Body – Diet – Changing Your Tastes

by pre., Friday, May 2nd, 2008.

The New York Times journalist Michael Pollan writes in an article ‘unhappy meals’ that we can sum up advice on good diet in seven words: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Of course he also goes into much more detail in that long article. We recommend reading it.

The advice is fairly simple, but many people even after they understand this advice find it hard to follow. They have cravings for burgers and chocolate and chips and sweets and crisps. And the brutal fact of it is, that most people will give into cravings such as these.

The Taste System

Your tastes are more complicated than just pleasurable or unpleasurable sensations being sent from your tongue to your brain. Most of the taste experience is produced in the nose, smell more than taste, and we know that smell has a very potent memory system. Taste is as much about memory as sensation. Taste is a learned response.

Our tastes are affected, even produced by, our memory. Associations between a food product and a good feeling will literally make you enjoy that taste more next time. You can learn to love the taste of coffee, cigarettes, beer, blue cheese, just through associating that taste with pleasant experience. Just one teenage night of overindulgence can make you hate the taste of some type of alcoholic drink so much it makes you physically sick to drink it.

Consider for a moment how much food advertising you are exposed to each day. How many McDonalds or KFC or Pizza Hut adverts you have seen. Each time you see one of these things your taste system is subtly altered, you begin to like that taste more.

This offers us a path to changing your taste, and thus your cravings, and thus your diet.

Advertising At Yourself

This month’s guided meditation file is designed to help you change your tastes so that you will eat more healthily. As you follow the instructions in the mp3 you will be asked to think of a food item, to recall it vividly, try to experience it’s taste, and then to associate that taste with pleasant events from your life. It can help you take back control of your diet. You should have a food item in mind before you start to listen, presumably one you would like to eat more of.


Of course, you my decide that rather than improving the tastes of a ‘good’ food, you want to reduce the allure of a ‘bad’ food. Just use the same guide in this circumstance, but of course thinking of that ‘bad’ food and associating instead an event which made you feel miserable, sick, or ill.

Guided Meditation File 4 – Body – Diet

Body – Diet – Avoiding Eating Too Much

by pre., Friday, May 9th, 2008.

We discussed last week how to alter your tastes so that you want to eat, crave to eat, the kinds of foods which you know intellectually you should eat. If you’ve been going over this month’s guided meditation file you’re probably already starting to see changes in your tastes.

You will likely find that, as you learn to love foods which better suit your nutritional needs, you are automatically starting to eat the appropriate amounts. As your nutritional needs are covered you aren’t craving that burger just to get the tiny trace amounts of vitamins in it.

However, especially in our modern advertisement-filled social sphere, some still find that they are eating too much, even if they start to eat the right things.

There are several things you can do which will help you to overcome, even eliminate, the desire to eat more than is healthy for you.

The first is to pay attention when you are eating. Eat as slowly, deliberately, and with as much focus and concentration as you can manage. The skills you have learned in previous months should help here, you’ll likely find that the more attention you pay to the food as you eat it, the more your body will remember eating it, and thus it’s filling effects will last longer.

Eating slowly has the added advantage of giving your body’s blood-sugar levels time to adjust as you eat, so that they more accurately reflect your actual need for food. Immediately shovelling in a ton of ice-cream and cake won’t give your body time to react and let you know when you’re full. The more slowly you eat, the more attention you pay as you do so, the more clear and accurate your body’s signals to your mind will become.

Of course, eating slowly and paying attention also have the hedonistic advantage that you’ll enjoy your food more, get more pleasure from it, eke out your eating out. And since you find each mouthful so much more rewarding, you’ll need fewer of them.

If all this isn’t working though, if you’re suffering cravings for food you know you shouldn’t eat, there is still something that you can do: distract yourself.

This tip is helpful not just when concerning food, but whenever you find your mind wondering in unproductive directions: Craving food, moaning or complaining, berating yourself, obsessing miserably. You’ll be practised at a few of the excercises or improving the Spiral Skills by now, so distract yourself by doing one of them.. Perhaps not one based on food if you’re trying to forget food, but you can run over the things stored in your Loci map or just practice staring intently, paying close attention to something then recalling it, or indeed simply blanking your mind with a calmness meditation. As you get better at controling your own thought processes, you’ll automatically turn to these excercises to fill time when bored rather than allowing your mind to drift to fake-hunger or contemplating your misery.

Body – Diet – Omnivore

by pre., Friday, May 16th, 2008.

The advice linked to in our article two weeks ago was, of course “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” and as far as it goes that advice is essentially correct, while the full article in the New York Times there is even more so.

However, it’s always more complicated than that. The raw fact of the matter is that nobody really knows the full range of micronutrients needed for human life, and it’s even more the case that nobody even has a clue what range of molecules in our diet are useful, as opposed to nessasary. That is, we have only a basic understanding of the stuff it takes to keep you alive, we have barely scratched the surface of understanding what you can use to make you better.

There are more micronutrients in your diet that you can count. That Wikipedia article lists nine just from the table of elements. Combine carbon and those elements in a variety of strange and interesting ways and you get more peptides and polypeptides and proteins and amino acids than science has even counted, let alone catalogued.

On top of that, every single one of us is metabolically different. Some can digest milk as adults, most cannot. Some can handle alcohol better than others. Some are even allergic to things other people find most enjoyable. Every one of us, identical twins excepted, has a different genetic make up and every one of us (even identical twins) has had a differing exposure to minerals and micro nutrients and peptides and proteins in our diet. All of which effect us.

Yet your diet can radically affect your behaviour even making you more violent. Your health and well being. So how are you best to navigate this maze of possibilities? Perhaps not by asking what you should eat, but how you should eat.

