[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:12.7] MB: Welcome to The Science of Success. I’m your host, Matt Bodnar. I’m an entrepreneur and investor in Nashville, Tennessee and I’m obsessed with the mindset of success and the psychology of performance. I’ve read hundreds of books, conducted countless hours of research and study and I am going to take you on a journey into the human mind and what makes peak performers tick, with the focus on always having our discussion rooted in psychological research and scientific fact, not opinion.
In this episode, we discuss why dieting actually predicts weight gain over the long run. How you can build a health style of habits that can accumulate small advantages and create a healthy lifestyle overtime. How habit loops are formed and how you can leverage neuroscience to create habits that stick. The concept of mindful eating and how you can use it to transform your relationship to the meals that you eat, and much more with our guest, Darya Rose.
The Science of Success continues to grow with more than 850,000 downloads, listeners in over 100 countries, hitting number one in New and Noteworthy, and more. I get listener emails and comments all the time asking me, “Matt, how do you organize and remember all this incredible information?” A lot of our listeners are curious how I keep track of all the incredible knowledge I get from reading hundreds of books, interviewing amazing experts, listening to awesome podcast, and more.
Because of that, we’ve created an epic resource just for you; a detailed guide called How to Organize and Remember Everything. You can get it completely for free by texting the word “smarter” to the number 44222. Again, it’s a guide we created called How to Organize and Remember Everything. All you have to do to get it is to text the word “smarter” to the number 44222, or go to scienceofsuccess.co and put in your email.
In our previous episode, we discussed why you can’t outthink your emotions, the relationship between trauma and our mind-body connection. How to start listening to your emotions, the power of hypnosis, and how to drop into your body to experience what you’re truly feeling with Rene Brent. If you want to really tap into your emotions, listen to that episode.
[0:02:33.7] MB: Today, we have another fascinating guest on the show, Dr. Darya Rose. Darya is a neuroscience Ph.D. and the author of the book Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting. She’s also the creator of Summer Tomato, a blog where she teaches others to form healthy food habits by combining neuroscience, mindfulness, and nutrition. She’s been featured on the Today Show, Oprah, Time Magazine, and has recently named one of the hundred most influential people in health and fitness.
Darya, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:01.7] DR: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
[0:03:03.2] MB: We’re very excited to have you on. For listeners who may not be familiar with you and your story, tell us a little bit about yourself.
[0:03:09.2] DR: Oh, I’m such a geek. Basically, I grew up in Southern California during sort of the Baywatch era in the 90s, and my mother was a chronic dieter, and I just thought that that’s how women were supposed to live. I started dieting at age 11. I didn’t have a weight problem, I just was doing what my mom did, which was having chocolate milkshakes for breakfast that are supposed to make you lose weight, which is awesome if you’re an 11-year-old, but it started a bad cycle. Where I went through, basically, every diet under the sun; low fat, low carb, cabbage soup, grapefruit, you name it. Eventually, I started running marathons.
In the other part of my life, I went to college, studied molecular biology and neuroscience and then went on to get my Ph.D. in neuroscience and this whole process took 15 years. At some point, I’m like — I feel when most people think about health and weight loss, they think that if they had more will power, they’d be better at it. I’m like one of those type-A people with really strong will power and I would do the diet, and I would do them for years, and I would do them well, and they would work for a little while, but I was so unhappy.
Eventually, I was just, “I’m doing everything right. I’m doing everything the authorities and every realm are telling me to do, and I’m still miserable, and I still don’t have the results I want. I’m still unhappy with my body.” I decided that — I was on a second year in my Ph.D. program and at this point I could actually read a scientific paper and understand it, which is hard to do. It takes a lot of training to get there. I just was like, “I’m going to solve this problem, and I’m going to stop reading the glossy magazines, and the diet books, and I’m going to read science.”
I would spend my nights and weekends reading everything I could get my hands on. At first, I was looking for the perfect diet. Eventually, I realized that dieting doesn’t work, that everything I had tried with, actually, the reason I was struggling, dieting is actually a better way to gain weight than to lose weight. That what I really need to do is stop all that nonsense. Focus just on real food and building tiny habits around sort of good, normal, healthy things that my grandma would tell me to do, and that would work.
I didn’t really believe it at first, because it just sounded too good to be true, but I tried it and my life completely changed. I was not hungry for the first time in my life. I enjoyed food for the first time in my life. Even while being happy, I slowly lost weight. Over the course of the year, I ended up oozing — Gosh! I hit my goal weight and then I went something five or seven pounds below that. I was so shocked by how everything I learned was wrong and how easy and wonderful it was to do the right thing. I was like, “I have to tell people about this.” I started a blog and wrote a book.
