A couple of weeks ago, I attended a fabulous dinner party for my friend's birthday. My friend's husband and step-dad prepared an incredible 5 course Italian meal for the birthday girl and 10 of her closest friends. The food was outstanding, even better than what I've eaten at some fancy restaurants.
Prior to the party I admit that I was feeling a bit anxious. Not only did "5 course meal" sound daunting (3 courses is usually my max), but I rarely eat Italian food (I tend to feel heavy afterward) and I suspected that a lot of dishes would contain gluten and dairy, neither of which I eat very much of. I couldn't help but notice that several hours before the meal, I was already mentally preparing myself for feeling gross afterward.
As it turned out, I felt totally fine after the dinner and when I weighed myself the next morning, I noticed that I had lost weight. That's right, even after indulging in cheese, pasta, tiramisu (and more tasty dishes that I normally don't eat), I woke up 1 pound lighter and felt perfectly fine.
Below I'm going to share with you the 4 simple strategies I followed that made it possible for me to indulge in delicious, "heavier-than-I'm-used-to" food without feeling heavy or disgusting afterward.
You can implement these techniques the next time you go out to a restaurant, attend a dinner party, or partake in a big holiday feast. Stick to these simple guidelines and you can enjoy heavier foods without feeling heavy or packing on the pounds afterward.
1. EAT SMALLER PORTIONS
If you're serving yourself, put a smaller amount of food on your plate. If someone else has already served the food for you, eat less of it. You don't need to clear your plate so that it's clean enough to put back on the shelf.
If you are someone who tends to stop eating when your plate is empty instead of when your stomach is full, I challenge you to leave a couple bites of food on your plate at your next meal. For some of you, this might be tough and to that I say: Do it anyway, even if it's uncomfortable. In order to break a habit, we often have to endure temporary discomfort. I know you can do it!
2. EAT SLOWLY
Most of us are fast eaters, which makes sense considering we live in a fast-paced culture that doesn't value slow eating. Most of us also eat when we're stressed. But did you know that when you're eating fast and you're stressed, your body is in what we call "flight or flight" mode and digestion shuts down? You don't absorb nearly as many nutrients and your body's ability to accurately assess your level of fullness is totally screwed up. But get this: When you're relaxed (and eating slowly is a part of this), your body is in "rest and digest" mode, also known as the optimal state of digestion. So if you're going to be eating a heavy meal, slowing down will help you digest it better and you'll also have a better indicator of when to stop eating.
If you have a tendency to eat fast, have digestive upset after meals, and/or eat beyond the point of satisfaction, slow down your eating and see how you feel afterward. If you notice you are feeling stressed, take 3-5 deep breaths before you start eating to put your body in a physiological state of relaxation.
3. SAVOR EVERY MORSEL OF PLEASURE FROM EVERY BITE
We humans are hard-wired for pleasure. Why fight what nature intended? Eating with any trace of guilt, shame, fear or negative thoughts does not provide us with a pleasurable dining experience. In fact, such negativity can be considered toxic to the body and can cause us to go into a stress response (which according to #2, is not an ideal state in which to eat). When you have a rich, heavy, decadent treat in front of you and you want to indulge, take one bite and put your utensil down. Then chew it well while really tasting the different flavors and noticing the different textures. Eat it slowly and when you're finished with that bite, take a deep breath in and out before taking your next bite. Repeat. While this might sound excruciating at first, I encourage you to give it a try anyways. When you eat in this way, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that just a few bites is all you need before your body and mind let you know you've had enough. This technique works together with #1, so you are actually experiencing greater satisfaction from a smaller amount of food.
Have you ever finished a box of cookies in one sitting? I have. Did I even taste what I was eating? Nope. I can tell you with absolute certainty that if I had been savoring and deriving pleasure from each bite, I would not have had the desire to finish the whole box. Think of a time when you scarfed down an enormous quantity of food. Likely you were feeling stressed, in another intense emotional state (e.g. anger, sadness, boredom), trying to numb out or fill a void, right? How might the experience have been different if you ate with the intention of savoring every bite?
4. ENJOY THE COMPANY YOU'RE WITH
Laugh. A LOT. Be so present with the people around you that food becomes a secondary form of nourishment. Actively listen to others and engage with them. We usually have these big, indulgent meals when we're celebrating something (a birthday, a holiday, a wedding, an anniversary, a reunion) so shift your focus away from the food and toward the people and the reason for celebration. Making the experience more than just about the food will also help you slow down your eating as well.
Make "clean eating" a standard that you maintain at least 80% of the time so that when you do indulge in that 20%, the negative impact is minimal. Ideally, you should be eating whole, unprocessed, high quality (organic, local), home-cooked food at least 80% of the time. Bonus if you can keep gluten, dairy, alcohol, and sugar to a minimum or avoid it altogether.