Eating That Makes Sense

The sights, smells, and even sounds of food can be quite tempting—not surprising, considering our senses play an enormous part in our overall pleasure in what we eat. By considering the visual, aromatic, and auditory components of food, you can smartly strategize a way to accommodate and satiate your hunger without compromising your waistline. Preparing or selecting meals and snacks that satisfy your senses will increase your enjoyment without carrying additional calories.

Veggies in water

(image credit: Shutterstock)

Your eyes receive the initial impression of food, so a visually interesting and stimulating plate is especially important to your eating experience. Include at least three different colors and shapes in your meal to enhance its visual appeal. A plate filled with plump red beets, fluffy green kale, and an orange smashed sweet potato provides visual interest and a colorful pop. Luckily, colorful fruits and vegetables add key vitamins and nutrients to your plate. Beets, kale, and sweet potatoes add folate to support red blood cell production, vitamin K for blood and bone health, and the anti-inflammatory vitamin A, to name a few.

When evaluating a food’s desirability and quality, smell is nearly as important as taste, and in fact, may increase your pleasure in eating that food. Enhancing the smell of food is as easy as adding herbs and spices to your cooking. Concentrate on herbs and spices that bring flowery, fruity, or fragrant scents to your dishes. Stock your pantry with everything from cinnamon to curry powder, and sprinkle at whim!

“Mouthfeel,” that physical sensation you get when taking your first bite, is built on both the taste and texture of the food. Taste refers to the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami nature of the food. To enhance your pleasure in a meal, add foods based on the tastes you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy bitter foods, add fennel to your meal. Fennel not only contributes a slightly bitter taste but also a cool, bright essence, and the antioxidant vitamin C.

Turgidity, the amount of water in a plant’s cells, lends itself to the crisp texture of food—which also appeals to the auditory senses. Select meals based on your affinity toward smooth or crunchy foods, or combine the two if you enjoy both. You may choose hummus (made of garbanzo beans, a manganese and folate champion) for its smooth texture, or yogurt topped with walnuts for a combination of smooth and crunchy.

Consider the following:

  • Create an overall ambience. The environment in which you eat further enhances your experience. Light a candle or two (unscented, so as not to compete with your meal) and set your table to enhance your eating experience.
  • Smell with your mouth. There are receptors for olfaction (sense of smell) in the back of your oral cavity that detect aromas just as much as your nose does. When you lean in to take your first bite, breathe in the delicious scents first through your mouth to enhance your overall enjoyment of the meal.
  • Savor your food. Before you begin eating, take a moment to be grateful for the food before you. Chew slowly, sipping water between bites. Embrace the flavors and textures in your mouth before swallowing.

Eating healthfully does not mean you have to sacrifice enjoyment. Understanding your sensory preferences and identifying your preferences in relation to healthy foods makes the act of eating all the more pleasurable.

[A version of this article was written for and published on YoffieLife.com on November 22, 2014.]

Boiled Over

It’s fitting that April is Stress Awareness Month, being that I, along with so many of my friends, classmates, and colleagues, are suffering from anxiety and malaise lately. For me, it’s the perpetual reprioritization of school assignments and business ventures, both time-sensitive, that have me shirking my self-care. I also thrive on sunshine and all we’ve had lately here in the northeast has been clouds, rain, and more clouds and rain. Being in the health and wellness field doesn’t mean I don’t suffer the same triggers and effects as the rest of the population when it comes to mindlessness and emotional eating. In fact, that sometimes adds to my stress because I should know better and do better and be the example to my clients and everyone else in my circles, but I’m only human.

I realize it’s easier said than done, but reading the research and other information that’s out there lets me know I’m not alone and has helped me gain control––even if only temporarily––over some of my knee-jerk reactions when it comes to dealing with stress. I’m sharing the following with you in hopes that, if you are dealing with stress in your life, this might help quell your angst as well.

When it comes to overall wellbeing, I believe four factors play a role: food, mood, sleep, and exercise. Stress can affect any one of those and when one falls down, they all fall down. In regards to hunger, specific hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin are responsible for the food choices we make1. Being stressed also tends to leave us sleep-deprived and unmotivated to exercise (or motivated to drink alcohol), which can contribute to weight gain2.  But, when we overeat, comfort eat, and/or deny ourselves sleep and physical activity, we end up feeling guilty and, most likely, more stressed for having made poor decisions, falling off the wagon (if we were on one to begin with), and needing to start all over to get back on track to health.

Obviously, focusing on a healthful, balanced, nutrient-dense, mostly plant-based diet can help support us in times of stress and in general as some anti-oxidant foods can also act as anti-anxiety foods3, but how do we get to that mindset when we’re already so far down the rabbit hole?

One small step you can make is to clear the clutter, both figuratively and literally. Stop to reassess the true problem at hand, take a breath and step aside for a moment to get your thoughts together and decide what the next step should be, focus and figure out if there’s anything you can do to get rid of the stressor(s) in your path, forward plan to be sure you’re getting enough breaks during the day and the week so you can enter into challenging situations with a clear head to begin with instead of an already muddled one, watch a funny show, reach out to friends who can talk you down from the ledge you’re on and help put things back in perspective, meditate for 10 minutes or go punch something (preferably an actual punching bag) for 20, tell someone you love them, and, while you’re at it, tell yourself the same.

References:

  1. Lebre, M. (2016). Stress and weight management — Learn about the body’s physiological responses to stress and effect stress has on weight managementToday’s Dietitian, 18(4), 42.
  2. How stress can make us overeat. (n.d). Harvard Health Publications website.
  3. Naidoo, U. (2016). Nutritional strategies to ease anxietyHarvard Health Publications website.