Categories
Habits Lifestyle

The Antidote to Mindless Eating

When a French friend of mine first moved to London, she found one local tradition utterly mystifying. It wasn’t the English penchant for talking about the weather, or for apologizing when someone else steps on their toes. It was that Londoners eat while walking down the street.

“Devouring a Niçoise salad and dodging pedestrians at the same time is not a sign of civilization,” my friend told me, with Parisian hauteur. “It’s a sign that you need to slow down.”

She had a point. In the modern world, the art of eating mindfully has been sacrificed on the altar of speed and efficiency.  Everywhere, industrial farms pump out cheap, low-caliber food. Cooking by microwave then adds insult to injury. The act of eating has become a race against the clock. One study found that the average meal in the United States lasts just 11 minutes. Breakfast and lunch can be as short as two minutes.

Eating is often incidental, something we do while doing other stuff—driving, doomscrolling, watching Netflix, walking down the street. Maybe you’re reading this article while dining al desko. This roadrunner approach to food takes a toll on everything from our health and mood to our relationships and the environment.

The remedy? Take the advice of my French friend and slow down.

We already know that farming at the slower pace of nature is better for the planet. By the same token, eating less quickly helps digestion and guards against gluttony by giving the stomach time to tell the brain that it’s full. It also allows you to savor what you put in your mouth.

Sharing food brings people together, too. It’s no accident that the word companion derives from the Latin for ‘with bread.’ Oscar Wilde noted that breaking bread together can help us bond even with those we find hardest to stomach: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” Having a regular family meal can even improve children’s behavior and academic performance.

Alice Waters, the legendary American chef, put it best when she said that “only slow food can teach us the things that really matter—care, beauty, concentration, discernment, sensuality, all the best that humans are capable of, but only if we take the time to think about what we’re eating.”

That’s why people everywhere are finding ways to build a slower, more mindful relationship with food. Look at the renaissance of the farmers market. The artisanal boom in everything from beer and bread to cheese and chocolate. The trend for eating local and organic. The rise of vegetable gardens and cooking classes.

The international slow-food movement, which stands for everything that fast food does not, has grown briskly.

The pandemic supercharged this trend. During the long months of lockdown, many of us found solace in devoting more time and attention to food. Making a meal by hand, touching the raw materials, feeling your way through a recipe, tasting, adjusting, engaging all the senses, can be a soothing release—especially in dark times. Preparing and then lingering over dinner was the highlight of the day in my locked-down home.

If you’re like me, your feed is now rammed with images of friends and family pickling vegetables or feeding sourdough starters.

Though the pandemic shone a light on the chasm between haves and have-nots, eating mindfully need not be a luxury for the rich. As Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the 19th-century French gastronome, put it: “The pleasures of the table are for every man, of every land, of every place in history or society.” Translation: Slow food doesn’t have to mean a handmade banquet worthy of a Michelin star. You can prepare a simple pasta or soup in less time and for less money than it takes to order in pizza or noodles.

But don’t lose heart if you fall short of the slow-food ideal. Nobody’s perfect. And I mean nobody: The last time I saw my French friend, she was dashing down the street chewing on a bagel.

Tips for a More Mindful Relationship With Food

  • Grow a few herbs, like mint, rosemary, or thyme, in the garden or on the windowsill.
  • Buy fresh ingredients.
  • Turn cooking into a moment of restorative me-time.
  • Alternatively, make cooking a communal affair by getting others to help chop, grate, stir, simmer, taste and season.
  • Eat together around a tech-free table so you can relish the food and let the conversation flow.

Carl Honoré is a London-based writer, broadcaster, and TED speaker. His bestselling books on the benefits of slowing down and aging have been published in 35 languages.

Categories
Habits Mind & Body Nutrition

Comfort Food and Real Joy

The holidays can pack on the calories, and sometimes the resulting pounds stay with us the rest of the year. This season, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of improved health through empowering new habits. The value of this gift is immeasurable.

One of the ways to give this gift is through sharing the joy of walking, or some other form of mild exertion. Moderate exercise on a weekly basis can add four years or more to your life. There are endless ways to get this exercise, from shoveling snow to walking the dog. You can also build bits of micro-exercise into your day by parking at the far end of the lot when you go to the mall or taking the stairs at every opportunity. Share this habit with those around you and feel better each time you do.