[0:05:56.7] MB: I’d love to kind of hear — You talked or you touched briefly on the idea that dieting actually can predict weight gain. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that and maybe talk about some of the data that demonstrates why dieting isn’t that effective as a strategy. Also, just for listeners who could have sort of some different concepts about this, how do you define the concept of dieting?
[0:06:19.7] DR: Great question. I define dieting as a restrictive limit on your food intake. It usually involves some exercise as well, but not always. For me — Just to be clear, and this is actually a really subtle point that is often missed in the dieting industry. You can lose weight on any diet temporarily. They work temporarily, but I don’t want that. I don’t want to just do something for a little while and then look good in one picture and then be done with it. I want to solve this problem.
When I talk about success, I’m talking about long term success. One of the first — By long term, I mean two, three years. One of the first pieces of information in found when I was researching this stuff was that over — I think it was the study that really blew my mind. It was something like over a three-year period, having dieted during that period were the predictor of weight gain than weight loss. They, and they were actually worse off than people who never dieted at all. It was actually net bad to diet.
It’s a shocking thing to hear. I’ve been dieting my entire life. Basically, everyone believes that if you want to lose weight and get healthy, you have to stop eating fat, or stop eating carbs, or whatever, and that’s just not true. It’s crazy.
[0:07:38.9] MB: In some ways, this is kind of the distinction between the concept of diet as the noun versus dieting, the action as a verb, and there’s a big difference in terms of having sort of a healthy diet versus pursuing dieting as an activity that’s kind of a fab driven thing that doesn’t necessarily produce real sustainable results.
[0:07:58.0] DR: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, that distinction is so incredibly frustrating to me that I came up with a new word called health style, which for me that means it’s a combination of focusing on your health, but also creating a lifestyle for yourself. It’s more individualized and it’s also more of something that you do always, rather than something you’re doing temporarily.
[0:08:23.5] MB: How would you describe the average person, or maybe the average American’s relationship with food today?
[0:08:31.1] DR: The average American. Who’s that? I think that most people have — Actually, kind of a messed up. When I say most people, I’m talking about what I see in the media and what I hear when I talk to people about health. I see two things. I see a sort of rejection of the idea of restriction by a large group of people. They’re like, “You know what? Screw it. I love food too much.” That they’ll take that to a really unhealthy level, where it’s just like anything goes all the time.
On the other side, I see if this belief that if you want to have a result different than that, it requires a tremendous amount of suffering. Whether that’s denying yourself things you want, forcing yourself to eat bland, boring things you don’t like, forcing yourself. The Biggest Loser is a great example. The way that show is, it’s like people who — They start out just not caring at all and just really having this issue where they hadn’t really dealt with it in a longtime. Then, deciding to do something about it and going to the entire opposite extreme where they’re working out seven hours a day and eating 1,100 calories when they should be eating three or four times that for their body size and just creating this super — It breaks my heart. It’s like such a broken way of dealing with a problem.
That’s why I do what I do, is because I find that I know that doesn’t work. There’s data that it doesn’t work. On top of it, it’s torture. It’s a torturous way to live. It sort of set up so that you can’t win. You’re either miserable, because you’re starving and not doing anything you like, or you’re miserable because you’re obese. Those are the choices. I say, “Screw that.”
[0:10:17.6] MB: How would you think about the kind of distinction, I know this is a concept you’ve talked about in the past, between the dieter’s brain and the normal brain?
[0:10:28.6] DR: That’s a really a good question. There are a lot of reasons that dieting is more likely to, long term, cause weight gain. There’re issues of metabolism and stuff and that everybody kind of talks about that. One of the big things that people don’t talk about as often is the psychology that comes from restricting yourself a lot. For instance, somebody who has dieted tends to have a moralization of their food. There are foods that are good and foods that are bad. If you eat the good food, then you are good. If you eat the bad foods, then you are bad.
When you would go ahead and eat — Basically, you could eat good all day long. In psychology, what happens is, eventually, that takes will power. If you’re eating morally, if you’re moralizing your food choices and you’re trying to be good, that takes will power.
That’s funny. Actually, when you think of food that way, it actually even undermines your true liking of the food. You might actually like the food you’re eating, but if you’re doing it to be good, you still are using up will power to do it. What happens at some point, you get tired, you get stressed. Your will power breaks down. If you’re a dieter and you’ve been doing this, what happens is you swing the other way, it’s like a rebound effect, and you tend to binge, or eat a lot of foods that are fat, or whatever. We’ll rationalize, it’s like, “Oh, I deserved it. I was good. Now, I get to do what I want.”
It becomes a mental habit on somebody who’s a dieter, and so it’s very difficult at that point to renegotiate your relationship with food and it can be a really big problem and it’s something that needs to be unlearned. That’s one of the reasons that dieting, in particular, can set you up to eat worse in the long run in some sense.
