The phrase “You Are What You Eat” in my opinion should be rephrased “You Are What You Digest”, but that is a whole other blog series. For now, I want to look into the concept of “You Eat What You Are” (“YEWYA”), a phrase I picked up from my nutrition mentor Cynthia Pasquella, although I’m unsure where it originated from initially. I’m going to credit Cynthia with “You Eat What You Are” because she’s awesome. However I am going to stake claim to “YEWYA” :).
“YEWYA” implies that the foods we choose to eat are based around our perceptions of ourselves. In other words, you are more likely to choose vegetables over pizza if you have a positive self-image, high self-worth, feel happy and enjoy life. We have all been there e.g. a run-in with the boss or a break-up that feels like the end of the world, when a tub of ice cream or a bottle of wine provide comfort and distraction. Never do you have a day from hell or break up with the love of your life and think “I can’t wait to rush home and cook quinoa and broccoli this evening” (if there are any people out there that do, please let me know!).
The problem with food is we have to eat; unlike smoking, alcohol or other addictions that appear to be more of an individual/personal decision. I’m not saying that quitting smoking or alcohol is easy, but at least you aren’t faced with a plethora of smoking huts down the high street or alcohol menus on your doorstep. Food, unless you live in the back of beyond (think Tom Hanks in Cast Away), is as the Wet Wet Wet song goes, “All Around”. It is difficult to think of an occasion that doesn’t include food. In the West, food is used in times of celebration (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas) and sorrow (funerals, condolence, self-pity (break-ups = ice cream)). In the Middle East, where I’ve spent the past few years, even fasting (Ramadan) involves the concept of food, in this case restriction during certain hours of the day during the holy month.
In this 8-part series, I’m going to cover every angle of how I perceive the concept of “YEWYA”. I will cover the Physical (hunger cues, cravings) and the Non-Physical (the psychology of eating), the food-mood connection, mental health, stress, mindfulness and mindful eating, self-care, authenticity and how this all relates to emotional eating and obesity.
I believe that whether you are trying to increase your energy, improve your digestion, lose a bit of weight, or any health challenge you face, “YEWYA” applies. You will notice that while some of the parts and tips in this series are based around the Physical (nutrition, “diet”, the foods we eat), a lot of what I write about is the Psychological and Spiritual. These form the foundation of my Transformational Nutrition Coaching, as well as my background in Psychology and Yoga. I believe that in order to change anything about your health, diet, body or lifestyle, you have to consider the strong mind-body connection. At the end of the day, it’s not your stomach that physically reaches into the fridge for that cake ;).
Throughout the series, I will provide some context into each area of “YEWYA”, with some of the latest research and statistics, how I’ve experienced each area (through personal experience or working with clients) and some useful tips that you can start implementing today.
Let’s dive right into “YEWYA” and start with the Physical.
Eating (including cravings and emotional eating) can be Physical or Non-Physical (or a combination of the two):
Physical – Include not getting enough fat, low blood sugar, hormonal imbalances, food intolerances, serotonin deficiency. All of these physical causes can be identified and alleviated through careful examination of what you’re eating (or digesting), either through some thorough self-examination or working with a skilled practitioner.
Non-Physical – Often go back to childhood and as a Transformational Nutrition Coach, I dive really deep into the psychological and spiritual aspects of nutrition and health.
If you are craving carbs, it could be that you are low in serotonin (carbs boost serotonin, processed carbs even faster), which is why the Atkins Diet and other low-carb diets have been linked to depression. It’s also been shown that when you have enough serotonin in the body you eat less, which is partly why, in the summer months when the sun is shining or if you’re lucky enough to live in a sunny climate year-long, you will probably eat a diet of salads rather than stews. I know that if I spend Winter in the UK, I turn into my beloved hamster Cuddles (R.I.P.) and eat my bodyweight in stodgy comfort foods, whereas my appetite and diet totally change come Summer Time or when I’m back in Dubai. So “You Eat What You Are” could also be “You Eat Where You Are”!