Another way to give yourself this gift is to dial back on the refined carbohydrates. Sugar and refined grains spike your blood sugar and can take a toll on your mood and energy levels, all while adding inches to your waistline.

Your body is a dual fuel system. It can burn fat or sugar, including carbohydrates, and it’s good to switch it up. Most people run their body on sugar the vast majority of the time, thanks to the ingredients in processed foods, whether those are crackers or cheeseburgers. Even though these foods have plenty of fat as well, it’s the wrong kind of fat, and doesn’t get properly burned when all those sugars are present.

Changing from a sugar-burning metabolism to more of a fat-burning metabolism does what we want to do most when it comes to body composition: it burns off our fat. Reducing the carbohydrate load decreases the amount of the hormone, insulin, that you produce. Keeping insulin levels low also allows your metabolism to kick into a fat-burning state.

You’ll experience fewer food cravings as you reduce the amount of high glycemic carbohydrates and grains in your nutrition plan—and your mood and energy level will become healthier and more stable. Friends and family will appreciate the change—even better if they join you in this effort. Just tell them that “your energy will increase as you clean up the fuel you put in your tank.”

But make sure you eat healthy fats. And be aware that fat is calorie dense. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, thanks to lean proteins, like fish, and healthy fat from olive oil.

This sugar-fat swap will also help you sleep better. Eating sugarplums is not recommended but dreaming about them is OK. Recent studies show that sleep plays an important role in our immune response and metabolic balance, as well as in such critical mental functions as attentiveness, learning, memory, and emotional equilibrium.

All these benefits, and more, are available to you with just a few simple changes. Let’s look closer at the most important healthcare decision we make every day—what’s at the end of our fork.

Is Food Your Comfort and Joy?

The best way to make healthy changes in what we eat is not to count calories or obsess over the scale: it’s to examine our relationship with food.

Does food make you feel good? Does it give you joy? If someone were to eliminate “guilty pleasure” foods, would you get angry? If any of these answers is “yes,” you may have an improper relationship with food. It’s one thing to enjoy your food; we all do that. It’s another to seek joy through food. If you do that, it’s called emotional eating, and this driver of disease runs rampant during the holidays.

Making healthy changes requires honesty about what we eat and why we eat it. If we don’t address the root causes of over-indulging, a continual cycle of failure, declining health, and weight gain will result. But there’s good news: being aware of why you eat makes it easier to make better choices. Making better choices, meanwhile, will help you and your family enjoy the holidays even more. Share this effort, and you can jump start the new year with a new approach to eating.

7 Ways to Enjoy Healthier Holidays

1. Eliminate SAD Foods

“SAD” stands for the Standard American Diet. Get rid of the boxed or otherwise packaged processed foods that cause weight gain and blood sugar chaos. Here is a list of foods you should eliminate from your fridge, pantry, and table.

  • Sweet beverages (designer coffees, energy drinks, flavored milks, sweetened teas, soft drinks, and “fruit” drinks)
  • Processed meat (breakfast sausage patties, frozen meals, bologna, ham, hot dogs, jerky, pepperoni, salami)
  • Processed foods (granola bars, potato chips, frozen meals, snack products, cheap salad dressings)
  • Sweets (candy, cake, chocolate syrup, cookies, donuts, ice cream, pie, and you know the rest)

A quick point on sweets: They have no nutritional benefit. They are nutrient void and cause an immense release of insulin. Insulin and vitamin C compete for the receptor sites on the immune cells. High insulin levels dampen the immune system.

2. Prepare Your Own Meals

When you eat out, you are usually eating processed food. Restaurants, especially chains and fast-food restaurants, use pre-prepared ingredients that include heavy processing and food additives. A far better option is to make your own food. Not only can you make delicious meals that support your health and immune system, preparing them with friends and family makes holiday memories. A free recipe guide is available at Sherwood.tv/holiday

3. Take Your Brain for a Walk

Exercise is good for the brain, body, and soul. We recommend a variety of exercises to our patients, but for the holidays, we have one simple prescription: Take a walk, twice daily, preferably after eating.

Exercise helps move glucose out of the blood and into the cells and reduces the “food coma” often experienced after a big meal. Vigorous movement also stimulates chemicals that help the brain function better.

You might not feel like getting outside, but once you get in the fresh air, the reward will be obvious. Pajamas are acceptable attire on holiday walks.

