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Kitty Shea
From Live Better America
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Don't Judge My Plate

Having lived in this body through five decades and about that many dress sizes, I know well its photo album of configurations: heavy, thin, flabby, fit, overindulged, undernourished. It took eating my way through all these ages and stages to -- finally, at last, glory hallelujah -- figure out which foods and food combinations leave me energized, full and rightly sized: healthy by my definition. And, I tell you, it's outright, giddy bliss to have arrived at so stable a table.

I'm bursting to tell everyone everything: what I eat and don't, how what started as a diet has become second nature, what it feels like to crack both the code and the organic cage-free brown eggs. I can just hear my breathless infomercial. "You really should ..." "You need to ..." "You'd feel better if ... " Dinner-table evangelists hardly have time to unfold our napkins because we're so busy congratulating ourselves while judging and recruiting others. You'd think we were on commission. (Could I just say that human beings, as social animals, are wired to want as many people on our side as possible. Our obnoxiousness is primal.)

Thankfully, I've learned to limit my zeal to my mom and the curious few who pointedly inquire. We've all gotten "the look" or a lecture as we buttered a dinner roll or consumed its equivalent sin. "What? What am I doing wrong? The fat in the butter? The dairy? The white flour in the roll? The yeast?" Receiving other people's unsolicited dietary advice only tightens my grip on my fork and whatever's on it. How I'd love to fire off conversation-halting nutritional facts or research findings; instead, my mind turns to cornmeal mush ("polenta" to sophisticates) and I sulk.

Does such defensiveness mean we're closed to receiving potentially helpful direction? Or are the food police out of line? Eating is intensely personal; it's how we keep ourselves alive, plus it's hard to both get it right and experience its joys and comforts. Headlines about food and health, food and weight, food and mood are a scrambled alphabet. Vegetables seem to be the only universally endorsed foodstuff, but then come the asides about starchy vegetables or root vegetables or nightshades if you have such-and-such conditions.

Here's the deal: Everybody and every body is different. Our digestive systems differ in terms of efficiency and nutrient absorption and transport. Metabolisms differ. Genetics differ. Activity levels differ. States of health differ. Ages differ. And those are just the physical puzzle pieces. Lifestyle and desire further put us all at different places. And at different tables.

By accepting where others are at -- them, on their own, not in relation to us -- we open our minds and release from the conversation our need to be right. We trust them to their own timing and process, and entrust ourselves to practitioners who can tell us what belongs on our plate, period.

We make ours an open table at which food can wield it greatest power: bringing people together to break bread -- in its most literal or figurative sense.

To what degree do you welcome dietary suggestions from others or offer them yourself?

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  • Do you frequently eat when you’re not hungry?

    Before you take a bite, check in with your hunger, recommends Lampert. Does your stomach feel empty? If no, beware. Eating won’t satisfy a craving that comes from something other than hunger. If you are hungry (or just still want that Rocky Road), make a mindful decision about how much to eat, then pay attention to what you’re eating. Don’t watch TV, surf the web or talk on the phone while you’re eating. You’ll enjoy your food more and be more tuned in to the physiological signals of fullness.

  • Do you scold or criticize yourself after indulging?

    Guilt over a little indulgence can lead to unchecked eating, causing you to take in even more calories. Instead of beating yourself up for having a treat, remind yourself that you have the power to make good food choices from here on out.

  • Do you have a list of foods that are off-limits?

    When emotions hit, people tend to reach for high-fat or high-sugar foods – usually the very ones you tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have. Instead of thinking in terms of “good” and “bad” foods, remember that almost all food has a place in a well-balanced diet. Pizza fanatic? Pencil it in one night a week. Chocoholic? Sample a square or two as an evening dessert. By giving yourself room to sample favorite treats you’re less likely to go overboard when stressed.

  • Are there specific emotions that trigger your eating?

    Maybe retirement worries send you toward sundaes. Or your newly empty nest has you aching for nachos. Not sure what’s triggering the tiramisu craving? Keep a food journal for a few days. Write down what you ate, when you ate it, how you felt, whether you were hungry at the time and how you felt afterwards. Seeing your habits in black and white will help you better identify situations likely to spark a non-hunger driven binge.

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