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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Shifting Paradigms in Nutrition: Intelligent Eating

Contributing Author: Fajcsak, Zsuzanna C.N.S.

Zsuzsanna Fajcsak is a dynamic, adaptable, research focused, and multilingual competitive athlete, schooled in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, and committed to improving peoples' lives through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Zsuzsanna, a Certified Nutritional Specialist, attended school in Europe and the USA. She earned a Master's degree in Teaching Physical Education, Exercise Physiology and Clinical Nutrition. Her textbook, Aerobics: Theory and Practice, was published in Hungary in 1995, and has been used by the Hungarian Aerobics Federation in its certification courses. 


Some of you might say, "another diet program!" Some of you might wish to get your mind off the subject of weight management and still lose weight. Brand new year, brand new me, with commonly recycled New Year's resolutions: "The holiday feasts are over and my pants are tighter. I need to loose this weight! I need to try something other than last year's diet fad! I need a new nutritional program and this time I will really do it!" Let's use our New Year's resolutions to review the basics on how to eat healthier.

The first question most clients ask me is "so, what do you eat?" Instead of simply detailing my diet, in the next few articles I'd like to share with you how I think about nutrition, and my clinical approach to diet and nutrition.

HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat. A little voice in your head might say, "I know how to eat! Are you telling me that there is something wrong with gobbling my whole wheat, grilled vegetable, and nonfat turkey wrap while I'm merging on the highway?" or, "I’m  trying to juggle my spoon into my low-fat, plain yogurt with my wet nail polish!" Exactly how many things can we do at the same time? "… but, if I get just one more thing done today, I can do five more things tomorrow!" It is insane! Eating while simultaneously doing other activities interferes with digestion and health.

We can make more conscious choices about what we eat today. But, will we remember the flavors and the consistency of our meal? How about the manner in which the food got from the plate into our stomach? Will we be aware of when we are full? Do we eat automatically because we know we should, or do we forget to eat all day and then eat the equivalent of three meals in one sitting at 10 p.m.? Well, well, well. Let's stop for a moment and take a deep breath. 1…2…3…4…, hold it. 1…2…3…4, and slowly breath out, 1…2…3…4. Where are we running to? If we don’t nourish our bodies properly, soon we will not have bodies with which to do all of these activities.

Believe it or not, by simply paying attention to the HOW part of eating, you will experience health benefits. You will experience satisfaction from what you eat, have more control over how much you eat, and may lose some undesired fat. And, you won't have to change a single thing in your diet! How easy is that? The question is, "are you willing to do it?" Is this something you dare to try as a New Year's resolution? Will you change your thinking and take this first step? Even if you pick one thing out of the following list, you are winning!

– Eat in a settled atmosphere
– Never eat when you are upset
– Always sit down to eat
– Schedule time for meals in your busy schedule
– Use utensils to eat
– Avoid ice cold and boiling hot foods and drinks
– Don't talk while chewing food
– Chew food into a puree before swallowing
– Swallow food completely before you put another bite into your mouth
– Eat at a moderate pace, neither too quickly nor too slowly
– Wait until one meal is digested before eating the next (i.e., intervals of two to four hours for light meals, four to six hours for large meals), or after overeating.
– Drink eight ounces of water or decaffeinated, sugar-free drinks, such as herbal teas, 15 minutes prior to a meal
– Sip room temperature water with your meal
– Eat freshly cooked meals and uncooked fruits and vegetables whenever possible
– Experience all six tastes at every meal—bitter, sweet, sour, salty, astringent (legumes), pungent (spicy)
– Leave one-third to one-fourth of your stomach empty to aid digestion—two handfuls of food is the approximate desired meal size
– Eat dinner by 7 p.m.
– Sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal

Slow Down and Appreciate
After reviewing the general list of Intelligent Eating Habits, let us look at some of them in details. I hope that I give you more PROSPERITY on why you should pay attention to your eating habits. With greater PROSPERITY and understanding, we tend to make changes that result in higher success. We tend to find the HOW when we have a big enough WHY.

