The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Diet: Part 5 – How to Eat

  1. Solid Ground: What does a diet for optimal health actually contain?
  2. Bricks & Mortar: The foundation nutrients of a diet optimal for health, weight loss and maintenance.
  3. Structural Integrity: The importance of dietary fat, and where to get it.
  4. Energy Efficiency: Clearing up carbohydrate controversy, and how to get your carbs right.

In the previous posts, we’ve covered the what side of the eating equation – which is where most of the confusion and questions lie for the majority of people.

What gets lost in discussion on diet, always, is the why and how side of the equation, the part that deals with eating behaviour. I’ll always remember the first study I read on distracted eating, and how it felt like the most “elusive obvious” factor in the rise of obesity and diet-induced disease.

Sitting under our noses, but unnoticed in the conversation.

Seriously, we’ve maxed out the narrative of “well, in the last 50 years calories have gone up while activity levels have gone down – that explains why were here.

Yeah, that. And the fact that people eat too fast, while in the car, on the bus, at their desk, watching TV, reading on their phone – all the while with increasingly larger portion sizes, more visibility and availability of food than ever.

If you only ever properly read one post in this series make it this one, because no amount of “hitting your macros” will help you if you can’t figure out why you’re hungry but can’t remember what your last meal consisted of, or binge once your rigid diet breaks (which it will, as night follows day).

Here’s 4 pillars of how to eat

1: Eat Slower than Slow

Did you know that the pace at which you eat relates directly the amount that you eat?

Not only does eating quickly lead to greater quantities eaten, it also leads to less satiation from the meal – meaning you’re left feeling less full (and hungrier again sooner) despite having eaten more. 

And you know the way the focus on how much people are eating as opposed to how they are eating isn’t really working? Well, in a study over one-year, simply teaching obese teenagers to eat slower lead to significant reductions in BMI.

Pace of eating is consistently associated with higher BMI, in both teenagers and adults.

It’s not simply that eating faster causes you to eat more before you realise you’re full. The really interesting reason behind eating pace and eating quantity is memory. Memory is being recognised as having a central role in regulation of food intake, and memory of a previous meal influences the amount consumed at subsequent meals

Slowing down the pace of eating enhances the fullness derived from that meal.

But if memory influences consumption, it follows that anything that interferes with memory of eating will have a negative influence and lead to overconsumption? Enter distracted eating…

2: Pay Attention to Your Food

Distracted eating is an all round disaster as far as regulation of appetite and food intake is concerned.

Eating while distracted (in this study, playing a computer game), reduces the perception of fullness from the meal.

In a study comparing a group playing computer games while eating lunch to a non-distracted group, the group eating while playing computer games consumed significantly more snacks only 30 minutes after eating lunch

The level of attention given to a previous meal directly influences the amount of food consumed at subsequent meals; greater attention leads to less consumed, while less recall of a previous meal leads to more calories consumed later in the day.

The influence of distracted eating is both immediate and delayed. Food consumption increases moderately at the distracted meal, but more significantly later in the day. The interesting thing to note is that these increases occur independent of dietary restraint. Meaning it doesn’t matter is you intend to eat less, eating while distracted will lead you to overeat nonetheless.

The message, I think is clear, and both 1 and 2 here are related in this message: slow down, put down the phone, and pay attention to what you’re eating

3: Don’t Be Rigid

Look, I get that eating well can be hard in our obesogenic food environment. It’s hard to walk into a Spar to get a bottle of water without getting into a Mexican standoff with the confectionary counter.

And with the rise of social media food “gurus”, you would think that to be healthy and maintain good body composition, you have to be “eating clean” all the time. So I’ll let you in on a secret their Instagram accounts don’t tell you: they are f@cking miserableIt’s why I deliberately post photos of banana-bread French toast drenched in maple syrup.

“Clean eating” is about as orthorexic a behaviour as you could define. The major difficulty with it is the potential for disinhibited eating.

Disinhibited eating is a tendency to overeat in response to different environmental factors, like the visibility and availability of hyper-palatable food, or emotional stress. One of the factors that can promote disinhibited eating is excessive rigidity with dietIn comparing flexible dieters against rigid dieters, those with a black-and-white, rigid, “clean eating” mindset were more likely to succumb from disinibited eating i.e. once they had eating something not “on” their diet plan, they would overeat because they’d “blown it” already.

This mindset is corrosive for weight gain. On the other hand, “flexible restraint”, where certain foods can be eaten in limited quantities without guilt, is associated with less weight gain over time and consistently associated with lower BMI.

Listen, you can’t get fat in one day. Let’s say your total daily energy requirements are 2,500kcal. A pound of stored fat contains 3,500kcal of energy. So in order to put on 1lb in one day, you’d have to eat 6,000kcal. Now imagine you’ve eaten your 2,500kcal already that day, and then follow up with a chocolate brownie after dinner – that’s still only 400kcal you added to that day, and you enjoyed every bit of it.

Your body will barely notice it. You can always eat lighter the next day.

Checks and balances. You don’t get fat from one brownie. Or one meal. Or one day. Heck, in a week of Christmas eating you might feel like you’ve put on 15lbs, look like you’ve put on 10lbs, and in fact only put on 4 lbs. That’ll be gone in 4 weeks once you get back to normal.

Being rigid is setting yourself up for failure. 90% of your diet should be nutrient-dense, whole foods, maximising your nutrient intake for optimal health. But your psychological health is also important, so the other 10%? Anything. You. Like. 

Which brings me to my conclusion….

4: Slow Down, Pay Attention, Relax and Enjoy

Ever hear of the Rosetto Effect? A town in Pennsylvania was identified in the ’60’s as an anomaly – despite high red meat, cured meat, wine and cheese consumption, and high smoking prevalence, no one was dying of heart attacks. And they should have been, according to the statistics and the prevailing diet in the town. Researchers dispatched to figure it all out came to one conclusion: everyone in the town was happy and stress-free

Sounds like hippy BS, but read the link.

In sum, the aim of this post was to demonstrate that how you eat and your behaviour with food is as important, if not more important, that what you eat.

These points can be easier said than done in our 24/7 connected, obesogenic, Tweet-attention-span world. But orientating your food behaviour toward eating slowly, attentively, and flexibly is the most effective change you’ll ever make to your diet.

Slow down. Avoid distracted eating. Be flexible – include your 10% foods. And enjoy that the nutrient-dense, whole food diet you eat 90% of the time is more than enough for optimal health and body composition.