4. Water Yourself

Drink pure water, or drinks that are mostly water, like herbal tea, diluted fruit juice, or sparkling water with lemon, throughout the day. Your body is 60-65 percent water and being even a quart low will increase your fatigue. Rehydrate and resuscitate all the cells in your body. Water also fills your tummy and reduces the temptation to swipe a cookie.

Avoid, or greatly reduce, all foods and beverages that contain caffeine, because caffeine pulls nutrients out of your body, and can worsen anxiety. If you can’t completely cut out the caffeine, at least make sure you are getting something for your sacrifice. Green tea offers some nutritional recompense for the caffeine cost.

Also, reduce or avoid alcohol, because metabolizing alcohol requires essential nutrients that your body would prefer to use elsewhere. As the liver decreases its supply of vitamins and nutrients, the blood stream is called upon to replenish the supply. As a result, body cells are deprived of critical nutrients, and normal body functions suffer. Some people do not produce the enzyme required to break alcohol down, and it remains a toxic substance in their system.

5. Move in the Morning

Exercise first thing in the morning, before breakfast. This forces your body to burn stored fat for energy, rather than burning carbohydrates, which are readily available after eating. On feast days—and feast weeks—we can all use a little extra fat-burning.

6. Snack on Protein

Eat a small, protein-rich snack a couple of hours before the big meal. This will help take the edge off hunger and improve your odds of making healthy dinner choices. Raw almonds are a great choice.

7. OK, Have Some Pie

Let’s be realistic. You’re gonna have some dessert, and other favorite recipes, during the holidays. Instead of an all-or-nothing approach to these foods, simply be mindful of portions. Have a third of a piece of pie instead of a full slice and hold the whipped cream. Decreasing portion sizes or having only a bite or two of your favorite indulgences, will satisfy your cravings without expanding your waistline.

And while you’re at it, introduce some new foods to your body, and take them for at least two walks every day. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.

Dr. Michele Sherwood, along with her husband, Dr. Mark Sherwood, are the founders of a successful medical practice, and help patients from around the world find the health they were created to enjoy, in every area of life. As bestselling authors, podcasters, movie producers, and media personalities, they founded Hope Dealers International to reach beyond their clinic. Download their free holiday recipes here: Sherwood.tv/holiday

Categories
Family Habits Mind & Body Mindset Parenting Relationships

Connect With Children Through Purposeful Play

I recently asked a friend what she had been up to and she answered, “Not much. I’ve just been playing with my kids.”

I asked her to restate her answer without “Not much” and without the word “just.” With a quizzical look, she obliged. I then asked her, “Didn’t that feel better?” She agreed that it did.

You might be surprised at the power of play. Even when we’re busy—and who isn’t busy—play can be a priority for our children and us. “I’ve been playing with my kids” is a goal to set and meet.

What do you think of when you think back to your childhood? Many of us think of the many “little” things that made up quality family time. Some big things will make the list. For me, being shocked with the gift of a viola when I was 12 is on my list. After renting one for a while, my parents knew I was serious about learning how to play and improving my skill. Buying me my own viola communicated their belief in me. That was more valuable to me than the gift itself.

But it’s the consistency of “little” things that are actually “big.” These experiences, like playing with siblings and parents, school performances, family dinners, and holiday traditions, define childhood for most of us.

Children Should Play Now

Many children, regardless of age, haven’t been able to live as children during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve had to learn online, isolated from friends. They’ve had to work at home, rather than play at home. In addition to typical chores, many cared for siblings and helped their parents, who were distracted and extra busy working from home. Having parents close-at-hand but unavailable can be confusing for a child.

This summer, let’s give them back their childhood. We can’t allow children to be defined by what they lost during the COVID crisis. Let’s give them a summer to remember, one that they’ll want to look back on. Lately, Fred Rogers’ statement, “Play is the work of childhood” hasn’t been true. Let’s change that going forward.

Play With Children

One of my saddest encounters with a child occurred when I researched how children believe parents’ phones affect them. At a park play area, a young boy’s countenance changed from happy-go-lucky to sad as he shared, “I wish my mom played with me instead of taking pictures of me playing.” I’ve heard this echoed by many, many children throughout the years.

Some people have said, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E.” To a large extent, that’s true. “Like” is also spelled T-I-M-E. Children frequently tell me, “My parents have to love me. I wish they liked me.” They follow this with, “My dad sometimes plays with me, but I don’t think he wants to play my game with me. I wish he wanted to,” and, “My mom tells me to ‘go play,’ but I like playing best with her. She’s always busy. If she liked me more, maybe she’d want to spend time with me.”

