I know this may sound strange, but do you ever ask your body what it needs? We all want to be the healthiest we can be, that’s why we pay for medications, health insurance, and even expensive organic food in some cases. Yet, have you ever checked in with your body to ask, “What would you like to eat?” After all, the fundamental purpose of eating is to nourish your body and keep it healthy. Your body is smarter than you may think. It communicates with you, IF you choose to listen.
Hunger is the most primitive way your body communicates with you. Now that food has become over abundant in some countries, hence the obesity epidemic, it has become quite a challenge for people to listen to their full bellies. Food science and the variety of tastes and flavors available in one sitting makes it almost impossible to say no to food because the brain can handle new flavors even if the body is satiated. Do you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner because it’s a part of your schedule even if you’re not that hungry, or do you ask yourself “Am I hungry right now?” before you sit down for a big meal?
The signal to stay away
Your body is also communicating with you when you get bloated, constipated, gassy, or have diarrhea. After a while we start making the connection that dairy causes the gas, the white rice causes constipation, the gluten causes diarrhea, and the greasy foods cause the bloating so we opt to stay away. Maybe you're someone who can eat anything and your digestive system is always healthy, even so, it's likely you’ve experienced a digestive problem from eating bad food or drinking too much alcohol, and you likely knew what the culprit was. Just like Pavlov’s dog, we subconsciously become conditioned by the foods we eat based on our body's reactions. A food aversion is another example of the body raising a red flag. Take cilantro for example, some people can't stand it in any way, shape or form (the website ihatecilantro.com exists), and maybe you’ve even been annoyed by people who say they are allergic to various spice. Well, guess what? They’ve recently linked a gene to the aversion!
Cravings, myth or real?
Have you ever woken up craving a tall glass of orange juice? Cravings are not just for pregnant women; cravings are just another way the body communicates what nutrients it needs. As a doctor, I learned about a condition called PICA, which is an extreme example of our body craving nonfood items like ice cubes, soil or clay because of iron deficiency. Numerous studies published in medical journals have validated these findings and I’ve seen it myself!
More relatable are cravings for something sweet. Our body’s main energy source is sugar, not the processed table kind, but the kind converted from natural sugars you find in fruits and vegetables. Please don’t confuse your sweet craving for a donut the next time it surfaces, rather, opt for juicy grapes instead.
Salt cravings may be an indicator that you need to hydrate more and possibly need more minerals in your diet so opt for sea salt, which naturally hydrates your body with all the natural minerals still intact unlike synthetic table salt.
Some researchers have tried to study cravings, linking them to certain nutrient deficiencies. See the chart below for details. It's worth trying to use healthy foods to satisfy your cravings before opting for the unhealthy quick fix, which may just be a cover up for a more serious deficiency.
Choosing to listen to your body
I recently heard Alex Jamieson speak at an event. Her claim to fame was veganism. After authoring vegan cookbooks and being part of the Super Size Me movement with her ex-husband Morgan Spurlock, which exploited the grotesque meat sources fed to humans worldwide, she started having cravings for red meat and fish. She tried to resist the cravings by supplementing minerals and eating more mineral dense foods because she didn’t want to be a hypocrite. Once being repulsed by the site of animal products, her body, now cleansed and healthy from a plant based diet, was starting to make it very clear that what it needed was meat, so she ate it. I applaud her for choosing to listen to her body over her thoughts despite whatever insecurities and expectations she thought she had to live up to.
Personally, I choose a vegan/paleo style diet- plant based, non-processed, dairy and gluten free, and when I crave meat/fish I eat it. You can check out previous blogs- paleo diet and being a meat-eating vegan. Have I been inclined to become more of a vegan lately? Yes, I don't eat animal products everyday or even every week, because I don't think it is healthy, physically or spiritually, to consume too much. When I do, however, I'm conscious of the source (hormone and antibiotic free, from organic farms whenever possible) AND I'm grateful for it. I find it difficult to "label" myself because essentially I've learned to listen to my body over the years, and will continue to do so. I'm energized, happy, and in the best shape I've ever been in inside and out!
I'm not here to tell you what you should and should not eat. Rather, I want to offer you tools to make healthy food choices that are aligned with your body's needs.
8 Tips for Using your Body as a Guide when Eating
1. Before you begin chowing down, ask your body if you are hungry. Don’t fall into the trap of eating 3 large meals a day on a schedule because eating when you’re not hungry is how you can easily gain weight. On the flip side, maybe one day you’re super hungry at 4pm when dinner isn’t usually until 6. If you wait to eat until you’re STARVING you will likely end up eating way more than you intended to.
2. Before you decide what to eat, check in with your body and see what it wants to eat. As you browse through a menu or look in the fridge you may find yourself drawn to some foods over others. You’ll find yourself enjoying food even more when it is what your body actually WANTS to eat!
3. Listen to your cravings! And choose the healthy route! See the food craving chart. If you’re craving salty foods, ditch the potato chips and sprinkle some sea salt on your next meal or snack.
4. Stay close to nature. The chemicals added in processed foods cloud your body’s judgment. Your body is literally being “drugged” and tricked by these cleverly designed foods that keep you coming back for seconds, so you may not be getting the proper signals.
5. Be mindful when eating. Eating in front of the computer or TV is a recipe for overconsumption and weight gain! When you take time out of your day and choose to eat alone or with friends, you will be able to enjoy your food more, chew it properly, and allow yourself to listen for the signals when it is time to stop.
6. Be grateful. It’s not a religious thing. Taking a moment before you start eating to give thanks for the food and for all those involved in the process of farming, delivering, and preparing the food to add positive note to the experience.
7. Eating is about lifestyle choices, NOT dieting. Don’t diet! There is always a rebound because eventually the diet will end. You already know what items you need to consume in moderation. Don’t deprive yourself of anything because you could end up binging on those foods out of resentment. Just be conscious and smart about things. You’ve got this!
8. Eat for YOU! It’s your life and you’re striving to become the best, healthiest, happiest version of yourself so make decisions that are right for YOU. Who cares if your partner is vegan, and you crave meat, listen to YOUR body. Feel free to say Yes and No when you feel like it. Maybe one day you want to have dessert and by all means have it and enjoy it! Stay true to you. Always!
On the journey to becoming the best you, finding harmony in mind, body, and spirit is important. Staying true to yourself and listening to your body is crucial if you want to be as healthy as you can be. Even when working in the hospital, I’d often ask patients with bodily symptoms, “what do you think is wrong?” and sure enough, they already knew. Usually if you ask your body, it will give you the answer, you just have to be open to listening.