We are all human beings. Let's start with that. The nature of our journey through life and health is similar to the route of a sailboat. To get somewhere, we need to catch the wind and travel on a zigzag path. Sometimes, we take longer detours before we notice that we are too far off course and need to change direction. With experience, we steer a more direct path and learn to correct our course more efficiently. Unfortunately, most of us need to experience getting too far off course before we can turn around. My point here is that we do get to this point sooner or later, where sooner means before we get serious health problems. Later means having a serious health problem.

We all tend to get rushed at times. You are not alone if you sometimes let things run your life. After burning several pots and pans and most of my meals because I was checking my email, taking out the garbage, unpacking the groceries, or folding laundry while I was on the telephone… I would then sit down and pay some bills while I ate my meal. I would still be thinking about what else I have to do and I kept raving inside. After I gobbled down my food, I returned to rushing to do other things… until the lovely signs of indigestion (stomachache, bloating, constipation, interrupted sleep) came around. I just could not stand it anymore to feel that way!

It wasn't always this way. The answer came after returning from a trip home to Hungary. All the sudden, it occurred to me: what's wrong with this picture? I grew up in an environment where mealtime was sacred. We used to practice Intelligent Eating Habits! Having experienced the big WHY I needed to improve my eating habits—indigestion—I started to slowly pay attention to how I ate. The first thing I picked from the list was CHEWING MY FOOD UNTIL IT IS PUREE. Wow, what an experience that was! Chewing and moving my jaw seemed like hard work, but what a difference it made!

Let’s see why chewing is important. Chewing is the first step in our digestion process. The teeth mechanically break food down into smaller particles and chewing—turning the food around in the mouth—allows it to mix with saliva. Saliva contains a digestive enzyme (amylase), which starts to break down the large carbohydrate molecules, such as starches, into shorter ones. This step is only available in the mouth. The digestion of protein begins in the stomach and the digestion of fat begins in the small intestines. If we skip the first part, we end up with uncomfortable symptoms of indigestion caused by partially digested food.

Through digestion, our body transforms and breaks food down into small, absorbable particles. Nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat then become fuel and keep us alive by "keeping the engine running." Through digestion, our body is able to remove vitamins and minerals from food to aid vital biochemical processes, which will determine "how smooth the engine is running."

What you might gain by chewing, besides a flatter stomach, is feeling lighter and having more energy, allowing yourself to get done your work more efficiently and spend more time on yourself. What do you have to lose? Your extra pounds?

Practice: take a piece of lettuce and chew it until it is a complete puree. Watch a clock as you do this to see how long it took. You will be surprised.

Eating as Meditation

Eating is a moving meditation. "Meditation"? Some of you may say, "We meditate in our yoga class during savasana." Sitting and breathing meditation in lotus position might be a daily routine for some of you. There are many forms of meditation and you may be practicing one of them. For some of you, not only yoga exercise at the gym, but also reading, gardening, knitting, sawing, drawing, painting, or even cooking, may be meditative. And all of you are right.

Any activity you feel totally into and that helps you forget about everything else is a meditation. You can recognize a meditative activity by how you feel afterwards. You feel refreshed with a renewed spirit or pleasingly tired with feelings of accomplishment, enjoyment, or satisfaction. Meditation strengthens self-esteem, self-confidence, and brings you overall happiness. Meditative activities keep you in the present moment, where there is no worry and stress. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter what kind of activity you do as long as your head thinks about the activity you are doing.

Meditation means doing one thing at a time. If we can put our mind into talking with all of our passion to our girlfriend about the latest shopping deal we made, why can’t we use the same level of focus when we eat? Let's face the truth. Eating, with our life running in the fast lane, became secondary to most of our activities. Let's discuss another point of view on how taking time to eat and chew can help you lose those extra pounds.