[0:12:22.4] MB: One of the main reasons dieting can backfire is the idea of this ego depletion, or zapping, or tapping your will power.
[0:12:30.3] DR: Right, exactly.
[0:12:31.3] MB: I know you’ve also talked about it. Actually, I love to explore just briefly so listeners can kind of understand the metabolic response to dieting, and I know there’s been research that’s come out looking at, I think, things like The Biggest Loser and how your body kind of rebounds from calorie restriction like that. I’d love to hear a little bit about that if you can kind of explain that piece of the science as well.
[0:12:53.4] DR: I wish — We don’t really know yet. One of the — In the case of The Biggest Loser where — These people were put through really, really intense starvation, essentially. They were — God! I read somewhere that it was 3,500 calorie per day deficit, calorie deficit. That’s so much more they were burning than eating, which is so insane. That is so insane.
They were working out a lot, but when you’re working out that much, it’s really difficult to build muscle if you’re also starving. Generally, your metabolism is it’s determined by your muscle mass and also your hormones. It’s hard to say exactly why in their case the metabolism ended up in such a negative place where it did. Basically, even if they gained weight, their metabolism didn’t rebound. They still had the metabolism of somebody who weighed less. People that weight more tend to have a higher metabolism. These people, they weighed a lot, they had a high metabolism. They lost a lot of weight. Their metabolism went down accordingly, but then when they regained the weight, their metabolism didn’t rebound with the weight. It’s basically a cycle where they would gain even more weight, because their metabolism was slower even though they’re bigger. I don’t think science has a good answer for that.
A bit part of it is that, generally, if you’re not eating enough, you’re not going to be able to maintain your muscle mass when you lose weight. If you lose your muscle mass, your metabolism is going to slow down. One of the things I recommend is just losing weight slower and doing it in a way where you aren’t forcing your body to burn muscle in order to lose weight.
[0:14:39.7] MB: That makes a lot of sense. Building up your base metabolic rate is a great way to create a more sustainable long term healthy body as supposed to these crash and binge diet strategies. One of the other things you’ve talked about is how dieting can also impact our — I’ll probably say this word wrong, but our satiety queues. I’m not exactly sure if that’s how you say it. Could you kind of explain that concept and share that idea?
[0:15:08.3] DR: Yeah. The way that your body knows when to sleep, when to eat, when to rest, when to be active is through a series of hormones that as a group we — Or as a phenomenon, we refer to it as circadian rhythms. Basically, there are hormones that tell you, “Oh, it’s time to wake up.” This is what jetlag comes from, it’s like your body has as clock and if you throw it off, it gets really confused. It’s best to eat and sleep and things at the same time.
If you’re not following those queues and you’re not eating when you’re hungry, you’re not sleeping when you should be sleeping, if you’re all over the place, it makes it very difficult for your body to know what it wants. When your body doesn’t know what it wants, your brain is confused and so you can sort of be hungry all the time, because there’re no queues that it can follow to know better.
You can train yourself so that you — When you train yourself to ignore when you’re hungry, it also means you ignore when you’re full. It can be very difficult to recalibrate that. It’s something that takes — You have to relearn how to do that if you’ve been dieting a longtime. Yeah, you’re setting yourself up to undo any possible chance you have of natural self-food regulation. You have to relearn it if you’ve been dieting for a long time. Just a bummer.
[0:16:40.8] MB: We’ve looked at a couple of the ways that dieting is sort of ineffective and doesn’t really help us achieve long term health. I’m curious — You touched on it earlier. What’s kind of the alternative, or what’s the strategy that you recommend if pursuing dieting isn’t really going to be an effective way to lose weight and be health?
[0:16:59.7] DR: Excellent question. In my research, when I was reading all these papers and I was learning that everything I had been doing for 15 years was a better way to gain weight than to lose it, I was like, obviously, disheartened and frustrated. Then, I had another question. I was like, “Okay. Not everyone has this problem. Not all humans have this problem that I have. I’m particularly crazy.”
I was wondering what is it that people who are naturally been or have always been thin, what do they do? What do they eat? It turns out they never diet. Most of them have very simple rules that they have in their own brain to just keep them sort of inline. They focus on real food. They don’t worry about macronutrients, carbs, fat, whatever, and they just sort of do little trials to figure out what works for them and they just live that way. Those are all habits.
This is a very different approach, because habits don’t require will power. Habits are things that they’re like little loops that you create in your brain that happen automatically in response to some sort of trigger. Whether that trigger be something in your environment, like you see something on TV, or it’s the time of day, or something like that, or internal trigger, like, “I just work up in the morning, my circadian rhythms are telling me I’m hungry,” type of thing.