I respect that you’re busy. I fully recognize you had to think about whether you had the time to read this article. Every minute matters to busy parents. That’s why saying “yes” to our children encourages them deeply. Playing with them communicates both love and like!

When children invite us to play with them, they notice when we stop working, reading our book, or visiting with a friend to say “yes.” When we initiate play without them asking, they notice. When we prioritize them, they feel loved. They know they’re loved. But it goes deeper than that. They also feel liked.

What’s the value of your children knowing you like them? They’ll feel known, which is the heart’s desire for everyone. They’ll feel wanted, which meets a need we all have. Because they’re known and wanted, they’ll feel safe with you. This makes everything more positive. Children’s behavior will be more consistent. Security also increases cooperation, confidence, and obedience. But there’s still more.

When we prioritize liking children, we’ll have meaningful and personal conversations instead of interrogations. Thoughts and feelings tend to merge during conversations stimulated by play, and both are strengthened. They get to know us just as we get to know them a bit better. Because we’ve gotten to know each other beyond “mom, dad, and child,” children will discover what they have in common with us. “Mom, you liked games like this when you were my age? Cool! And your mom played with you? We’re like you and your mom except now you’re the mom!” or “Dad, I liked playing catch today and hearing your great baseball story. I didn’t know you weren’t a very good player at the beginning either. Now I can believe you when you say I can improve.”

Play for the Heart

Through play, parent-child relationships can again be defined by joy and togetherness rather than disappointment and separation. In addition, by simply prioritizing play, frustration, fatigue, and anger can decrease. The mental health benefits are real.

Playing to take a break from technology and the intensity of work is good for everyone. It leads to more rest. Stress lifts and confusion dies out. Contentment and clarity result. Loneliness and isolation are replaced by renewed relationships and fellowship.

Character can grow. When children only play games by themselves on their devices, they can quit games they might lose, develop pride when they win, and get angry when they don’t.

When children play with others, they’re more likely to develop self-control and learn humility when they win and patience and teachability when they lose. They can learn sacrifice, selflessness, and respect for others as they let siblings choose what outdoor game to play, help younger siblings learn new board games, and celebrate someone else’s victory.

Learning resiliency, helping children to bounce back quickly from disappointment and defeat, might be among the best reasons to prioritize play this summer and beyond. Our children have experienced a lot of loss. Negativity and fear are common. We can’t allow children to be so overwhelmed by it all that they’re defined by loss.

When children aren’t chosen first, or a sibling knows more than they do at a museum, or they accidentally knock over their carefully built tower, our presence helps them mature. We can encourage them to try again, play again, ask again, and show up again. They can develop resilience.

Play for the Mind

All kinds of play are good for the mind. Children—and adults—are smart in eight different ways. Through a variety of play, each intelligence can be awakened and strengthened. Knowing and planning for this adds value to our play. Remember, no one “just plays with their kids.” When you play with them and plan various rich play experiences for them, you’re increasing their intelligence. Tell your friends that the next time they ask you what you did all day. For example:

The word-smart part of the brain uses words. Play word games, talk and listen, read together, enjoy learning and using new words, write and produce plays and skits, read and listen for enjoyment and to learn from different websites, and more. Go to the library and bookstore.

The logic-smart part of the brain uses questions. Play games that require factual recall, cause-and-effect thinking, and predicting; enjoy nonfiction books and presentations on sites like YouTube; read mysteries, building things and asking questions while you do; enjoy inventing a solution for something; and more. Go to museums.

The picture-smart part of the brain uses your eyes and pictures. Color, create, play games that require visual recall, read picture books and talk about the illustrations, build and design everything from the doll’s bedroom to an organizational system for the laundry room, and more. Go to art museums and craft stores.

The music-smart part of the brain uses rhythms and melodies. Make noise, sing songs, write and perform funny musicals for relatives, play instruments, compare ringtones and alarms, and more. Go to musicals, concerts, and music stores.

The body-smart part of the brain uses movement and touch. Make designs with sidewalk chalk, play old-fashioned tag, play catch, ride bikes, “wrestle” with dad, build tall towers, join a sports team, create dance movements, and more. Go to sporting events and the playground.