Chewing is also meditation. Imagine yourself in your favorite restaurant and tasting the sensational magic in the air, the aroma of great food. The first bite of the mixture of velvety and crunchy leaves and a rather bitter flavor of mescal greens wake up the taste buds in your mouth. You are so ready to take the first bite of the golden-brown, cedar-planked salmon. The sharper, outside, spicy-salty taste blends with the rather sweeter and softer taste of the center part, as the bite falls apart in you mouth. "But wait! Something is missing." Of course, you need a drop of lemon to make this experience magical. Now, with the sour taste of the lemon, the bite feels complete. After a few bites, the delight is overwhelming and the taste needs to be broken with something blander. "Oh, I will just take a bite of my roasted garlic mashed potato." The magic continues. You feel the velvety soft texture of this paste-like substance, soothing the spices from the fish. Perfect match! What a joyful and satisfying feeling! Then the bite of the bittersweet crunch of velvety dark chocolate, covering the completely ripe, sweet-and-sour tangy strawberry puts you right over! You even forget that "hot" guy sitting at the bar. You just want the magic to last forever. You just want to keep chewing to discover more. The only thing you are thinking about is your action of chewing and tasting the food. You totally focus on doing one thing at a time.

Chewing brings out the flavor of food. Chewing and holding the food in your mouth longer allows you to experience the magic behind the flavors. By chewing, you experience all six tastes—bitter, sweet, salty, sour, spicy (pungent), and paste, like astringent (potato)—in your meal in perfect harmony. The tastes balance each other out to leave you not wanting anything else. You feel satisfied with what you have eaten.

Balancing the tastes brings satisfaction. "Boy, when I eat all those salty tortilla chips, I need to switch over to something sweet!" The other day, that hot-and-sour soup at the local Thai restaurant left you screaming for the relief brought on by a slice of cucumber. These are just a couple of examples of opposing tastes. When we eat too much of one taste, we start craving the opposite taste to restore harmony. The next time you feel something is missing and you keep looking for something else to eat even though you are full, look at what you ate. See if your meal contained all six tastes or if you indulged in something. A few bites of that missing taste will bring you back to harmony and keep you from eating all night long.

Thoughtfully designed meals and proper chewing bring you joy and happiness every time you eat.

We have been discussing eating as part of our lifestyle. Our eating habits affect how well we feel by affecting how well in synchrony our biochemical processes work. Keeping your body in harmony starts with helping your body help you by aiding digestion. Practicing Intelligent Eating Habits—see first article—can aid our digestion. So far, you have been practicing chewing for better digestion and balancing the six tastes for satiety. Do you notice a difference in how you feel after your meals? "… I felt better in the beginning but I can't pay as much attention to eating as I need to."

The motivation is fading. What do we do from here? Some of you may start to shift back to old habits. Relax! This is a normal process when changing a routine. You have been doing great and you did not mess up anything. You are learning. The most important thing is that you caught yourself sailing too far from what you should be doing. You just took the next step! Congratulations!!! Let us look at what the next steps are, to avoid repeating this New Year's resolution next year and help you stick with it.

The secret lies in the three secret words. The first is Consistency, the second is Consistency, and the third is Consistency! "But how?" By keeping your mind relaxed. Take your mind off eating by further shifting the "diet" paradigm. You have a whole list of new Intelligent Eating Habits that you can practice to change your lifestyle. They are a lot more exciting than the old habits that did not seem to work. The little voice in your head may still be there: "I must do this to lose weight." It is a good sign and another opportunity to notice how you felt when that little voice talked to you. Remember how the pure thought of that sentence put a knot in your stomach and made you nervous. You just experienced the stress response when your body went into an alarm phase and digestion stopped.

Changing a habit takes time. It takes about nine months of practice to make that changed habit permanent. It takes about two years of practice for that new habit to become automatic. This way, those extra "bad boy" pounds will stay away and you don't have to make the same New Year's resolution next year. I am sorry to break the bad news to you… The good news is that if you understand the process of changing a habit, you have a higher chance to succeed. You had full control during the first few weeks over doing the whole "diet" right, then life and old habits caught up with you. This is the time that you catch yourself doing other things in your head than eating, and happens about two months down the road from the time you made your New Year's resolution.

Let’s look at the rest of the list of Intelligent Eating Habits. Besides chewing, the next step is taking time out from our schedules to sit down for our meals. Little voice again: "Great! I sit down. No problem. At least I can catch the news on the TV or read." … Wait a minute! Didn't we just talk about doing one thing at a time? "AHHHH, of course!" You just caught yourself again and can get back on track. Catching and re-steering yourself into the right direction is the way that theory is transformed into practice.

Practice: Count the tastes in your next meal. Did you taste all six? If not, how did you feel after the meal? What was missing?


