Macronutrients Are About Energy!

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed, RD, CDE

Trying to understand the latest nutrition information is confusing. There appear to be heaps of foods and chemicals to avoid, leaving very little left to eat! If you aren’t sure what to feed your family, join me in learning about nutrition, specifically macronutrients!

June images macronutrients.001What is a macronutrient? The easiest way to identify a macronutrient is to see if it contains calories. Before you roll your eyes and think OMG another list to memorize, please know that there are only four macronutrients! If you are trying to remember what these mysterious four macronutrients are, let me help jog your memory: carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol. These fabulous four macronutrients provide your body with 100 percent of your energy needs. If you are feeling a dip in your energy before or after eating, consider playing with the balance of your macronutrients.

The media and popular weight-loss experts promote one extreme diet after another. What these diets have in common is a restrictive eating focus and a promise to lose weight and be thin. This emphasis on weight and weight loss minimizes the importance of eating a balanced diet. As a parent, teaching our children about a balanced diet is essential because a child’s body is always changing, growing and adapting. I hear every day how parents are consumed by trying to feed themselves and their families. The outcome of this is feeling trapped by the desire to be “perfect” and “thin.” This just fuels an all-too-familiar cycle of temptation and deprivation at each meal, which results in “joyless eating.” 

June images macronutrients.002It breaks my heart when my families are told to follow a plan that is laced with guilt, shame and fear. Mindful eating offers, a gentler approach, which begins by understanding no one is “perfect.” We are all trying to find a balance between our wants and needs and our all-too-human cravings. If you and your family are ready to break free of the restrictive eating cycle, join me in learning about mindful eating and macronutrients – sign up to receive more blogs about mindful eating and nutrition. 


The “Choice” Challenge

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

For the last month, we have been talking about choice. Now it is time to create a change challenge about choice. In all challenges, you can choose to do this once (recommended) or for a span of time, say, a week (suggested after you have tried the challenge for a day). After you have done a change once and then expanded for a set period (say, a week), you can continue to expand your span (two weeks or a month) and evaluate the results.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.011

Like all changes, often the most difficult is creating a way to remember to do the new behavior. An effective way to remember is to pair the new behavior with an anchor behavior, which is described as a well-established action that you don’t need to be reminded of. For myself, my morning cup of coffee is a great anchor that I never forget! I have associated taking my morning medication, changing over the laundry and feeding the dog and cats as activities I do before or immediately after pouring my first cup of java!

Challenge yourself in a fun way!

Challenging yourself in a fun way may require some creative thinking. Here are suggestions from Dr. BJ Fogg for the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

Make sure to celebrate your success immediately after you do something. He calls these “celebrations,” and he has 10 attaboys that range from saying “I’m awesome” to a little dance. 

Associate the desired change with an anchor behavior described above.

Try to do the change after you have done something. For example: After I pour my coffee, I will take my pills. Or, After I brush my teeth, I will …, After I sit down to eat a meal, I will…, After I go the bathroom, I will… or After I take off my coat, I will…

Make the challenge really, really, really small. When something takes a lot of effort, it requires an equal amount of motivation. So, if your choice challenge is hard, you will need to import the motivation to keep with it. He suggests creating small changes that require very little motivation to complete. To learn more about BJ Fogg, watch this excellent TED video! Forget Big Change.

Challenging my choices!

Create a challenge that helps you become more aware of choice. These could be about selection, amount, choices about eating, stopping, or if you are attracted to food or not. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

When you select any food, use the kinetic activity with your hands (see post) to get a sense of your gut response to food. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After I have portioned my meal or snack, I will pause and position my hands in either palm up, receiving position or in a stop mode. I will notice if I have one hand receiving and the other hand as the stop. This challenge will help me recognize any deeper gut feelings, including foods I overeat and foods I might be resistant to eat.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010Challenge yourself to notice the two parts of every food choice: What and how much. Here’s how this challenge might look:

Before making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose a food that does not harm my body (and may benefit it). If I am unable to choose a food that will not harm me, I will focus on the amount eaten.

After making a selection of what to eat, I will challenge myself to choose an amount that does not harm my body (and may benefit it).

Challenge your level of curiosity. Here’s how this challenge might look:

After taking a few bites of food, start to ask questions. (You can choose one below or make up your own.)

  • “Am I still hungry or am I feeling full?
  • “Am I enjoying myself?”
  • “How much pleasure is this bite giving me?”
  • “Does this still taste good to me?”

