I bet I caught your attention with that headline. Aren't we all looking for hacks to make our life easy? Absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you are looking for ideas like what to eat on an empty stomach to lose x kilos then you will be disappointed with this post. I have no such hack here.
What I do have, are a bunch of ideas that you can use to create long term sustainable change in your eating habits that will eventually improve your health & quality of life. These are ideas from my own experience and those of my clients. I hope you find them useful.
First, a bit of science before we get into the hacks :
1. Understand how your "appetite & food intake" are regulated:
The decision to start eating, how much to eat & from where to get the food to satisfy that need are all controlled in a tightly regulated system in the part of the brain called the ‘Hypothalamus’. The Hypothalamus combines the information from the ‘hindbrain’ ( also known as the ‘metabolic brain' ) that senses and responds to the amount & quality of nutrients in your gut to determine when you're hungry or full & the ‘Cortico-Limbic system' ( our ‘emotional & thinking' brain ) that assigns emotional value to foods so we get pleasure or rewards from certain foods.
What's important to note is that while the hypothalamus uses information from both, the information from ‘cognitive and emotional’ brain can override the ‘metabolic brains' signal that you are full.
This served our ancestors well at a time when starvation was a threat. Today, for most of us starvation is not something to be concerned about. So it's important to be aware of this physiological response.
2. Understand how the brain makes decisions:
Our brain is constantly shifting between two types of thinking, conscious thinking, and subconscious automatic responses. While conscious decisions are rational & in line with our goals, they require a lot of effort and energy from our side. The subconscious automatic responses are a result of the habits we have formed. And majority of the food decisions we make are subconscious responses. Think about it. When you are hungry, you don't go into a long decision making process of what food item to eat that has the maximum nutrient content. You just eat what's in sight.
How do we use all of this Information ?
We can use all of this knowledge to our advantage and begin involving the conscious mind to create better habits that will come in handy when we are hungry and begin to rely on our subconscious decision making process to choose foods to eat. I gained all of this knowledge on how the brain controls our eating from a "weight management course” I did and have used this understanding to create my own hacks. Let's dive straight into them now:
Hack 1 : Make the food that enhances your well being easily accessible & top of mind
When you are hit by a hunger pang you are going to eat what you see, so make sure you have a ready list of items to reach out for, created just for moments like these. I have my list stuck on my refrigerator.
One of my clients, Tina keeps a jar filled with assorted nuts and seeds and takes a handful when she feels hungry between meals.
Hack 2 : Make yourself accountable
I share my food plates with my clients on the “Daily meal log group" & on my Insta stories almost everyday. This is not to show off or take pride in how perfectly I eat but to keep up my motivation and focus on filling my plate with what serves my goals. So find a way to make yourself accountable.
Hack 3 : Eat slowly
Me and my clients have been following slow eating as explained in this post : Hack Portion Control . Do give it a read.
It is a fabulous hack on arriving at a portion size that feels right for you. When you follow this, you will realise how you have been eating more than you need. Also slow eating has many other health benefits. You end up chewing your food better that aids in digestion. Personally, it helps me practice mindfulness and gratitude with my food. I can make sense of the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh's words, when he says, “In this food I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.”
Hack 4 : Keep good company
Having even one other person support you ( could be your spouse or a friend ) in adopting better eating habits can be helpful.
However, if you find that you have friends or family members who don't care much about nutrition, then don't fret. You are not alone. Being ‘healthy & fit' is perhaps not a goal for them. But it is for you. So keep your goal in the forefront of your mind. And instead of getting influenced by them, you become an influencer for them. They may not listen to you immediately but will turn around when they see how better eating habits are helping you.
I also like to follow qualified nutritionists, dietitians, and individuals who are focused on better nutrition. This keeps me motivated on my path to well-being.
“The closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.” - James Clear ( Atomic habits )
Hack 5 : Maintain a "Food log”
Write down everything that you put in your mouth in a diary. Do this for a few days. And then review the information.
This exercise will give you a clear picture of your current eating habits - what foods you are choosing to eat & how you are making those decisions.
Now use this information to create better habits that enhance your overall nutrition.
Hack 6 : Pre-plan your meals
Planning meals in advance is the best way to beat decision fatigue & make healthier choices. Set aside a few minutes end of each day to plan meals for the next.
One of my Client, Nisha is a pro at this. She plans for the entire week and sticks to it as much as possible.
Hack 7 : Make foods high in nutrient value more palatable
You would have heard some people say that healthy food doesn't taste good. That’s not true. Don't believe in that because if you do then you will be eating nutrient dense foods as a punishment. Instead find ways to enhance the taste of these. There are many interesting ways of doing this.
You can look for recipes on the internet and try them out. Personally, I like to experiment with different dressings for my vegetable salads. And I have begun to love eating vegetables trying different dressings for them.
Maybe your taste buds prefer a stir fry. Experiment & figure out.
Since you are in this "nutritious eating thing" for long term, make the journey enjoyable.
Hack 8 : Follow the 80/20 rule
I find for myself that when I am eating too clean, I become more susceptible to losing control over a bag of chips or other low nutrient foods. But when I eat a good mix of nutrient dense foods and some emotionally satisfying food that isn't necessarily nutrient dense, I feel more in control.
Last but not the least, fall in love with taking care of yourself. Loving & caring for yourself does not mean indulging yourself at a spa or going on a shopping spree. It means saying ‘No’ to what doesn't serve your best interests and saying ‘yes’ to what enhances your well being. And doing this repeatedly, over and over, until it becomes a subconscious automatic response.
Believe that your body is simply responding to the way you treat it. So if you want it to treat you well, you know exactly what to do. Take responsibility & do those things 💕
I will conclude this post with a few verses by Naval Ravikant thats hard hitting:
“Doctors won't make you healthy. Nutritionists won't make you slim. Teacher's won't make you smart. Guru's won't make you calm. Mentor's won't make you rich. Trainer’s won't make you fit. Ultimately you have to take responsibility. Save yourself.” - Naval Ravikant