"Habit is any action which we perform automatically or routinely. A habit starts with a single thought then it transforms into an action. Repeating that action many times will form a habit. Long term habits become the part of our character and long term effects of our character determine our destiny. Before we know an abnormal action became our comfort zone." –Brian Tracy, Maximum Achievement, Fireside Books, 1995.

A single thought can determine the destiny of our health. We all catch the little voice in the back of our mind, "let me just do this one thing one more time, just one last time. It will not hurt me!" Before we know it, we are repeating the action, and it has become a routine. The way we get used to eating our first meal leaves a pattern in us and may become a habit. If we start out early in life leaving the house without breakfast, eating in the car, skipping meals, and gobbling our food, these actions become automatic and THE way we perform that action.

Cutting corners eventually catches up with us and before we know it, our health has been steered into an undesired direction. Concluding the list of Intelligent Eating Habits is: Slow down by having the right thought in your head.

Let's look at the benefits to slowing down. All thoughts have a mental and/or emotional effect on our bodies. Having an upsetting thought and not concentrating on our actions is stressful to our body. Repeating stressful thoughts will interrupt our inside harmony—"we don't feel good"—and alter our vital functions, creating digestive problems and constipation, etc. If we don't cope very well with stress, altered vital functions of a long-term nature may lead to a serious compromise in our health, such as cancer. Scary, isn't it? Believing how stress destroys our body can be difficult. Our little voice inside may say, "we all have stress in our life.

Stress surrounds us all day long." This is why giving our bodies a break is important, as doing so allows ourselves to recover between stressful situations. Besides the point of learning to cope with stress, learning NOT to internalize stress is life saving. When faced with a stressful situation, ask yourself the question, "Can I really do something about it?" If not, holding stress is destructive and we need to refocus. Redirecting our attention to another problem we can do something about is constructive or useful stress—there is always a drawer to clean.

What is going on in the body during stress? The adrenal gland is the organ system that responds to all types of stress. The body reacts exactly the same way regardless of the source of the stimuli—physical, emotional, environmental, or perceived stress. Emotional stress, however, is the number one causing factor in altering biochemical responses that leads to disease.

Stress response also activates the sympathetic nervous system—the "flight and fight" response—by sending signals to the brain that will alarm the hormonal system to provide fuel for the body. Being under stress means that instant energy is needed for survival. This energy is most efficiently and most readily provided by sugar (glucose). During stress, however, the body does not rely on incoming food for energy. Chronic stress is like starvation for the body. After using up the stored carbohydrate sources (glycogen), the body first uses stored fat, then proteins from muscle and enzymes for energy. The adrenal glands, in response to signals from the brain, elevate cortisol production to perform catabolic (breakdown) functions, and to provide energy for vital organs such as the brain and heart. During stress, the body slows down all non-survival functions, such as reproduction and digestion.

The first thing you can do to quickly improve your health is to actually pay attention to your eating habits. Lower your stress level while you eat to avoid fatiguing your adrenals. Use mealtimes to give your body a break...

Have you ever noticed that a pleasant environment during meals helps you slow down? Imagine how you feel sitting at your favorite table at your favorite restaurant and having your favorite meal, as described earlier. Now look around. You feel great because of the colors and pictures on the wall, and the perfectly placed plants and flower arrangements surrounding you. Your favorite tune from the piano completely relaxes you—of course, you turned off your cell phone—and you allow yourself to breathe. It feels just right to be there.

And, you know what? You just stopped eating—because you felt full! Congratulations, you just experienced natural portion control… You heard your body saying, "stop eating, I am full." When your stomach is full, tiny sensors on the wall of the stomach get unhappy and give the signal to stop. (The stomach was designed to hold about two handfuls of food at a time for efficient digestion and absorption.) Now you can sit back and enjoy being full and satisfied.

