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The 4 Stages of Eating

The relationship people have with food is often complicated. Some relationships are contentious, some are harmonious, and some are indifferent just like any real relationship. When you make the decision to lose weight, you also must take a hard look at what you eat. There are 4 levels of food awareness when it comes to eating, and understanding where you are is a good aid in weight loss. Understanding how and why you choose your food is important in moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

Everyone falls into one of the 4 levels of eating and where you fall depends on your food choices and your level of awareness of those choices. Mindless eating is a thing and has derailed many “diets” because people are unaware of how much they truly eat. I’m a grazer by nature; I don’t tend to eat a lot at any main meals, however, that can be a derailment to some if what they are snacking on is not healthy. The more aware you become, the more discriminate you can be in your food selection, creating more accountability and responsibility.

Level One: Eating for Pleasure

Who doesn’t do this at some point in their life?! Who hasn’t eaten a pint of ice cream after a breakup or gone out for drinks after a promotion? This level is a problem when it becomes habitual. People say they eat what they want because it tastes good. Well, who wants to eat food that doesn’t taste good? I do understand cookies are good, ice cream is good, candy is good, but in excess it creates problems. This is a more impulsive way to eat – a way to get instant gratification and not for any real nutritional value. It is more about maximizing pleasure and minimizing emotional pain and/or stress. The hallmarks of this level are the choosing of refined sugar and flour and poor quality fats. It usually reflects how we might have been raised. Your parents might have rewarded good behavior or appeased you with sweets, which when used sparingly isn’t horrible, but in excess can set up a lifetime pattern. The strategy in starting to move away from this level is to find other ways to create distraction when we see the pattern start to develop. If you are sad or upset, going for a walk, talking with a friend, even exercising can all help boost that mood. If you want to celebrate, a drink or two isn’t harmful, but try choosing a place that includes an activity such as an escape room or a concert.

Level Two: Eating for Energy

This level is all about blood sugar regulation. You are upping your game on being a little more mindful of your food choices with moving to whole wheat or other carbs to curb your hunger. It’s all about keeping your energy up for whatever you have to tackle that day. Processed foods are still a factor, but a recognition of needing some fruits and veggies in your diet are important. This level is what I think of as the “carb” level, where you are taught that you must carb up to maintain your energy for exercising. This is a myth that has caused serious, chronic degenerative conditions in middle-aged people. This level is mainly where marathon runners, athletes, and serious weight lifters tend to live, but it is not exclusive to them. Sometimes you are just trying to allay hunger and your choices reflect a more high carb diet. Carbing up is NOT pasta, breads, burgers, or the yummy burrito. These choices lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and possibly diabetes later in life when you establish this eating pattern. Carb loading is a lot of fresh fruits and veggies with minimal refined carbs thrown in.

Level Three: Eating for Recovery

This is where most people start to live when they make the decision to lose weight. That decision can come from a few different places, but it’s usually when you start to feel unhealthy, have diminished energy, or are unhappy with your body composition due to the effects of living in Level One and Two. Whatever the motivation, you decide to do something about it and try one of these things: you go to the bookstore and buy the most popular weight loss book, join a weight loss program, or just try to do something on your own. Ideally, you get in touch with me for a personalized plan! That is in an ideal world and a lot of people don’t know that type of specialized help is available to them. (I hope to change that!!) The problem with going to a book or a very specific program is that it is a very specialized program that doesn’t work for everyone and is not really all that sustainable. These diets will provide quick, short term effects due to moving away from as much processed foods and adding in a lot more healthy choices. It’s hard to maintain a specialized way of eating and that can lead to a lot of judgement towards oneself and that can derail any effort in a heartbeat. This level of eating is usually fad-driven and the foods chosen are the “in” foods at the moment. It is moving toward becoming more mindful and conscious of what you are eating but lacks a certain nutritional element due to its restrictive nature.

Level Four: Eating for Health

At this level, there is a strong self awareness when it comes to food choices. This level isn’t as difficult to get to as you would think – it just takes commitment and strategies. The commitment comes when you are able to make a full lifestyle change versus just going on a diet. There is a lifelong learning process to this level that allows for personal choice, a variety, and the ability to customize to a person’s tastes, personal needs, and ethnic origin. This is definitely not a formula, one-size-fits-all change that you see with specific diet plans. This is a fundamental understanding of what works best for you. It is a lifetime of enjoying healthy, organic foods that are a variety of colors. When you live a busy lifestyle, it takes learning what strategies work best for you and your family. Full disclosure here: I hate to cook!! Not just dislike – I hate it. But I do it because I know it’s what is best for my family and our nutritional needs. It will take some trial and error to find the right fit for you, but when you do, the benefit to your health will be enormous!! There is a level of mindfulness that comes with eating at this level. You have to consciously make the decision to eat what is best for you and eat a little of what is just yummy with little nutritional value. Sometimes you need that cookie!

Finding your harmonious relationship with food is hard and you sometimes need help with it. That’s what we are here for. Please do not hesitate to ask!! Contact me today!

Niki Claybrook holistic nurtitionist