First Commandment: Eat nutritious food, when hungry, until comfortably full.
Whole foods are generally nutritious, whereas the vast majority of processed “foods” are nutrient-deficient empty calories. However, all “whole foods” are not created equal. Check out my food pie chart for more details.
True physiological hunger can be distinguished from thirst, boredom, loneliness, and exhaustion through dedicated mindful awareness. I encourage you to read The Mindful Diet, which discusses the various physical symptoms of each condition in detail. It is incredibly helpful to do a quick breathing exercise before deciding whether and what to eat. You will likely make better decisions if you do 20 five-count inhales and exhales before you put money into the vending machine at work, toss a box of cookies into your grocery cart, or order Fettuccine Alfredo at a restaurant. The breathing exercise will give you time to analyze what you really need (e.g. a nutritious snack, a hydrating beverage, a fulfilling occupation, a chat, a nap).
After eating, you want to feel satisfied, not uncomfortably stuffed. When you are full: you will no longer feel hungry; your stomach will protrude slightly; and you will feel more energetic than before you ate. When you are stuffed: you will feel sick or nauseous; your stomach will protrude significantly; you will feel lethargic; and you may experience reflux.
The best way to prevent overfullness is to slow down:
- “Eat” – Pick up your utensil. Scoop up a small mouthful. Take a bite. Put your utensil down. Chew thoroughly.
- Repeat “eat” approximately ten times.
- "Break" – Take a five-minute food break. Drink some water, if thirsty.
- "Analyze" – When the five minutes is over, analyze your satiety.
- If you are still hungry, repeat the eat-break-analyze cycle until you are full but not stuffed.
Second Commandment: Indulge in minimally processed foods.
Minimally processed foods ("MPFs") are convenient and contain redeeming nutritional elements. Organic sprouted grain pastas and breads (Food For Life makes some excellent products), dried fruits, nut butters, canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling), red wine, and unsweetened almond milk are a few of my favorite MPFs. While eating some MPFs on a daily basis is totally fine, make sure your diet consists primarily of whole foods supplemented by minimally processed foods, and not vice versa.
Third Commandment: Treat yourself, occasionally.
When I say “occasionally,” I mean once or twice a month. A “treat” is a processed food (e.g. chips, cookies, cocktails), which has little or no nutritional value but tastes pretty darn yummy. While occasional treats will not be detrimental to your overall health and well-being, there is nothing wrong with swearing them off altogether if you are able to do so. However, if, like me, you splurge every once in a while, it is better for your mental health to give yourself a pass instead of beating yourself up for “cheating.”
I have a sweet tooth. Thankfully, it has actually become easier for me follow my own advice since becoming vegan. Most deserts are vegetarian, but vegan deserts are more of a specialty item. Sometimes a friend will thoughtfully prepare or purchase a vegan desert especially for me. Other times, my family or friends will agree to dine with me at a purely vegan restaurant. In these instances, which occur relatively infrequently, I allow myself to indulge in a vegan, sugar-filled delight. Otherwise, desert is rightly synonymous with fruit.