Put it to the test: Anxious about being anxious?
Summer is here! Notice the slender young women in bathing suits on the cover of the magazines? They are yet another reminder that keeps me anxious, beyond all other things. I think about being single and being out there. You probably have been there, torn over letting your "trendy" skeletal body go and exchanging your daily exhausting exercise routine and 1,000 calorie diet... just to feel better. You can't sleep, your period is all messed up, blemishes are blooming on your face, and you don't understand why. It’s because your body's hormonal system has just been turned upside down. The physical stress of exercise, coupled with an energy-restricted diet, then topped with the "emotional uptightness" of "I HAVE to stay skinny because I am not good enough otherwise," results in poor health and unhealthy looking skin. Your insides seem to be constantly raving, you can't calm down at night, and you can't wait to run five miles at sunrise and squeeze in the 8:00 pm aerobics class. The more you do, the more you need to keep doing to feel at ease.

You are experiencing the first alert mode of your adrenal gland, which is elevated cortisol production. Elevated cortisol levels result in an imbalance of other vital hormones. Cortisol steals precursors from your reproductive and water/electrolyte regulating hormones. The imbalance of reproductive hormones in women leads to PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome), androgen disorders (high testosterone levels causing adult acne, facial hair growth, hair loss, and impossible weight loss—what we are so afraid of), and prostrate problems in men. Increased cortisol at night will interfere with rest and recovery.

A high cortisol level at night suppresses melatonin production levels, causing insomnia and interrupted sleep. (Low nighttime melatonin levels have been observed in patients with cancer.) High nighttime cortisol also inhibits growth hormone production. Restless sleep, therefore, suppresses tissue repair. The accumulation of damaged tissue causes further inflammation and stress on the body and the adrenal gland. The circle is closed.

Your body is fighting for survival. Unnecessary functions such as digestion and reproduction also shut down. Your body no longer relies on incoming food to provide you with energy. After your body uses up your stored sugar, it taps into your fat and protein (muscle and enzymes). And, you experience auto-cannibalism—your body is eating itself alive! Emotional stress and chronic illness are big factors contributing to this metabolic condition. But, know you can be helped. The first step is to find out the condition of your adrenal glands. If any two or three from the following list of adrenal stressors and symptoms apply to you, then you are a good candidate for adrenal testing.

COREONE's tests measure the so-called "functional cortisol rhythm." To take the test, you collect saliva four times throughout a day and then mail the samples to COREONE Diagnostics. This is the first step you can take to help yourself. To take the adrenal test, have your doctor contact COREONE by calling 800-570-2000, or you may find a doctor to order and interpret the test for you.

Adrenal Stressors

* Triggered emotions
* Anger
* Fear
* Worry/anxiety
* Guilt
* Depression
* Overwork (physical or mental strain)
* Late hours/insufficient sleep
* Chronic, severe, or prolonged infections
* Surgery
* Trauma/Injury

Symptoms Associated with and Consequences of Adrenal Dysfunction

* Excessive fatigue
* Weakness
* Nervousness/irritability
* Mental depression
* Apprehension
* Inability to concentrate
* Moment of confusion
* Poor memory
* Feeling of frustration
* Light-headedness
* Dizziness upon standing
* Low blood pressure
* Insomnia
* Premenstrual syndrome
* Craving for sweets
* Headaches
* Alcohol intolerance
* Sternocleidomastoid/Trapezius pain and spasm (muscles of upper back/neck/shoulders)
* Hypoglycemia—low blood sugar
* Excessive hunger
* Gastric discomfort
* Dyspepsia (indigestion)
* Alternate diarrhea and constipation
* Palpitation (heart fluttering)
* Poor resistance to infections
* Food and/or inhalant allergies
* Dry and thin skin
* Scanty perspiration
* Tenderness in adrenal area
* Low body temperature
* Unexplained hair loss
* Difficulty building muscle
* Difficulty gaining weight
* Tendency to inflammation
* Increased susceptibility to cancer, osteoporosis, autoimmune hepatitis and other autoimmune disease

I can hear your first reaction… "But if I am not skinny enough, guys will not talk to me!" You are right; guys whose value systems are focused on the wrong thing may not talk to you. And, guess what? You are much better off without them. I call it natural selection. Having the inner strength to know who you are and to value yourself is the first thing to engrave into your brain. Second, healthy meat is not only normal but also vital. Third, your health is the one thing YOU can do something about for a healthy future. And, teach guys about healthy trends.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have been entertained, motivated, and educated.