Do You Eat to Live, or Live to Eat?

Mmm, food.

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Use the Healthy Food Preference List and Indulgence Frequency Questionnaire to determine how you can strike the right balance between Eating to Live, and Living to Eat.

When you ask this question to someone, it can definitely elicit a reaction. They usually pick a side and talk about what food means to them (fuel or comfort or family). Or they will talk about how they started on one side of the statement and switched to the other. Or they discuss how they are trying to manage balancing both sides of the question. In the end, it’s the same three words, “to”, “Live” and “Eat”, but the order and perception of those words creates vastly different meaning to people, and likely to you.

Those who “Live to Eat” view food as something more in their life than just fuel. It can mean comfort, family, friends, happiness, lifestyle or stress release. When food takes on greater meaning than its nutrients, we start running into conflicting desires, commitments and priorities. What drives our subconscious to make decisions? Emotions, desires and internalized commitments. That’s why those who “Live to Eat” may find making healthy, positive eating changes very challenging. To you, it’s more than just food…it’s about what food means to you. When it comes to making positive eating changes, fear of change can significantly impact those who “Live to Eat”, especially in two cases:

Foodies – When Food is a Lifestyle

When foodies are asked to make healthy eating changes, they may immediately think that they can no longer enjoy cooking, eating or socializing with their friends. They imagine a shackle being wrapped around the tasting menu at their favorite restaurant or a steel cage surrounding their favorite piece of chocolate cake. And then they imagine that they can no longer go to eat with their foodie friends because they need to eat “grass” or “rabbit food” or any other derogatory term that can be created for fruits, veggies and whole grains. By asking a foodie to make changes, they feel that their lifestyle is under attack and of course, when someone feels under attack, they get defensive and resist change.

However, making positive changes to eating and physical activity does not have to mean giving up eating well or tastefully. It means understanding how healthier foods can fit into your lifestyle rather than making your lifestyle fit into the demand for healthier foods. Try cooking with some new spices rather than butter or oil. Discover new flavor profiles by adding a new fruit or vegetable to a dish. Start splitting scrumptious meals when you go out to eat…then you and your friends can discuss the same foods and each eat less of them. And when you do want to indulge, do so without guilt and enjoy it. Go out with your friends once or twice a week and have fun! In the end, one or two meals do not make or break a healthy lifestyle. It’s the meals we eat on a regular basis that dictate our lifestyle.

Emotional Eating – When Food is a source of Control or Feelings

Call it stress eating or emotional eating, but in the end, those who turn to food to cope with challenges, changes and feelings will find that they very thing they turn to when times get tough may no longer available to them. For others, people who have very hectic or demanding routines (work, family, etc.) may view food as the last bit of control that they have in their day. So they will choose what they want…and “to hell with” what anyone else may want them to do or eat. They rebel with food. On the other hand, sometimes we eat because it is a joyous occasion such as a party or a wedding. What happens is, we no longer listen to our intuitive (aka natural) hunger and satiety systems and instead override them to a point where we feel ravenously hungry or exceedingly full. Over time, we lose a sense of these systems and we start turning to our feelings and emotions to dictate our eating habits rather than our bodies. As Fat Bastard eloquently said in the Austin Powers movie: “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat.”

In essence, food has become a dependency, equally as strong as drugs for addicts, cigarettes for smokers or booze for alcoholics. Research shows (Farley, A. C. et al. – 2012) that when people quit smoking, they tend to gain weight. It can be partially attributed to the fact that nicotine is an appetite suppressant, but also consider whether food becomes the new “coping mechanism”. When someone who smoked used to get stressed, what would they do? Smoke! Now that the cigarettes are no longer there, they need to find a new coping mechanism. While there are positive ones out there such as exercise, yoga and meditation, a more convenient one may be food. Hence the weight gain.

Also consider this: What is one of the main ingredients in preferred “comfort foods”: sugar or carbs. Carbs, particularly high doses of sugar can have an impact on the brain, stimulating dopamine and opioid receptors: our brain’s “feel good” chemicals. The stimulation has been compared to drug addiction (Hoebel, B. G. et al – 2009), including cocaine or marijuana use. But of course, after a while, the effects wear off and we need to look for the next hit if we did not solve our original source of emotion or stress.

For people who deal with emotional eating, the best thing to do is consider alternate ways of coping with stress or feelings of lack of control. Brainstorming and solving any existing sources of stress is a great first start. Next, it’s about finding other ways of stress management that you can feel comfortable turning to during tough times, especially during challenges you face in the health, fitness or weight change process. Exercise, yoga, meditation, knitting, cooking, favorite hobbies and sleeping are just a few, but you are more than welcome to determine your own. When you are able to start turning to other activities to handle stress, we can become better tuned to our body’s natural hunger and satiety (feeling full) systems and eat when we are actually hungry, rather than when we are happy, sad, mad, etc.