When you can take habits, and if you have enough of them that build health; eating vegetables, getting regular activity, physical activity, sleeping well, eating mindfully, eating at certain times of day. Then, you can build up — This is exactly what a health style is. I think your heath style is all those habits, all those little habits that add up to a health or unhealthy person.
What’s cool is you can just tackle these one at a time, and each one of them is so much easier than starving yourself or never eating sugar again, or something really hardcore that most diets will do and recommend. It allows you to find little tiny things you love. Also, you can personalize it. If you’re not the type of person who likes the gym, let’s say, which is a lot of people. Maybe you like hiking, or maybe you like swimming, or maybe you like playing basketball with your friends. There are a lot of other things you can do to have all those habits add up to work for you.
What’s awesome is habits, the way they form in your brain, the way the little automatic loops form, is that you have to — It’s paired with a reward. The way it works is there’s the trigger, whatever is telling you to do some action. Then, there’s the action. Then, there’s a reward associate with that action. If your brain makes that connection, it’s like, “Whoa! Cool,” and that reward will sort of reach back and — This is why it’s a loop. It reached back and reinforces that rigger so that the next time you get that trigger, your brain is like, “Yeah, let’s do that again.” Until, eventually, that just becomes automatic, like autopilot.
With health habits, that’s what you want. That’s really good. The key there and how this is totally fundamentally different dieting is that you have to like it. It has to be something you like. Otherwise, it won’t become a habit and you won’t be able to take will power out of the equation.
It’s a total reframe around how to approach your health, because instead of thinking, “What do I have to do? Which torturous thing do I have to subject myself to today, or this moment?” Instead, you think, “You know what? I never liked exercising before for X, Y, Z reasons. I’m going to try something different, because I know I like that, and hopefully make it stick.” You have to create this world where you actually like the things you do.
What’s amazing is even this whole process itself becomes a loop, because once you start realizing how much you like certain things or you start building healthy habits, you start to feel better. Then, you really like those habits. Then, you start to see results in the mirror and then you really like those habits. Instead of this sort of negative loop of failure, it’s like this positive loop of success and joy. It’s so different.
I describe it, and it sounds amazing, but I can’t even tell you how life changing this is, especially if you’ve done the dieting thing. It’s like such a transformative way to live and experience your health and your body and food. It’s just so amazing.
[0:21:33.1] DR: I think it’s a great concept, the idea that we should transition from health kind of being — Or this health style as you call it, being something that we should do or feel obligated to do into something that we want to do. It’s kind of being pulled and drawn towards it instead of pushing the boulder uphill.
I’m curious, I can almost heart listeners asking. For example, somebody who — Let’s just use broccoli as an example. Somebody doesn’t like broccoli, or whatever. How do you build that habit? How do you train yourself to like healthy lifestyles if you are sort of in a place now where you don’t like working out and you don’t like eating kale, and you don’t like all of these things that — How do you train yourself to become somebody who likes those certain things?
[0:22:22.3] DR: Really good question. Yeah, this all sounds amazing in theory and the devil is in the details for sure. There are a lot of answers to that question, and I take many approaches for people. I like the example of broccoli. You don’t like broccoli. Fine. There is many things that I would tell someone if they just were, “I don’t like broccoli. I can’t do this.”
I would say, “First of all, there is a lot of vegetables. Are there any you like at all?” Most people have a few that they like in certain ways, and that’s great. I tell them to start there. Start adding things that you like that are good. By good, I mean whole foods, unprocessed foods, and real foods is actually what I like to call them. One of the things that’s interesting is that people don’t actually realize — Most people don’t even taste their food. Most people eat on autopilot.
While a lot of people that haven’t started on this journey yet, they think they don’t like kind of food. Most people, once they approach it with a growth mindset, which is the idea that this is something I can learn to like, or learn to do, they end up completely falling in love with real food and wondering how they ever liked all those other things that they used to eat. I’ve talked to thousands of people who have had that experience.
On the one hand, I would say, “Just start with what you like and build on that,” to “approach this with a growth mindset.” One of the things that was revolutionary from myself, personally — I started in the exact same place, by the way. All I ate was processed food and I didn’t really understand — I didn’t know to cool. I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff. One of the things I discovered — I was lucky and I happened to live in San Francisco at the time and they have these amazing restaurants and amazing farmers markets and I didn’t understand why, at certain restaurants, the food was so good, because I grew up in a suburb eating chain restaurants.
I learned — Because this is the culture in San Francisco. I learned that the reason is because they focus a lot on ingredients. Specifically, they buy seasonal ingredients that are grown from farmers who really care. They actually care, a carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot. Carrots grow in season from heirloom varieties that were built, or that were bred for taste rather than transport taste completely different than sort of the stuff I grew up eating from the grocery store.
