Probably most of us would like to eat healthier and enjoy meals more than we do. One way to implement change is to make an abrupt and comprehensive switch, a clean break with what we’re doing and beginning anew, from the foundation upward. We hear stories of some Wall Street banker getting sick of their lifestyle and moving to the wilds of Alaska to build log cabin with no internet or cellular connection.

Another way to make change in one’s life is to implement one change at a time, let that change take hold, re-evaluate, and proceed to the next change. Today’s post focuses on this latter approach. It’s usually more realistic, that is, it’s more likely to move from daydream into achievement.

So, here is a smattering of single changes you can make to improve your diet. An improved diet can mean healthier in being more nutritious and less harmful to long-term health, reduced in calories to allow weight loss, more delicious, and/or more enjoyable. Here are my choices:

  1. Eliminate fluids with calories and with artificial sweeteners. Eliminating caloric and artificially sweetened fluid leaves you with greatly reduced choices, which you may find boring and unsustainable. So, you may wish to explore options. Instead of drinking plain water all the time, you can add carbonated water to the mix. Its lack of flavor is made up by the effervescent sizzle it gives your mouth. You can explore flavored unsweetened waters and the whole range of teas, caffeinated and uncaffeinated. A guy I worked with lost 50 lbs. in less than a year by instituting this single change. I saw him shrink before my eyes. (You can exclude coffee from this stricture, which you may continue to drink as you most like it, with sugar and/or cream, if that’s how it suits you.)
  2. Eat fruit, don’t drink them. Try this experiment: Next time you’re grocery shopping buy an orange, squeeze out its juice into a measuring cup, and see how little you get. An average orange has 2 ounces of juice! A small glass of juice is thus equal to the juice of 4 oranges. Many people will drink 10 or 12 ounces, equal to 5 or 6 oranges. In addition to this being a calorie bomb, you also drink it much more quickly than you could eat even a single orange, you deprive yourself of chewing, and you end up with a fearsome insulin spike. Smoothies are now the rage but often have the same downsides as a glass of juice; even more so since they tend to be larger and more caloric. A smoothie, depending on its ingredients, can contain 200 to 800 calories and be high in fast carbs. So, if you enjoy the taste and ease of smoothies, it’s best to make your own and choose exactly what goes in them. Preferably, though, you can consume the same ingredients in their natural unpureed form.
  3. Restrict the time of your last meal of the day. We are familiar with intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating. It is associated with reduced calorie intake and other benefits. If you’re not yet ready to go all in, you can instead restrict the time of your last meal of the day. This has the added benefit of potentially improving your sleep since you’re not digesting during the night.
  4. Meal prep for the week. We are all so busy that we don’t have time to think about and prepare many of our own meals. We end up eating out for lunch and dinner, perhaps more frequently than we would like. Restaurant food is loaded with calories, sodium, saturated fats, and all types of additives. The restaurant wants to provide you with tasty food and isn’t interested in your long-term health. One way to make meal prep much more time efficient is to devote 2-3 hours on, let’s say, a Sunday afternoon to prepare several meals for your week. For example, you can bake organic chicken breasts or whatever parts you like that can form the protein base for variously themed lunches and dinner. You can also prep vegetables for the week the same way: broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, squash, zucchini, etc.
  5. Portion control your meals with a combination plate. A combination plate is a plate with dividers, raised ridges on a dinner plate that divides it into three or four parts. The benefits are that it limits the size of your entire meal and of each meal component, the protein, starch, and vegetables. It also guides you to include all three (or four) parts to the meal. The largest partition, about half the plate, can be reserved for veggies, and the remaining quarter sections for your protein and starch.Make a rule to never to get seconds. When you use the portion control plate, add the rule of filling it once with what you choose to include in your meal (in its entirety) and then never getting seconds.
  6. Eat more slowly and mindfully. It takes the body about 20 minutes to experience satiety. If you slow down your food intake to last beyond 20 minutes, you are likely to eat less because you will reach satiety before you finish what is likely too large and caloric of a meal. You can slow down your eating by making a habit of chewing your food more thoroughly, thus taking more time per swallow, and by paying attention to your eating. Rather than reading stuff on your mobile phone or eating while driving, you can make a habit of making meals an event in themselves and not a time-consuming biological necessity. Of course, we’re all busy, but even taking this new approach to some meals can lead to a new appreciation of mealtime.

What am I doing from the above? My current focus is on avoiding eating dinners that are too large, primarily because I am often get seconds, and then snacking after dinner late into the evening. When I get a handle on these, I know I will eat fewer calories, lose some weight, sleep better, and feel better.

One thing I’m noticing is how easy it is to go into a type of trance in which I find myself watching myself moving my arm to put food onto my plate and then in my mouth as if I lacked all agency. This is a fascinating aspect of human awareness and limits of agency. I’ll explore this at some point in a future post.

Thanks, and let me know what you think about this, what has worked or not worked for you, what your single favorite approach is, and also which next topic you would want me to cover.

Dr. Jack

Language Brief

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”Ruth Reichl

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”Michael Pollan

“Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food.”Hippocrates

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”François de la Rochefoucauld

“When engaged in eating, the brain should be the servant of the stomach.”Agatha Christie