***Note: In the end, we are all somewhere in this continuum between Eating to Live and Living to Eat. The key is striking the balance that allows us to enjoy food when we want while being mindful of and listening to our natural hunger and satiety signals. We choose nourishing, healthy foods whenever we can because we know there will be special occasions when we will choose not to and instead will indulge and enjoy it. It’s not about restriction…it’s about balance.

What About those Who Eat to Live? Attention All Those Who Want to Gain Weight

Those who “Eat to Live” typically view food as fuel to nourish their body and keep it running strong. However, there is one notable exception, and that is those who view food as an inconvenience to their lifestyle and only choose to eat because they know they will pass out otherwise. In this case, you are likely facing weight gain issues, because when you get stressed or challenged the last thing on your mind is eating. But if you are trying to gain weight, and you stop eating (and exercising…or increase exercising without maintaining your eating), guess what will happen to your weight? Yep, back down to where it started.

The keys to overcoming this situation are similar to emotional eating, except the actions are reversed:

  • 1. Make a personal commitment to food, eating consistently and maintaining adequate physical activity, particularly strength training.
  • 2. Determine ways to handle stress or challenges that allow you to maintain your focus on eating more (or maintaining the amount needed for weight gain) and being active.

Do You Eat to Live or Live to Eat? How do you strike a balance?  Comment below or share on Twitter (@JMachowskyRDFit) or Facebook (JMWellness)!

Crucial First Steps to Eating Healthier

A Woman Eating Healthier - with Apples!

Apples are one of her preferred healthy foods. Discover Yours!
Image courtesy of Microsoft Images

An assessment I previously created exclusively for clients, you can get your own personal copy of the JM Wellness “Healthy Food Preference List” by clicking here.

Eating healthier is a clichéd term that benefits from greater specificity.  In previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) I’ve discussed the idea of organizing foods by nutrient density: “the amount of nutrient bang for your calorie buck.”  In essence, all foods can be generally categorized into one of four categories:

1. Low Calorie, High Nutrient Foods: Most fruits and vegetables

2. High Calorie, High Nutrient Foods: High starch vegetables (potato, sweet potato, corn, etc.), whole grains, avocado, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, minimally processed oils, low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish

3. Low Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Lo-cal/”Diet” foods, hard candy, Popsicles

4. High Calorie, Low Nutrient Foods: Doughnuts, ice cream, candy bars, cake, cookies, fried foods, triple bacon cheeseburgers, alcohol

Eating Healthier

Eating healthier is a two-step process:

Step 1: Move from lower-nutrient foods to higher-nutrient foods.

Step 2a: If looking to lose weight, focus more on the low-calorie, high-nutrient foods and portion control of the high-calorie, high-nutrient foods.

Step 2b: If looking to gain weight, get in your low-calorie, high-nutrient foods, but also focus on increasing your portions of high-calorie, high-nutrient foods.

Makes sense, right?  But of course, common sense isn’t always common action. (A great quote I got from my Wellcoaches training, I’ll be using it a bunch in the future.)

When confronted with the general task of eating healthier, I found people typically respond with general questions like, “What’s healthy?” or “What foods should I eat?”  And my response is: high-nutrient foods you like.  There’s no point in me telling you to eat cabbage, lima beans, plums, and almond butter if you hate cabbage and plums, and are allergic to almonds.  However, I quickly realized that people still wanted a little more specificity – a little more guidance – so I created my “Healthy Food Preference List” assessment form which has been a huge hit.  A form I previously created exclusively for clients, you can get your own personal copy by clicking here.

The Healthy Food Preference List provides you with a relatively comprehensive list of healthy foods (guidance), while still allowing you to choose which foods you like, or dislike, or have never tried (flexibility).  From this assessment form, you’ll have an extensive list of foods that you can use as a springboard for meal, snack and recipe ideas.  

When you download the file, you’ll notice the assessment is broken down into separate sections: grains/starches, veggies, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats.  Veggies & fruits can generally be considered low-calorie, high-nutrient foods while grains/starches, lean proteins and healthy fats will fall under the high-calorie, high-nutrient food category.  Obviously, if you’re allergic to a food, avoid it.

*Note: Depending on your eating philosophy, you may feel that certain foods on the list aren’t “healthy” and that’s your decision to make.  I tried to provide a comprehensive list of foods that are generally accepted as healthy to reach, and benefit, the greatest number of people.  If you feel differently, feel free to mark it as “Don’t Like.” 