The nature-smart part of the brain uses patterns. Hike, fish, go camping, walk around the neighborhood, garden, read books about animals, spend time outside, play games that use patterns, collect things according to their designs, and more. Go to the zoo, park, pet stores, and animal shelters.

The people-smart part of the brain uses talking with other people. Invent something together; tell people why you like the music, art, and games you do and learn what they like; teach someone to play one of your favorite games; spend time with people; and more. Go listen to speeches and debates.

The self-smart part of the brain uses reflection. Play by yourself, make choices, do quiet activities, write poems and songs that express how you’re feeling, and more. Go where they want to go—a museum, park, store, etc.

Play On Purpose

Some children and families have done better than others during the past year. No matter your situation, remember that play has purpose. Relationships, the heart, and the mind can all be strengthened. Don’t “just” play with your kids. Play!

Dr. Kathy Koch (“cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including “8 Great Smarts” and “Start with the Heart.” Dr. Koch earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

Categories
Featured Fitness Habits Mind & Body Mindset

Reclaiming the Lost Art of the Stroll

Not long before the pandemic hit, someone reported me to the police. I wasn’t selling drugs or stealing a car or making too much noise in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even breaking the law. My only crime was to stroll through an American neighborhood where walking is not the done thing.

“People here drive everywhere,” the policeman told me. “Walking sets off alarm bells.”

A joke, right? Wrong. In a world in thrall to cars, walking is often seen as deviant behavior.

I grew up in a Canadian city where people would drive rather than walk 10 minutes. My earliest memory of walking to high school was hearing some guy hanging out the passenger side of his friend’s ride, hollering at me, “Get a car, loser!”

In many cultures, landing your first set of wheels is a rite of passage, a passport to adulthood. Driving can certainly boost your dating odds. Remember that famous line from Grease: “Tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car?”

Small wonder the World Health Organization described walking as a “forgotten art.”

To make matters worse, when we do walk, it’s often with a very modern blend of impatience, distraction, and goal-hunting. We use apps to count our steps. We curse anyone daring to dawdle in our path. We spend much of the time staring down at our smartphones. All over the world, distracted pedestrians get hurt walking into lamp-posts, fire hydrants, or other distracted pedestrians.

Brick Lane, a hipster haven in London, came up with a novel way to curb walk-and-text injuries: wrap local lampposts in foam padding.

The truth is, we need to walk more–for our health and for the sake of the planet. But we also need to walk better.

The French have a wonderful word: flânerie. It means strolling without any goal in mind beyond exploring, observing, and savoring. It’s the opposite of power walking.

When you channel your inner flâneur (or flâneuse), you notice flowers and trees, clouds in the sky and hills on the horizon, how the light dances on water or across the windows of a building. You hear birdsong and the laughter of strangers. You take pleasure in what others are wearing and doing. Walking like a flâneur is a balm for the mind and the spirit.

In the 19th century, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, used his daily constitutional to silence the chatter in his head. “I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it,” he once said.

Shakespeare was on the same page. In “The Tempest,” Prospero says, “A turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.”

Walking can even be part of a path to enlightenment. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, says that a mindful stroll can bring spiritual clarity and heal both the walker and the world.

Ambling also fires up the imagination. That’s why big thinkers, from Aristotle to Virginia Woolf, have hailed the creative power of a good walk. William Wordsworth composed much of his poetry while wandering lonely as a cloud through the English countryside.

“All truly great thoughts,” said Nietzsche, “are conceived while walking.”

Nikola Tesla agreed. The inventor of the induction motor had his eureka moment while perambulating in Budapest. “The idea came like a flash of lightning,” he later recalled. “In an instant, the truth was revealed.”

A silver lining of the pandemic is that walking is making a comeback. With normal life on pause, people everywhere have embraced it as a way to exercise, unwind, or just get out of the house. I now take a long stroll every day in my corner of London. My route winds along Victorian streets and through three parks.

And I walk it in full flâneur mode. No rush. No Fitbit. No music. No phone. Just meandering for the sheer joy of it.

The other day, as I sauntered past a pond in the park, a question popped into my head: Has the pandemic finally made flânerie permissible in that neighborhood where someone dialed 911 after seeing me on foot? I emailed a local to find out.

“You’d fit right in here now,” came the reply. “I’m looking out my window, and everybody’s out there strolling around like they have all the time in the world.”

Carl Honoré is a London-based writer, broadcaster, and TED speaker. His bestselling books on the benefits of slowing down and aging have been published in 35 languages.