When you start to understand that, “Oh, I hated brussels sprouts when I was a kid, but that’s because my parents were serving over boiled frozen ones that were totally out of season.” You try a different one and you realize it’s like a completely different experience. Then, you go from, “Oh! I just don’t like vegetables,” to “Oh! I only like seasonal vegetables,” or “I’m fund of — I like root vegetables more than I like leafy greens today. Maybe in the winter, when leafy greens are more sweet and less bitter I’d like those.”
That is bringing a certain growth mindset to the idea of changing your habits. Also, a certain amount of knowledge and skill, the knowledge being that like you have to know what it’s in season, and that’s something you can learn. That’s something you can adopt and learn and work on. It does certainly help to be able to cook and create to be able to transform foods from raw ingredients into something you enjoy eating as well. It’s another factor.
There are a lot of ways to approach building habits, and it’s not about forcing yourself to do anything. It’s about being creative to learn how to love this stuff. I’ve seen so many people do it. So many people do it. Most of them — People don’t go back from this stuff. It’s that good. It’s not like you do it for a little while and you’re like, “That habits kind of fizzled out.” No. This really sticks, because it’s so life changing.
[0:26:18.2] MB: I know you talked about rewards kind of being one of the key pillars of forming a habit loop. Can you give me a specific example of how pursuing kind of some of these healthy habits can create rewards that, let’s say, somebody who’s listening who their average meal of pizza and beer, something like that, gives them a lot of happiness. How can they create some rewards that will really anchor in this habits and what do those rewards look like?
[0:26:45.2] DR: Great question. There are rewards — Very simplistically. They come in two forms. There are rewards that are sort of external to your psyche. Let’s say you work really hard at something and then you get a price, like money, or a vacation, or something. Those work for some activities, but they do not work for forming habits. External rewards are not good. Don’t tell yourself, “If I eat this broccoli, I’m going to put $5 in my vacation travel plan,” or whatever. You have to have the reward be internal and innately linked to whatever activity you’re doing.
An example is, yeah, you have to enjoy the taste of the food you’re eating, or you have to feel really good after eating it, that helps too. It’s funny though, we tend to have a lot of assumptions, put it that way, around what is rewarding and the reason we do things. The reason for that is because we feel — We feel a certain way, and then our brains rationalize and make up a reason for it. Often times, those reasons are wrong.
For example, your pizza and beer example. You might think that you love pizza and beer because it tastes so good, and that might be true. However, if you ate pizza and beer for every meal, you would start to feel like crap and you wouldn’t want to eat that all the time. That’s one thing. We tend to lie to ourselves and believe that we would if we let ourselves eat whatever we want. That’s usually not true.
Another thing is context and the environment you’re eating and your mental state is essential in your perception of your experience. It could be that the reason you think you love pizza and beer so much is because you always have it with your friends on Thursday night football when you watch it with them and you have a good experience and it’s not necessarily the food. The food is fun and that can be a part of it, but it could just be that that experience is so valuable for you that trying to force yourself to eat like a salad or something instead if just silly, but it’s not necessarily because the pizza is so good. It’s because you don’t want to ruin that experience of camaraderie with your friends.
You sort of have to be willing to step back a little bit about your assumptions about why you do things and what you want and really question and test, even, those assumptions. You can do little experiments on your own to see what the rewards really are, and they’re not always the first thing you think. Often times, we eat because we think we’re craving chocolate in the middle of the day. Really, we just need a break from work because we’ve been focusing really hard for three hours and it’s been a long day. You may tell yourself, “I need to go to the cafeteria and get a snack or something.” Really, you just need a little break.
You can do little experiments to test that, but if the — Then, you can discover what the reward for whatever habit you have actually is. Another thing that comes up a lot is the difference between good habits and bad habits. This is a way to both break not so healthy habits and build healthier habits, is really truly understanding what your triggers are and what your reward is.
[0:30:10.8] MB: You’ve touched on a few of these and kind of mentioned it, but I’m curious, what are the core healthy habits that you recommend people work on incorporating into their lives so that they can move towards this health style, this healthy lifestyle?
[0:30:26.3] DR: Yeah, great question. I call these home court habits, and these are sort of the habits that you need — The set of habits you need to sort of get yourself personally to a health place and stay there. I want to start with the caveat that everyone is different. Not everything works for everyone and everybody has to learn how to make these things work for them. I can give you some broad habits that often — I’ve talked to thousands of people about this stuff and what often works for people.
Eating more vegetables is really a big one. Vegetables are incredibly healthy, they keep you from getting — I think, they keep you from getting sick. As much, they keep you feeling good. They obviously are low calorie, high nutrient density, and it’s a positive. It’s something you can do more of. It’s not that hard. Eating more vegetables is a big one.