Taking It a Step Further

If you’re up to a challenge, consider doing the following with the results of your Preferred Healthy Food Assessment:

1. Find three to five recipes using some of your preferred healthy foods that look good to you and you can imagine yourself preparing given your current schedule.  If you can, aim to use a fruit or vegetable in most, if not all of the recipes.

2. Select at least two menu options at all of the restaurants and take-out places you frequent that primarily focus on your preferred healthy foods.  Take a moment and sit down with the menu (either online or on paper) and mark the selections.  Then consider making an easy-to-access comprehensive list on a single piece of paper.

3. Consider trying a new food each week (a food you marked at “Never Tried”) – this can expand your healthy food repertoire, promote variety, and help avoid burnout from eating the same five foods every day.

Three Tips to Safe and Effective Interval Training

Interval Training

Interval Training
Courtesy of Mircosoft Images

An excerpt from Death of the Diet:

“Interval training is an advanced, highly effective form of cardiovascular training. It involves brief bursts of higher-intensity work – anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds – followed by a recovery period. A classic example is to run or walk quickly for 30 seconds, then walk more slowly for 60 seconds, and repeat. The amount of time spent resting between high-intensity bursts usually starts at two or three times the length of the burst, like in the example above, but advanced exercisers can reduce rest periods until they’re equal to or even shorter than the work phase.

Studies have shown that these brief bursts of activity boost your metabolism and may burn more total fat than the “low and slow” cardio that most people consider to be aerobic exercise—and it’s over faster! On top of that, interval training can provide many of the same benefits as resistance and neuromuscular training.”

While interval training will not prepare you for a marathon, interval training is a great option for those people who want to burn calories, fast.  The main concern with interval training, however, is that the harder we push our bodies, the greater the risk of injury.  To maximize results while minimizing injury risk, follow these three tips:

Use an Honest Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Intensity

A low-tech, but effective method for measuring interval intensity is rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Use RPE to estimate how hard you’re working, and progress yourself gradually. This is how it works:

Imagine a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the easiest activity ever and you could do it forever. 10 is the hardest, most challenging intensity and you feel like you’re going to collapse. After self-myofascial release and movement preparation, an interval training warm-up (five minutes or so) should have you around a 4 to 5. When you get into the interval, you should be pushing yourself anywhere from a 6 to a 9, depending on your experience with training and intervals.

If you’re newer to intervals, aim for closer to a 6 to 7.  If you’re more experienced, you can push towards an 8 to 9. Then recover at a rate of about 3 – easier than the warm-up. Repeat this anywhere from six to twelve times, depending on the duration of your interval. For example, a 1-minute “on” and 2-minute “off” interval can be done six times in 18 minutes, while a 30-second “on” and 60-second “off” is performed twelve times in the same period.

Even if you’re experienced with exercise, keep in mind that interval training is a new stress on the body, so it may take some time to adapt so be honest with how hard you’re working. There’s no point in calling something “easy” if it gets you injured.

Use Familiar Movements and Equipment

The great thing about interval training is that you can use a variety of tools – cardio machines, bodyweight exercises such as squats or pushups, jumping jacks, jump rope, kettlebells, and more.  Because you will be performing movements at a greater intensity and higher fatigue points, any poor form or compensations will be magnified.  The key to interval training is pushing yourself in good form for a brief period.

Therefore, be sure to choose exercises that you are extremely familiar with and you have confidence you can do properly, even when fatigued.  Choose the exercise or cardio machine you’ve been using for a long time, not the one you just started last week.  Learn the correct form for any exercise before you push the intensity level.  Additionally, consider the potential of joint impact – for example, elliptical may be better for those who can’t tolerate the impact of lots of running at high speeds.

Everything in Moderation: Progress Gradually

As mentioned earlier, if you’re new to interval training, keep your intervals at the lower end of the range, around a 6 or 7.  As you get better, you can eventually increase that towards an 8 or 9.  As you get even better you can start increasing the work rate and reducing the rest time.

When progressing yourself, however, change only one variable at a time. For example, don’t increase intensity via RPE or interval length and also decrease rest time on the same day. I often give clients a little more rest time on days when I progress their intensity. Then we focus on reducing rest time in future sessions.

If you enjoy intervals, slowly work up to no more than two or three interval training sessions per week and supplement with other forms of exercise or physical activity. Performing interval training too often keeps your body from recovering properly and increases your injury risk.

Combat Food Cravings, Part 1: Determine Your Triggers

Food Cravings: Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?

