I turned 45 last year and am literally dreading the weight gain which is, according to absolutely everyone, part and parcel of the wonderful age group I am lucky enough to find myself in. I am well aware of intermitted fasting, banting, keto, eating for your blood type, calories in vs. calories out, vegan, no heavy dinners, reducing red meat, sugar and dairy, etc. But research confirmed that dieting never has and never will prove effective nor sustainable (!)
I have a few perfectionistic traits, so for most of my life it has always been the all or nothing approach in terms of dieting. I am however also in favor of not depriving myself, adding to that an incurable sweet tooth, and I find myself following the “nothing” route where discipline and consistent healthy eating habits are concerned. The constant back and forth in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating, the nauseating guilt, internal turmoil, and feelings of failure, have led me to putting pen to paper today. That, and a recent conversation with my sister around the “No diet” trend. We are both fit and healthy and blessed with good and really forgiving genes, but we still occasionally lament about our chances of ending up on a television show such as 1000 pound sisters 😉
The long and the short of the “No diet” trend, is that we learn or even relearn, to listen to our bodies and nourish it lovingly, mindfully, and intuitively. As a sensory integration specialist my life’s work is to assist clients in becoming aware of and better at understanding their own sensory profile and needs. One would think that I am excellent at applying the knowledge myself. Sadly, I am a work in progress, as this is no small task, especially when considering all the messages we need to be attuned to.
When analyzing your sensory profile, a couple of threshold scores are generated – referring to how quickly and how intensely you register sensory messages from the environment and internal body organs (translate: how quickly and intensely you register whether you are hungry or full). One’s own unique threshold scores give valuable insight into your unconscious, uncontrolled and intuitive behavior; in this case, eating habits.
If you have high sensory thresholds and under-process touch, smell and taste messages, you may be prone to overeating until you have adequately registered the stimuli according to your high thresholds. If you have low sensory thresholds for touch, smell and taste, you may be so restrictive and limited in terms of acceptable food textures, tastes, and smells, that you overindulge in typically “bland” foods like pasta, bread, rice, rusks, etc. limiting varied and nutritious, and yes, intuitive eating.
If you have high scores for proprioception (movement against resistance), you will be seeking of the calming and regulating chewing input we receive through the jaw joint. This all refers to a function within sensory integration called “modulation” – how organized and regulated, in other words, calm or good we feel. If we are poorly modulated we will use the oral-motor system to either lower our anxiety and stress, or work against our boredom/frustration if we have unmet sensory needs due to high threshold scores. To add fuel to the fire, the covid19 pandemic has facilitated unpredictability and radical environmental changes wreaking havoc with our ability to feel calm and organized. Many of us however, do not even realize how profound the knowledge around sensory preferences and strategies are to re-organize and self-calm when considering a life-giving daily task such as eating.
A function called sensory discrimination within the field of sensory processing is equally important. Are we able to discriminate when we need to eat, what we need to eat, and when we have had enough? The better we get at discriminating our bodily messages, and the better we get at self-regulation, the healthier and more intuitive our eating habits will be. Pandemic or no pandemic.
Another yet profound difficulty around eating is the social element attached to it. While social buffering is one of the most effective stress busters according to research studies, eating for the sake of being socially acceptable, is detrimental to our “listening”. I cannot count the amount of times I indulged in braaivleis, potatoes, braai-broodjies, and ice-cream late on a Friday or Saturday night simply because my boys were all home from University, and enthusiastically helped prepare the meal. My fairly new stepmom heart does not have the nerve to verbalize the fact that, more often than not, a light salad or fish, late at night, would leave me more satisfied and nourished than bucketloads of red meat. I suppose striking a balance between becoming a complete pain versus always merrily consuming my own weight in braai-broodjies, is the key here.
Since it is the month of love, and if you are, like me, still learning to listen to your sensory system regarding eating habits, contact me for a profile assessment; I will have chocolates and cappuccino on hand. We can brainstorm around improved sensory discrimination and self-regulation strategies for your unique system while enjoying our treats. That is of course, if our bodies tell us to enjoy this on the day, only until we have had enough, and only if you are not concerned about hurting my feelings.
Best of luck!