The next thing that kind of comes from that is what do you cut out then if you’re eating more of something? I recommend people, if you’re going to make cuts in things, to choose process foods. Processed grains, like flour, processed sugar, processed meat, processed oils. Those are all places that you can cut back on, but I would focus mainly on eating more vegetables.
Learning to cook is a big one, because cooking, it gives you so much control over what you eat and also whether or not you like it, being able to actually make something that taste good. This is actually one of the biggest habits — The most impactful habits. One of the most impactful habits someone can have. It’s a tough one, because a lot of us didn’t learn to cook growing up, which is why I created a program around it.
Yeah, cooking is a big one. You need to have some sort of physical activity, and being sedentary is really counterproductive. It’s quite unhealthy. It’s been recently shown to be as bad as long term smoking, actually, long term sitting. It doesn’t have to be crazy. I definitely recommend strength training for looking great. It makes you look great and it does help build your metabolism up, like we talked about earlier. Even just walking 10,000 steps a day, or something around there, can have a big impact. What else?
For me, big habit is I need to have a grocery store, or a farmers market where I can get high quality vegetables, because if I can’t get high quality vegetables, I don’t want to cook, because cooking is no fun when it doesn’t taste as good or the vegetables are low quality. For me, that’s a big one. Other people don’t care as much. They’re perfectly happy to just cook whatever.
Sleep is a big one. If you are exhausted and tired, you’re not going to have the energy to cook. You’re not going to have the energy to get activity, physical activity. Sleep is a big one. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else.
One that doesn’t get talked about actually is maintaining your — Just thinking about a little more about your circadian rhythms; trying to go to bed at the same time each day, trying to wake up at about the same time each day, trying to eat at approximately the same time and not all over the place. It’s much easier to work with your body than work against your body. The more things you have working on your side, the easier it will be.
Another big one that doesn’t get talked about a lot either is mindfulness. This can sound like a little hippie, or a little woo-woo, but it’s actually incredibly powerful. One of the reasons is what I mentioned earlier, it’s hard — Most of us just go through our entire day on autopilot. We get trigged. We do stuff. We don’t even really think about why. We don’t really — We have this illusion of freewill, but most of us are just plowing through our day being triggered and just doing things and not being very conscious of it at all. That’s especially true of your eating habits, and your eating decisions. Most of us don’t make those very consciously.
Mindfulness gives you a tool to do that, to pay attention to your thoughts, pay attention to your feelings, pay attention to your experience and your perception and not judge it and just be aware of what’s going on. Because if you’re aware of it, of what’s happening, then you have a chance to change it if you’re not.
People wonder why they have bad habits, and maybe you’re stress eating, or emotional eating, or has something to do with something your mom said when you were a kid, or something, and they think breaking that habit isn’t possible, but it will be. It’s very, very hard to change something like that if you don’t actually know what’s going on and you don’t know what your brain is really trying to get.
I encourage people to practice mindful eating and, generally, mindfulness, mindful practices in their own lives to develop that skill, because it’s really is a skill that you need to have to make this sort of progress if you want to break really difficult habits and things like emotional eating and things like that. Yeah, those are the home court habits that I talk to people the most about and that I find that people have the most life-changing results with that they can incorporate some smattering of those habits.
[0:35:30.3] MB: We’ve definitely talked a lot about meditation on the show previously, and are huge fans of it. How would you define specifically mindfulness, because I know it’s relate but not necessarily kind of exactly the same. Specifically, what do you mean by the phrase mindful eating?
[0:35:46.9] DR: Yeah, this is tricky. The way I personally — I’ve done a lot of work on this. I was a dieter, and dieters do not eat mindfully. Dieters eat fast when they eat, because there is guilt and shame around it. You’ve spent so much of your life starving. When you do let yourself eat, you start of go really fast and just dig into it. I had a lot of difficulty with this particular habit, but I had read so much about the benefits of it. It helps you enjoy your food more. It helps you eat less naturally. It helps you make better decisions. Just all sorts of things that you want. We want these things.
Gosh! Is it hard to develop this habit. I’ve been working on it for — I had been working on it for five years before I really feel like I got a handle on how to do it. I also went into a meditation retreat, silent meditation retreat for 10 days. After all these attempts, I finally have — I have my own working definition of what mindfulness is.
I think of it as being aware of the present moment, and that includes your physical experience, whatever you see, touch small, taste, whatever. Your thoughts; whatever your thinking in words. Your thoughts tend to manifest in words in your brain. Silently, obviously, but when you think to yourself things, maybe you tend to use words. Then, feelings, which is usually a sensation in your body, maybe attention or rush of adrenalin or some heat in your body, or some tension and some part of your muscles, or something. Just simply being aware that those are happening. It’s really hard to do, because what happens is when you get a thought, or you get a feeling, the feeling almost is immediately translated into a thought, and you want to follow it, like, “That’s an interesting thought. I wonder why that is,” blah-blah-blah and you get hooked on the thought.