Berry Delicious, Berry Tempting?
Photo Courtesy of dusky,

*Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fighting food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.*

You’re minding your own business at work, watching TV, being stressed out, or lounging around after dinner and BAM you find yourself craving something sweet.  Or salty.  The craving may general, or for a specific food. Pastry, ice cream, pizza or gooey macaroni and cheese (if I just triggered a craving for you, I apologize).  The more you try to think about something else, the more you get pulled into the craving.  And then you can’t get your mind off it – until you give in.  Are food cravings inevitable?  When they strike are we sentenced to a calorie-laden, guilt-inducing fate?  Or can we fight back?

First, a review of recent research.

Then, a three step process to start overcoming your food cravings.

Recent Research Review

Recent research provides some obvious, but useful insights – well summarized by Melinda Beck in the Wall Street Journal.  While I recommend reading the article, here’s a Cliff’s Notes summary:

  • Food cravings activate the same reward circuits in the brain as drugs and alcohol (sweets and carbs release serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals).  Anticipation, hit, reward.  And eventually it takes larger doses to get the same hit.  Yes, we can become food addicts, especially to sugary foods.
  • Cravings involve a complex mix of social, cultural and psychological factors, heavily influenced by environmental cues.  Makes sense – you tell recovering alcoholics to stop hanging around in bars or reduce spending time with people who drink like a fish (origins of that analogy?).  If you know you can’t resist cookies – why have them in the house.  Or frequent bakeries?
  • Cravings can be culturally specific – “while chocolate is consistently the most-craved food in North America, Japanese women are more likely to crave sushi.”  And why doesn’t anyone crave kale?!
  • Cravings can have gender differences – 85% of men found giving into a craving satisfying vs. 57% of women.
  • “It’s possible to like a food without craving it, and crave a food without liking it.” Have you ever caught yourself eating something that looked tempting, but half way through you’re like, “Why am I eating this, it’s not very good.”  And then you finish it anyways.

Three Steps to Fend Off Unwanted Food Cravings

Fending off unwanted food cravings involves three key steps:

  1. Become Aware of Your Triggers
  2. Determine How You Fight Back Best
  3. Decide What’s Worth Indulging In – How Much & How Often

It’s hard to fight unless we know what we’re fighting against, so Part 1 this week discusses how you can become more aware of your food craving triggers.  Use this week to determine and explore your triggers.  Consider everything from what, where, when, with whom, why, etc.  Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

Step 1: Become Aware of Your Triggers

Think back to your most recent cravings – what caused them?  Were you somewhere?  Was it a particular time of day?  Were you stressed?  Five of the most common triggers that make us cuckoo-for-cookies are:

Emotion – Do you find yourself seeking out food when you’re angry, lonely, stressed, tired or even happy?  Physical hunger typically comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is usually sudden, and often for a very specific food (usually not an apple).   Ever have those times when you eat snack after snack and nothing seems to be hitting the spot? Well, that’s because you’re not physically hungry. You’re emotionally hungry. (Adapted from Adam Gilbert,

Habit – Going on auto-pilot can be useful in some cases, but not in others.  Do you always eat dessert or snack after dinner?  Do you always munch on foods while watching TV, or while sitting at your desk at work?  Do you always have chips with your sandwich?  If you “always” eat something for a reason other than physical hunger (especially if you find yourself eating even though you’re full), odds are it’s become a habit.

Boredom – Idle hands can lead to unwanted calories.  Do you find yourself sitting down to watch TV or read and you start munching and munching and munching?  Or how about at work.  Your mind wanders off after a particularly boring assignment – oh and look, there’s free donuts!  When there’s nothing else to do, eating can become an easy default activity, even if we don’t want the calories.

Environmental Cues – Is food the focus of every celebration, or bad day?  Is going out to eat the social activity of choice for your friends and family?  Do you find yourself staring at a candy bowl at work?  Are there treats in the house that you buy for others, but end up mostly eating mostly yourself?  Do you tend to go to certain restaurants or cafes (or ice cream parlors) that force you to make less-healthy decisions?  The saying “out of sight, out of mind” exists for a reason.

Hunger – If you go a long time between eating (or if you eat foods that tend to spike your blood sugar), your blood sugar can drop.  As a result, hunger hormones spike, your brain freaks out and you’re no longer looking for the healthiest option – you’re looking for the closest option, even if it’s cookies, candy or pizza.

You may notice some of these triggers have overlapping causes – if you’re hungry and bored and only junk food is available, the odds are stacked against you.  Let’s unstack them.  Download a complimentary copy of the Death of the Diet Indulgence Journal here to determine your triggers and start fight food cravings today.  Want to discuss your triggers further?  Comment below.

Part 2 next week will discuss how to fight back against food cravings and how to decide which indulgences are worth it.

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