To your health: Indulge your hunger ... but read your body's signals

To your health: Indulge your hunger ... but read your body's signals

By Leia Kedem/University of Illinois Extension

As the holidays round the bend on our calendars, we're sure to see plenty of articles, blogs and posts about how to prevent holiday weight gain.

Normally, I would be sharing such information with you. This year, I'm taking a different approach. I'm not saying that holiday health isn't important — because it certainly is. But for dieters, diabetics and weight watchers alike, it is easy to become consumed with this task.

It's all too common that in our attempts to eat right, we spend an inordinate amount of time on deciding which hors d'oeuvres to pick from the plate or controlling ourselves at the buffet. Before you know it, another holiday season has passed by in a blur and we're back to New Year's resolutions.

I'm going to propose a radical idea: Forget about restricting and restraining yourself from indulging in favorite dishes and treats. At family gatherings, parties and other celebrations between now and New Year's, focus on just one thing: your hunger.

According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, dietitians specializing in intuitive eating, it's important to learn to honor your true hunger and eat accordingly. I think it goes beyond simply honoring your hunger. It's about honoring yourself as a whole, respecting your body and its innate wisdom.

We're all born with the ability to know when we've had enough; kids regularly push away their half-full plates. But as we grow up, we often start to ignore those signals saying, "hey, I'm full!" We might also ignore our hunger, which can lead to eating too much.

So how do you know when it's truly time to eat and when you've had enough?

The hunger scale is a tool incorporated into mindful or intuitive eating practices. It goes like this: Hunger is rated on a scale of 1-10. A score of 5 is neutral; you feel neither hungry nor full. Going down the scale corresponds with getting hungrier. At a 3, hunger has set in and your stomach is probably growling. A 1 means you're downright starving and might even feel sick.

Going up the scale corresponds with fullness. At a 6, you're comfortable and could run down the block if you had to. At a 7, you start to feel your stomach stretch and are full. At a 10, you know you ate way too much and you might be in pain or feel ill. Tribole and Resch recommend starting to eat between a 3 and 4 and stopping between a 6 and 7 on the hunger scale.

At any given time, we may eat for reasons other than physical hunger: social pressure, temptation, availability, boredom, sadness, stress, anger and even happiness. The holidays are no exception. In fact, many of these emotions may be magnified. It's important during this time, more than usual, to pay attention to those internal signals.

If you feel the urge to eat when you aren't physically hungry, stop to ask yourself why. What thoughts are going through your head? What emotions are you feeling?

Find alternate ways to cope. Whether it's taking a bath, unwinding with a book and a cup of tea or going for a fast and furious run, it's so important to take care of yourself.

So go ahead, give yourself permission to enjoy Mom's famous pumpkin swirl cheesecake and Nana's green bean casserole. Now, this isn't license to go off the diet deep end. You can enjoy the foods you love, but I challenge you to really listen to your body and stop when you are full, even if another mouthful of mashed potatoes is calling your name.

Indeed, I consider it your duty to yourself — at the holidays and every day of the year.

If you're looking for more healthy holiday ideas, I'm happy to oblige. Come join me for a fun and interactive workshop, Lighten Your Holidays.

We'll talk about ideas for "fit gifts," holiday food safety, ways to use up leftovers, traditional dish makeovers, strategies to prevent winter weight gain and more.

Each participant will receive recipe and informational handouts, get a new meat thermometer, make a "fit gift" to take home and sample healthy recipes.

The fee is $10 per person to cover the cost of materials and refreshments. The program will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 4 in Champaign and Dec. 5 in Danville. Register by calling the Champaign office at 333-7672 or Danville site at 442-8615. You also may register at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv.

Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the UI Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at lweston2@illinois.edu.

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