The practice of mindfulness, for me, is being aware that that happens, and when you recognize it being, like, “Oh, I’m stuck in that thought,” and going back to paying attention to not what’s in your head, but your present experience, and just doing that over and over again as a practice so that you are aware when you get pulled into a loop, get pulled into some sort of trigger. Really hard to do.
It’s also really difficult, particularly difficult around food. We tend to practice mindfulness during meditation. That’s what we’re told to do often. Meditation is hard, because it’s hard for people to just sit still, because they need to practice meditation. In some ways, it’s easier, because you know what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re just supposed to be sitting there.
Eating is more active, right? Your eyes are open. You have to physically feed yourself. You have the experience of eating the taste, the texture, the flavor, the smells and paying attention to all that at once is difficult. Also, on top of it, a lot of us have so much mental baggage around — An emotional baggage around food, and body image, and all these stuff. It’s a challenge.
Actually, if anybody is interested in mindful eating, I actually just recently started something called The Mindful Meal Challenge, it’s like a five day challenge and it’s free on Summer Tomato, if anybody wants to check it out to practice this. It’s fun to start with eating, actually, because it’s something we all do three times a day, at least, and it’s so integral to our experience and our health. That just taking some time to learn about how to do it and what it actually feels like to do it and realizing how hard it is and how if you just sort of vaguely try to eat mindfully, you’re just trying to be mindful. You’re almost inevitably going to fail, because there are so much distraction built into our brains.
It’s a really cool thing if you can do it. I do highly recommend practicing, setting aside time in your day to practice. Whether it’s during food, or meditation, or anything like that, or even your shower, just mindfully showering. Just to have that time to observe what your brain does on its own, because I think you’ll find — Most of us find our brains are totally nuts. They’re so undisciplined and so scatter brained. Being aware of what you tend to do is very illuminating.
[0:40:08.2] MB: I know this kind of ties into the idea of mindfulness, but how do we battle things like a craving for junk food?
[0:40:16.4] DR: Interesting. A craving is a trigger and a feeling. It’s a feeling that’s been triggered from something. Step one is being aware of it, and rather than just anxious, going to the pantry and eat a bag of cookies. That is not what you want to do first. You first want to be able to be, “I feel a craving.” That’s what it is and have a name for it, recognize it that it’s a feeling.
The second thing is you don’t want to battle it. You can’t control your feelings. They don’t obey the rules of physics like a physical object does. What happens if you try to just make it go away or you try to ignore it, is it — First of all, it won’t go away, it will manifest in some other weird way and you will continue to experience this again and again and eventually you’ll break down.
A better way to approach a craving is to just take a minute, take a deep breath, close your eyes and feel it. Just feel what it feels like. Locate it in your body. Usually, there’s a place in your body. You can locate attention, or maybe your heart is raising a little bit, of maybe you get a tingly somewhere, or maybe — Who knows? There are a lot of different ways. You get a little sweaty, or something. There’s a lot of physiological ways our bodies respond to feelings. Just feel it.
Instantly, you’re probably going to want to judge it as negative and recognize that your brain wants to do that and just go back to the feeling, go back to experiencing it, like, “Is it in my chest? Is it in my arms? Is it in my fingers? Is it in my jaw?” Just focus on just taking a deep breath and breathing into that feeling and just trying to be okay with it.
If at some point you decide you still want to proceed with your binge or whatever, that’s okay too. don’t beat yourself up for it, because it’s hard to break something like that that’s been trained and conditioned for a long time. The first step is pausing, and being aware of what’s actually happening. Usually, there’s a reason, and that’s something you can look into or think about in another time of your day. What is it that’s tripping you? Is it stress? Is it body image issues that your mother created when you’re a teenager? Is it an identity think, you like you feel like you have to be somebody for — Something for somebody and you feel like you’re failing? What is it?
Understanding that, usually, if it’s an unhealthy craving, if it’s an emotional eating type of thing, realizing that it’s something that’s understandable and not feeling like it’s something you have to fight, but something you need to understand. I think that’s a big step.
Also, cravings can also be nutritional. That’s another thing. For example, for years, I didn’t eat carbs, forever. Then, I would start of go off the diet, or when I went back to certain more normal, I had sugar cravings all the time. One thing I realized — Or one thing that happened to me was when I started eating more real foods that contain carbohydrates that I wouldn’t let myself eat before. For example, rice, or potatoes, or something like that. When I allowed myself to eat those, my sugar cravings completely disappeared. I didn’t think my body just wanted some more nutrition. There was a nutritional component that was missing there.
