healthier holiday eating: yin-yang balancer 948

Holiday season’s about to kick in, and you know what that means: lotsa food, lotsa feasting, lotsa family time. It can be a beautiful celebratory vibe. In the excitement and abundance, however, we want to be careful about straying too far from center by overindulging.

Overindulging, while not way up on the spectrum of things that can suck about life, does do a number on our systems. On the level of body, we burden our organs, pack on (usually unwanted) additional weight. On the level of mind, all the excess can dull our faculty of discernment, bring about post-feast shame/guilt/self-hating, produce agitation and preoccupation with shedding excess weight, and result in laziness which keeps us from completing other important work at job and home.

Clearly, the antidote to the temptation of overindulging is not the extreme opposite end of the continuum where we masochistically deny ourselves any experience of pleasure. I would argue that we benefit from seeking the middle ground, enjoying the season’s abundance (and hey, why not everyday abundance?) in moderation. But what exactly does moderation mean? Given that each of us has a unique interweave of body type, cultural norms, personal values, current health status, etc., no single standard/opinion/paradigm can apply universally; thus, we have the responsibility of discerning it on our own with the help of trusted sources.  As a starting point, consider that three broad ways of reflecting on it might be quantitative on the one hand, qualitative on the other, and a combined qualitative-quantitative on the third.

Quantitative (external, logical-intellectual, yang) is more along the lines of well ok, what’s on my plate here? do i have a balance of carbs-protein-fat? i can eat X grams of food for every Y pounds of body weight, factoring in an extra allowance for Z if it’s a lower glycemic index food so that means my plate should weigh Q ounces.

Qualitative (internal, feeling-sensing, yin) is more along the lines of how do i feel right now? do i feel sluggish? do i still have some room? have i balanced my plate between lighter foods and heavier foods? am i forcing myself to eat so i don’t waste this mountain of food i piled on my plate? am i rushing, or am i pacing leisurely? am i stuffing my face ’cause really i’m anxious about being in this room full of people i don’t know &/or don’t like?

Talking with some friends about what moderation feels like when we’re flowing in it, the following short list of words/phrases came up:

  • satisfied
  • content
  • at peace
  • light
  • balanced
  • not guilty
  • not overburdened
  • eyes remain bright
  • self-awareness
  • controlled passion (the image of a person skillfully holding the leash of a dog wanting to bolt after another animal)

What words/phrases appear in your own mind?

Below follows some additional advice on hewing close to the moderation lifestyle as you navigate the upcoming holiday gatherings, an excerpt of a piece originally posted a few years back. Cheers, and see you down the road! Best, J*

*   *   *

My friend and fellow Oriental Medicine practitioner Mike was over one day and, as conversations wend their way through this field and that, our talk eventually came to eating habits and dietary needs. He mentioned something interesting, something about how people who eat slower tend to not put on as much weight, to be leaner. So that got me poking about on the internet and I found a study from China which might interest you as we rapidly near the winter holidays, having jumped through the first hoop of Halloween and all that candy munching.

The take home point: this study found that subjects—whether fat or skinny—who chewed more per bite of food (40 times versus 15 times) actually ate less.

And interestingly enough, the subjects who chewed more demonstrated lower blood levels of a hunger stimulating chemical called ghrelin compared to the faster eaters.

Hm. So you’re saying that I might be able to avoid both overstuffing my feasthole and the post-glut guilt by just chewing more?

Yep. And on top of that, you can actually elevate the otherwise mundane act of eating to a semi-meditative exercise. How’s that?

1) We practice staying in the moment as we tune in to appreciate the textures of the food and the secondary flavor notes that appear when the food is given more mouth time. Which equals greater enjoyment of the experience.

 2) We can practice generating gratitude for the privilege of enjoying what’s before us, gratitude toward those who have prepared our meal, gratitude toward the farmers who’ve grown the food, etc., etc.

3) We can reflect on why we’ve chosen to eat what we’re eating and discern whether wisdom, anxiety, or some degree of both have been the governing urges. Greater clarity and awareness on these types of things empowers us to join the dots and change for the better.

But even if you’re not into all that, chewing more puts the food in more contact with salivary enzymes which start the digestion process. This can decrease the burden on the other digestive organs and increase the bioavailability of nutrients. Slowing down by chewing more also allows us to detect the fullness signal earlier and so lessen the likelihood of overeating. Choosing to put aside–even for just the length of a meal–the ever-present mental to-do list and instead enjoy your food can shift the nervous system into relaxation mode and out of stress mode.

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