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Food Choice 101: Selection & Choice

By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE

When it comes to food, the idea that you have a choice is often misleading. Most people are surprised to realize they are not making one choice, but two! Every choice you make has two parts: what to eat, or the selection, and how much to eat, or the portion.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.010This two-part decision-making process is why the logic of “good” and “bad” foods doesn’t work. When a person chooses a “healthy” item and then eats a very large amount, is it still healthy? The health value of any food decreases when it is over consumed. This is because when something is overeaten, it will bring a diet out of balance. The same is true if a person chooses an “unhealthy” item but limits the amount. This smaller portion of unhealthy items doesn’t bring the diet out of balance. In fact, small amounts seem to move the forbidden, unhealthy food into the realm of acceptable. Think for a moment about adding a small amount of food, such as bacon or cheese. Will a sprinkle of bacon or cheese on a salad, casserole or entree ruin the nutrients in these foods? It’s unlikely because the meal and overall diet can handle this tiny amount of “unhealthy” food. The portion doesn’t cause the meal, day or overall diet to be out of balance.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.008Yes, but there are still foods that are unhealthy, right?

A lot of health messaging encourages people to limit their overall perspective of food to fit into the good/bad food box. If you pause and think about how many calories a moderately active woman would eat in a year (about 657,000 calories) you can quickly see that most diets have wiggle room in them. Even if you overeat 50 percent of your calorie needs (or 900 calories) that represents 0.0013 of your total calories in a year. It is helpful to remember that if you are trying to be “good,” there is room for fun, discovery and adventure in everyone’s meal choices. The key is seeing the bigger picture. For example, if you eat three meals a day, in a year you are eating 1,095 meals. If one of those meals is “bad,” this represents 1/1095 or 0.00091 of your total meals. Choosing to see the big picture shows how insignificant one food or one meal is to your overall health. 

Now you know that the problem isn’t the exception or the infrequent choice. The issue that most people face is the unconscious habit of choosing less-nourishing foods (selection) or overeating (portion) any food, meal after meal, day after day, year after year. Over time, consistently eating low-nutrient foods, overeating any food, or a combination of the two will decrease health.

How mindful eating can help

Becoming more aware, or mindful, can help you uncover the opportunity in your food and eating selections. It is true that this tiny shift in thinking will not overhaul your diet or radically transform your food choice, but it might just be the change you were seeking.  Opening your eyes to opportunity requires you to give yourself time with your food and eating. Moving away from the frantic, rushing, quick, quick, quick mindset is often the most effective change a person can make.

If you are not sure this is the issue, take a minute and add up how much time you spend at each meal choosing, preparing and cooking food? Is it enough to consider the broader view of food and eating? Is it enough to ask and learn if you are selecting nutrient-dense foods at this meal or snack? If you are not choosing nutrient-dense foods, consider asking more questions, like “Why?” Was there a healthier choice available? Did I just not see it because I was so focused on another deadline, problem or issue?  Was there not enough time to prepare or eat a more nutritious item?

More time surrounding your food and eating choices offers an opportunity to pause, evaluate, consider, taste and even savor your selection. If having more time is not possible, consider how you can make it easier to select either a food or portion that will keep your diet in balance. Planning your next step takes time, and so does creating a plan for your meals, to bring lunch or order food from a place that offer more options than a burger and fries.

Many people share another consequence of the rush, rush, rush pace of life; they lack  creative energy and inspiration. The Internet, specifically Pinterest, can help. There are tons of cooking ideas, simple meals and tasty snacks that seem to float around social media. Why not get serious and find a board, a blog or a writer that you enjoy? Acknowledging that your busy life has decreased the time available for meal preparation isn’t a bad thing. If this is true for you, shift your focus to accepting that you have less time and that you would do better to have a plan, a strategy, a way to navigate the two-part process of choice: selection and portion.

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The Gas and Brake in Your Brain

By Megrette Fletcher M.Ed., RD, CDE

Many of our choices are not based in knowledge but on more subtle information.  Your “gut” response to a situation can be categorized as either wanting to go toward a choice or move away from a choice. For example, if I offered you some kale chips, would you move toward them? If the thought of kale chips makes you say, “Yum,” and you feel your salivary glands activate, you are likely to move toward that choice. However, if these dark green crisps aren’t familiar or on your list of delicious foods, you might say, no thank you and moving away from this choice. The desire to move toward or away from a choice is so automatic, it may be completely invisible.