Step one is making sure you have good nutrition. Step two is really understanding what’s triggering you, if it’s an emotional habit, emotional eating habit, and accepting it for what it is, not fighting it. Maybe work on addressing the original issue and maybe not try to treat it so much with food eventually. It’s hard. It’s a hard thing to do.
[0:44:04.8] MB: I know we’ve talked about it a little bit and you’ve used the term a couple of times. I’m curious, how do you define or think about kind of the idea of “real food” and what is that and how can listeners distinguish between that and, I guess, whatever the opposite of real food is?
[0:44:20.3] DR: Processed food. Yeah. I think of real food as anything that obviously comes from nature. Plants grow out of the ground. Fish swim in the sea. Birds — I guess, chickens don’t really fly, but an animal product. Those are all read food. Processed foods are foods that, often, they start as real foods, but then they’re processed into oblivion. One of my favorite examples is a flake, like a corn flake.
Corn is a real food, but when you look at a cornflake, it didn’t grow on a tree. You know what I mean? It’s brought out of the ground looking like a flake. That means it’s been processed. If you can picture how it was created and it didn’t involved a factory, then you’re on the right track.
[0:45:02.8] MB: Perfect. I think that’s a simple and kind of easy heuristic to use. I’m already categorizing things in my mind.
[0:45:09.4] DR: By the way, I’m not militant about any of these stuff. It’s like you can processed foods. I do. I eat pizza, and I eat sugar, and I eat all sorts of things. One of the critical things to understand is that you just don’t want those to be your main habits. You want your main habits. It’s kind of like the 80-20 principle. You want breakfast, lunch, and dinner, especially on weekdays. That’s something you do all the time. You want to those to be based on real foods. A lot of vegetables and real foods.
If it’s brunch on your birthday, or whatever, go have whatever you want. Have the most on French toast. If you’re, most of the time, eating real foods, you can totally make room for those processed treats, or whatever you want, especially if you love them, or your evening pizza and beer night with your football buddies. It’s fine.
I just wanted to bring that up, because it’s not about never eating anything. In fact, saying that anything in your life is off limits is generally a bad move, because it’s going to result in one of those psychological rebounds. You don’t want to be using will power, just craft the things that matter the most, your daily habits, from real foods.
[0:46:22.4] MB: I think that’s a great point, and it’s not about sort of a strict elimination of X, Y, or Z, it’s more about kind of the weighted average of your activities should skew towards things that are real food and things kind of support a healthy lifestyle, but not to the extent that you are tapping your will power and creating suffering in your life and avoiding all the things that make you happy and make you enjoy your experiences.
[0:46:49.2] DR: Yeah, exactly.
[0:46:50.4] MB: What’s kind of one piece of homework that you would give to somebody who’s listening to this interview as kind of a concrete starting place for them to implement some of these ideas?
[0:47:00.7] DR: One of the things that I recommend for a lot of people who are just getting started is to keep a little habit journal. We’re specifically talking about food and physical activity, because a lot of the times, like I was saying, we don’t really know what we’re doing all the time. We’re just not aware of it. Recognizing the things that you do often.
Again, the things that you do not that often don’t matter so much. The things that you do often is you could sometimes find the biggest wins in there. You can sometimes find, “Oh my gosh! I eat a muffin every day for a snack after lunch, and that is 600 calories.” If you added up, 600 calories after lunch every single day at work, that’s 3,000 extra calories a week. That’s more than an entire extra day of food.
You don’t even necessarily want the muffin, you just kind of want to take a break from work and want to socialize with your friends, grab an orange, or an apple, and cut that down to an extra 800 calories a week. That can be a huge win. You’ll lose 10 pounds in a couple of months doing a swap like that. Sometimes, it’s that simple to identify that, or just eat more vegetables. I always encourage everybody to eat more vegetables.
[0:48:13.3] MB: Where can people find you, and your book, and your blog online?
[0:48:17.6] DR: Yeah, come over to summertomato.com, and that’s where you can find pretty much everything. My book is called Foodist, my podcast is called Foodist. If you’re interested in getting started, like I said, the mindful meal challenge that I recently launched is a great intro to — And it’s free just to this whole world, and it’s fun, and people really enjoy it and it’s five days, so it’s not that hard.
[0:48:39.6] MB: Awesome. We’ll make sure to include links to Summer Tomato, links to Foodist, both the book and the podcast and the Mindful Meal Challenge in the show notes.
[0:48:47.5] DR: Thank you so much.
[0:48:48.6] MB: Awesome. Darya, thank you for coming on the show, it’s been a fascinating conversation and I’ve really enjoyed hearing your wisdom and learning all these different concepts.
[0:48:57.1] DR: Absolutely. I appreciate your thoughtful questions.
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