So you want to live healthier. But what does healthy mean to you? In the age of Instagrammable influencer culture, we are inundated with diet, nutrition, and fitness trends that implicitly associate health with weight loss. Living healthy is often portrayed as a means to looking more toned and cut. While that is a completely valid goal for many, it’s also worth considering other motivations for healthy living that resonate with you. After all, health is much more than about weight. In this article, we zoom in on healthy eating habits that help you feel better, in both the short and long run.
1. Mindful eating
Rather than focusing on what you’re eating, mindful eating focuses on how you’re eating. Researchers generally define mindful eating as “a non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating”. In practice, this means being aware of firstly, the physical sensations of the food (texture, taste, temperature, smell, colour) you’re interacting with, while not assigning value to it (like, dislike, love, hate); secondly, the effects of your meal on your thoughts, feelings, and mood (hunger pangs satiated, feel full and satisfied).
Like most habits, mindful eating takes time and effort to become second nature to us. Repetition and practice are key. Over time you’ll find that fully experiencing your food allows you to feel more satiated and less likely to eat impulsively.
Start with mindfully eating one meal a day, perhaps breakfast. Avoid having distractions like watching shows or listening to music for the period that you are eating. Notice how the food feels in your mouth and how you feel before and after eating.
You can read more on how to practice mindful eating here.
2. Notice your cravings
It’s natural for cravings to come up ever so often. Recognising when they do come up empowers us to choose whether to have that thing we are craving, to find a substitute, or delay the gratification altogether. Rather than immediately reacting to our cravings (indulging or suppressing impulses), we can simply notice when we are craving something (“I am craving bubble tea”) and decide what to do from there.
Noticing, or being mindful of our cravings, helps us to avoid split-second decision-making about what we consume, how much of it, and when.
You can find resources about curbing cravings at Headspace, the mindfulness app.
3. More whole, less processed
Having a more nutritious diet doesn't need to involve a complete overhaul of your existing habits and culture. One simple guideline to follow is to swap out processed food items for their whole counterparts. You can save yourself unnecessary sugar, oil, calories, enjoy more nutrients, and even minimize food comas.
The processing of produce such as vegetables, fruit, and grains have gifted us longer shelf life, and consequently, less trips to the super-market. However, due to processing, some foods have the same (or more) calories but lower nutritional value than their unprocessed counterparts.
Processed carbohydrates like sugary drinks, bread, rice, and noodles in particular tend to raise our blood sugar levels faster than wholegrain ones (i.e. higher glycemic index) due to their simplified composition, and consequently induce food comas faster and harder.
Try these swaps and feel the difference.
Carbonated soft drinks: kombucha, isotonic drinks
Bubble tea: homemade milk tea, chia seeds for texture, maple syrup or honey to sweeten
Carbs: wholegrain noodles, pasta (LG’s retain the practically the same taste and texture you love in your favorite hawker and home-cooked dishes, if we do say so ourselves) and brown rice
You can read more about the intricacies and effects of processed foods here.
4. Flourish your gut flora
The body isn’t just a temple, it’s a home…to a community of microorganisms, also known as gut flora or the microbiome, that influence important bodily functions including digestion, immunity, brain functioning, and even mood regulation. Recent years have seen an emerging body of research on how our bodies’ gut flora play an integral role in our lives and how the food we eat affects our gut.
Aim to increase the volume and diversity of your gut flora by consuming more probiotic foods, which contain beneficial bacteria, and prebiotic foods, which nourish the bacteria
Probiotic foods: fermented foods like kimchi, yoghurt, kombucha
Prebiotic foods: tempeh, wholegrain and fibre-rich foods like seeds and nuts, vegetables, fruits, garlic, seaweed
You can read more about gut flora here.
What are some other healthy habits that resonate with you? Tell us in the comments below!
Stay tuned to Part II of this series for behavioural healthy habits to help you feel better.