How should we eat?

Our species has spent literally millions of years experiencing Darwinian natural selection before the rise of civilisation. Our “natural” habitat, the one our bodies were bred to best be adapted for, is a diet so poor in any given food that we were forced to evolve an omnivorous diet. I mean you’re not a rat or a goat, you can’t litterally eat anything, but for the vast majority of evolutionary time your ancestors were eking out a living scrambing to eat anything they could get.

In other words, you have evolved to take advantage of anything you can get from your diet. If some random polypeptide is useful to your health, mind or body, not necessarily necessary, but usable, you have likely evolved to take advantage of it. Those who randomly did so, will have bred better.

This means the key to a “good” diet isn’t to eat a proscribed list of foods, or to ban some other proscribed lists of foods, or even to east seasonally, it’s to eat omnivorously

If there is a molecule in food anywhere that your body can take advantage of, you owe it to your body to make sure it gets some. Variety is key to your best diet. If you’re eating the same things every week you may be missing that useful (but not essential) micro nutrient that’s not in your normal fare. If you’re eating the same thing every week you may be building up an excess of some slow-acting poison found only in that food.

The key to eating well, is to like everything and eat everything. No food should be on your dislike list, no food on your must-eat list. Unless you’re literally allergic to it, you should be eating it now and then.

This Month’s Guided Meditation is naturally useful for this kind of diet. If there’s something you don’t like train yourself to like it. Get used to buying different things every time you go into a supermarket. Get used to buying your food from different retailers, different shops, farmers markets, corner stores and costermongers. Then you’ll know that your body has not only everything it needs but more relevantly everything it can want

Body – Diet – Metabolic Rate

by pre., Friday, May 23rd, 2008.

Some people can eat like dogs with two mouths and still remain thin, while others eat barely at all and yet constantly pile on the pounds. Why is this?

Firstly, quite probably you don’t really know how much people eat. Unless you’re with them all the time you have not one clue what they eat when alone, or with other people. This may just be selection bias.

The effect shines through even with careful measurement though. Partly, this is because we have different genes. You may just be getting more energy out of your food. Your digestion system may be more or less efficient than mine. You may naturally make more of some biologically expensive molecule in each of your cells than the next person.

Along side this effect is the natural variation in the things that people do. Some of us are more active than others. They run more. Jump more. Play more soccer.

These two effects however pale in comparison to one major difference between us: Our metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is determined by how much energy, how many joules or calories, how much food it takes just to sit about doing nothing. Just to keep your cells alive and carry on the unconscious processes going on in each cell and across your body all the time.

Every cell in your body requires a certain amount of energy to live and there’s trillions of them. Which makes it relevent.

The vast majority of the food you eat goes just to keeping those cellular processes running. You may burn some calories by walking to the post office, but that’s nothing compared to the calories you’ll burn in the total of all your trillions of cells just transporting proteins from one side of a cell wall to the other; or building a chain of amino acids, bending them into shape; or unzipping a trillion DNA strands to replicate sections of them so that their message can be passed to the cellular machinery constructing proteins.

Sure, it takes lots more energy to lift a leg than it takes to do any one of those cellular processes, but each of those processes is happening many, many times each second in each of the literally trillions of cells that make up your body. Just digesting the food you eat takes a huge chunk out of the energy you get from it.

The best way to lose weight isn’t to “work it off”, that barely makes sense at all. You’d have to run for an hour for each bite of a cream cake. The best way to lose weight is to make your body metabolically more expensive.

Now it turns out that muscle cells take more energy to maintain than fat cells. Cells in things like your liver take even more energy still, certainly, and a working muscle takes much more than a resting one, but even a resting muscle cell takes more energy to maintain than a resting fat cell. Especially since resting is about all a fat cell ever does. This is what exercise is designed to achieve. You aren’t exercising in order to use up some of the energy you’re eating, you’re exercising in order to build muscle tissue which will increase your metabolic rate and thus increase the amount of food-energy you’re using even when you’re lounging about eating crisps in front of the TV later.

Which has implications for the kinds of excercise which will be useful to you and we’ll address those in our next lap around the spiral, but this is the “diet” section, not the “exercise” section. So what does this have to do with diet?

Each cell in your body is bathed in a cocktail of messenger molecules, chemical signals which let it know things like what type of cells are around it and what the general state-of-alert is around the body, if you’re well-fed or lethargic or happy or sad. Each of your cells uses this information to decide whether to grow or shrink, divide or die, strengthen or weaken.

When you’re hungry for a long time, when your blood-sugar levels are constantly low, the muscle cells in your body have evolved to notice. Then to kill themselves in the cause of your body’s future reproductive success. Muscle cells are expensive to maintain. That’s precisely why we want them when trying to lose weight. Those of your ancestors who lowered metabolic rate in times of scarcity lived through it to spawn you, while those who kept their muscle were more likely to die before they found the food they need and thus not be the ancestor of anybody.

If you eat too little, your muscles will waste. You’ll keep the fat, your food-stores, and reduce the energy you need to live. Some call this the famine response but that name implies a switch that’s suddenly activated if you’re not eating enough but really it’s just a continuum of chemical concentrations between a variety of different biochemical messengers in your body’s cells. The ‘starvation response’ is going on all the time in your body, delicately balanced by the ‘build muscle’ response. A tiny push each way will change the balance of which cells are growing, and which are shrinking.

So yes: If you’re fat you should be eating less. But not too much less, and for every bit less that you eat you must exercise enough to ensure that balance moves in the right direction. To lose weight it’s better to increase your metabolic rate and eat more than decrease it and eat less.

Guided Meditation File 4 – Body – Diet
Backing Music “Beautiful You” By Mark Nine
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