Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Approach to Weight Management: Eating for Stomach Hunger

We made it through the holidays without any problems. A couple of people in the “10 Years Younger in 60 Days” program lost weight during the Week #4 weigh-in, some of us stayed level, and one of us gained just a couple of ounces while enjoying some of the tempting foods and desserts we associate with the holidays. Congratulations to everyone for keeping focused on your goals!

Our guest this week was registered dietician Virginia (Ginny) Flanders, RD, the Director of Nutrition and Food Services at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury and a certified diabetes educator.

Ginny gave a great presentation on mindful eating, a new approach to healthy eating and weight management that eliminates the need to count calories or eliminate carbs. Mindful eating is all about being aware of the food you are eating. Not only do we need to choose nutritious and healthy foods to eat, but we also need to pay attention to our bodies, which tell us hour to hour how hungry we are.

All foods fall into one of three categories: proteins, fats or carbs. A fourth source of calories is alcohol. For the best nutrition and to give our bodies the energy they need to function optimally, we need a balanced diet – a variety of healthy foods, rather than eating only meats or eliminating all carbs.

Ginny led us through several exercises to help us determine why we eat like we do and to help us become aware of the triggers that lead us to eat even when our stomachs aren’t hungry. The Hunger and Fullness Scale lets you rate your hunger from 1 – Ravenous to 10 – sick. Right in the middle is 5 – Satisfied, which is the goal we should be aiming for. Buddhists say that we should eat until we are three-quarters full. Another way to look at it is to stop five bites before the end of your meal. Ginny explained that it takes about 20 minutes for us to feel full and satisfied. If you consume your food in less time, then your brain doesn’t recognize fullness.

We were all a little freaked out when Ginny passed out three tiny raisins to each of us. The objective of this exercise was to look into our bodies to decide how hungry we were on a scale from 1-10, and to assess where this hunger originated. We pretended we had landed on a planet and had to investigate what was edible with the only tools we have -- our senses of sight, smell, taste and touch. First she had us hold one raisin and look at it, then smell it, then place it in our mouths and roll it around. Only then could we take one bite. After chewing, tasting and swallowing it we had to rate our stomach hunger. Did it fill us up? Did we want more of the same food? After that we ate another raisin and had to rate our mind hunger – just what does our mind say about this food? Do our hearts say anything about it? Is it soothing or comforting? Would our hearts like to have more of this food?

Responses to this exercise ranged from “weird” to “it’s amazing how a raisin stinks” to “it makes you think about what you put in your mouth.” According to Ginny, if we slow down when we eat, we’ll become aware of each bite and eat less. “When you go to eat something where is the hunger coming from?” Ginny asked. “We need to eat for stomach hunger, rather than eye or nose or head or heart hunger. It’s a whole different way of approaching food and eating.”

Ginny also suggested that we should eat our meals without the distraction of television, computer or cell phone. Mindful eating is pleasurable eating, she said, and food can’t be enjoyed to its fullest when we are engaged in doing something else, like watching television.

Ginny recommended a couple of books we might find helpful if we choose to practice mindful eating:

- Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays
- Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
- Savor. Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh

We especially enjoyed some of the approaches to eating in Michael Pollan’s simple book of food rules:
  • Don’t buy your food at the same place you buy your gas
  • Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Avoid foods containing more than five ingredients.
  • Eat only animals that have eaten well.
  • Eat colorful foods.
  • Eat foods that have been pre-digested, like kimchee, a fermented cabbage.
  • Eat oily fishes.
  • The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.
  • Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself.

Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital will begin a 12-week weight management pilot program in mid-January that is based on the mindful approach that Ginny shared with us. It includes mindful eating, exercise and stress management. Anyone interested in learning more can contact Ginny at

Healthy Snack:

This week’s healthy snack, a wonderful sweet potato soup, was prepared by Tinah, based on a recipe from Bob Greene’s “The Best Life Diet.” The soup was savory, with the taste and texture of ground chicken, even though there was no chicken in it, just chicken broth. Most of our group seemed to enjoy it, even the person who doesn’t care for yogurt, which is one of the soup’s ingredients, so this week’s snack gets a thumbs up!

Sweet Potato Soup
2 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. cumin
3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1-1/2 cups plain nonfat yogurt

Heat oil. Saute onion and cumin for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sweet potatoes and broth. Cook until potatoes are soft, 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Puree soup (if using a blender, work in batches and do not fill the blender more than half way). Return soup to heat. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the yogurt and serve. Delicious!

Next Week:

The beginning of a new year, and the countdown begins to the final four weeks of the “10 Years Younger in 60 Days” program. We are staying on track, working toward our individual goals and excited that we have already completed a month’s worth of healthier eating and more exercise. We’ll try to have some weight loss figures ready to share, as well as some comments from individuals in the group about their successes and challenges to date.

Happy New Year!


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