis. Today is as good a day as any to start doing things differently, for the choices you make today will affect what you'll look and feel like tomorrow. Bon appetite!

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