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.001Neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, MD, offers the analogy of a car to understand how a person unconsciously enters into a choice situation. If a person is moving toward something, it is like giving the car some gas. If you’re pressing the gas pedal, you are moving toward a choice. If you don’t wish to move toward something, you use the brake. The gas and brake analogy is helpful to begin to see this invisible force behind the choice.  Modifying this analogy for a child can be done by using a simple kinesthetic learning technique with your hands.

Try it yourself

Look at a choice, such as eating kale chips. Now place your hands in the stop position. Ask yourself if the stop gesture is how you feel about eating the kale chips. Now try turning your hands over, palms up, in the receiving position. Ask yourself if this accepting position is how you feel about the kale chips. Now turn one hand to the stop position and the other hand to the accept position, and ask yourself if this mix of emotions is how I feel about kale chips?

FB Jan 2016 choice graphical quotes.002How a person responds to a situation is often a mix of emotions. It isn’t as simple as go or stop, gas or brake. Emotions are mixed, and often parents and children will find they have the brake and gas on at the same time. This creates the feeling of being stuck.

How mindful eating can help

Mindful eating can help by creating a pause. This pause allows people to gain insight to their direct experience, include this subtle gut feeling to a situation. For example, how does my child respond when presented with a new food? Does he move toward it –  hand out – receiving the opportunity? Or does he put on the brake, his hand in a full stop position? Gaining insight to your child’s habitual reaction to a situation can help you and your child untangle thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about choice. For a child, using the hand position to understand this concept of a gut reaction is helpful because it helps a child see her intention to be open, hands and mind in a receiving position; closed, hands and mind in a stop position; or confused with each hand offering a different position.

Understanding and exploring a child’s gut reaction to a situation is part of discovering and exploring the concept of choice. The real choice that you are offering your child goes beyond the acceptance or rejection of a food. It now includes the third choices the ability to be with  the feeling of being unsure, feeling stuck, or being confused by a food choice.

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Finding Fullness

Why explore the concept of fullness with a child?

The truth is, he or she may not know what fullness feels like. Really? You may wonder. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, where would a child learn what fullness feels like? Television? Magazines? Maybe his family, friends or his siblings talk about finding that right amount of food that feels comfortable but not too full? You know, that amount of food that is ‘just right’ in the stomach.

“Pause for a moment and ask yourself, where would a child (or anyone) learn what fullness feels like?”

If you are shaking your head, ‘No’, then we are in agreement. I haven’t seen this happening much either in my 20 plus years as a dietitian. Helping children understand the sensation of hunger and fullness an important goal of mindful eating. The Principles of Mindful Eating, state it is necessary for a person to “Become aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.”  

Mindful Eating for Kids can help you teach this concept by using a kid appropriate level of fullness. The fullness scale is a graphical way to teach increasing fullness but instead of numbers it uses peas.  Pictured below are some mighty cute peas, each with a facial expression and a bunch of peas wondering, ‘is there any room for us?’

Tips: How to Use the Graphic:

How many hunger peas do you have?

Prior to a meal, introduce the child to the fullness pod image. Chat with your child about where his/her ‘fullness pod’ is. Have him point to the space just below his chest. Typically, this is two fists above the navel.

Repeat that the goal of eating is to feel good when done eating. It is not to eat everything on his plate or a specific amount of food.

Next during the meal, while your child is eating, pause and do a tummy check. Ask, “How many hunger peas do you have in your tummy?” Point to the space where the stomach is. Keep the dialog going. You might say: “Do you think you need any more in your fullness pod/stomach?”

“To care for your body by eating foods that nourish the body and are enjoyable to eat.”

Kids can be tricky here –  often they want to avoid certain foods, (AKA foods with nutrition!) to eat foods with less nutrition. Kids will say the funniest things to stop eating a disliked food. Trust me, as a mother, I have heard it all before!

Remember, you have options other than telling your child “YOU MUST EAT!”.  These include remaining silent – which was surprisingly effective in my house. Curiosity is king! So start asking some questions.  If you are still stuck on what to say, here is a standby favorite for me: “Do you think you have had enough nutrition to keep your body functioning well?”

Keep your eye on the goal of eating: To care for your body by eating foods that nourish the body and are enjoyable to eat. Teaching this to some children comes easily.  However, for others- picky eaters or overeaters, we must gently help teach this important life skill. But how? That’s where my book steps in to help. With over 75 client-ready handouts on Mindful Eating activities for kids and care givers, Discover Mindful Eating for Kids will empower you to work with every type of kid out there. 🙂