See this as being where you are quite literally in a geographical sense as well as a metaphorical life direction, sense of self and purpose. Feeling unhappy or low AND living in a cold dark climate without the serotonin-boosting properties and vitamin D from sunshine, could lead to you reaching for those chips despite you mustering the willpower not to. Even if you happen to have sunshine beaming down on you, if you’re still feeling a little “blue” for whatever reason, you will perhaps still have cravings for more carb-loaded foods.
A similar thing with fats – fats help to reduce sadness in the short-term (they dampen the effect of negative stimuli), but they can negatively affect mood over time (here I’m talking about “bad” fats (trans fats, the fats found in most boxed packaged foods or your Chinese takeaway), not “good” fats e.g. coconut oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds).
So you can see how a combination of craving high carb and high fat food (pizza instantly springs to mind, because who doesn’t like pizza?!) is biologically ingrained in all of us, yet is highly damaging to our cells, health and waistline.
Before I give you some simple tips to combat cravings and identify “physical” sources of “YEWYA”, I want to leave you with this:
“More than 1/3 adults are obese and it has nothing to do with food”
“YEWYA” – Tips for Physical symptoms (hunger and cravings)
- Let’s Get Physical – Of course it is important to check out if your cravings are physical: not getting enough fat, having low blood sugar, hormonal imbalances, food intolerances, serotonin deficiency or other biological reasons for food cravings/overeating. All of these physical causes can be identified and alleviated through careful examination of what you’re eating (or digesting), either through some thorough self-examination or working with a skilled practitioner.
- Hydrate – Dehydration leads to false hunger cues. You can use “Dr Google” to work out how much water you should be drinking. Eight 8-ounce (roughly 250ml) glasses per day (approximately 2 litres) seems to be the minimum for an “average” adult. Of course what “average” means depends on your height, weight, amount of physical activity/exercise, whether you live in a cold or warm climate, whether you are “healthy” or sick, if you’re on medications, what your diet is mostly comprised of (high water-content foods) and other factors. My rule of thumb is to examine the colour of your urine (I hear you say yuck, but we all frequent the toilet several times a day anyway so you might as well take a peek!). You want your urine to be a light-coloured yellow evenly throughout the day. Dr Mercola has a useful article if you want to read more.
My No.1 Tip: Drink a large glass of water (ideally warm with lemon juice to clear out toxins from the previous night’s sleep) first thing upon rising. Brush your teeth first so you don’t drink the toxins back in!
NB: Certain medications and supplements can make your urine a permanent yellow colour no matter how much you drink e.g. vitamin B2. Don’t be alarmed if you are drinking enough and your urine seems to stay the same colour. I’ve been there and it took me a while to realise that it was my B2 supplements that were causing my pee to stay yellow!
- Sleep! – It’s been proven that a lack of sleep can increase appetite by 23%, I’m sure other sources cite higher %. I will discuss sleep and hormones connected to hunger and appetite in future blog posts (both sleep and hormones deserve their own series). For now know that a lack of sleep, or should I say lack of quality sleep, is going to affect your appetite. Big Time. What does quality sleep mean? One way of tracking whether you are getting enough “quality” deep sleep is to use a sleep tracker. I used to love my trusty Zeo until the company went into their own deep sleep/coma. I haven’t tried any sleep trackers since but there are several phone apps or specific sleep monitors on the market.
- Supplement – There are a number of supplements that have been shown to help with cravings: Chromium, NADH, B6, St. John’s Wort, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, SAMe. The everyday spice Cinnamon can be used to curb cravings. Try sprinkling ½-1 Tsp on food (tastes exceptionally nice in smoothies or in porridge).
- Hungry or Hangry? – The Hunger Scale. Yes there is one! See Part 2 in the series for a handy little chart :).
These are 5 simple tips that can help you to embark upon your “YEWYA” journey.
Let me know what you think of the blog post in the comments section below 🙂
Which of the 5 tips have you tried that have worked/will you try in the future?
I’d love to hear if you’ve tried any other supplements I haven’t mentioned to curb cravings or have recommendations for any of the new sleep monitors on the market?
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