by Dr. Tina Marcantel

I’ve had to change some of my attitudes about how I think about food. I’d like to share with you two important lessons I’ve learned. Dr. Tina Marcantel is a naturopathic doctor in Gilbert, Arizona, who also serves the East Valley cities of Mesa, Chandler, Queen Creek, Scottsdale, Tempe, Apache Junction, and the greater Phoenix area.

Thanksgiving mealMany of us seem to have a love/hate relationship with food. We love to eat, we often overeat and then go looking for the latest diet to help us lose weight. We categorize foods as being “good” or “bad.” We speak of “comfort” foods, but those same foods are often seen as the enemy.

I encourage my patients to understand that, as with all other areas of life, moderation and balance are the keys to healthful eating. The senses of taste and smell are wonderful gifts to enjoy and although food is a biologically necessary part of your life, it can also be a source of great pleasure to you if you know that you control what you eat—food does not control you. By educating yourself about nutrition and how your body processes different types of foods, you can begin to understand how to provide yourself with the proper fuel you need without overindulging.

I love to cook and I love to eat. I’ll often spend hours in my kitchen on a weekend trying out new recipes or experimenting with the combination of interesting foods. Even though I’ve always tried to eat well, at times I’ve gained more weight than I wanted during my life journey, particularly when my hormones were fluctuating during and after pregnancy and at the onset of menopause. Along the way, I’ve had to change some of my attitudes about how I think about food. I’d like to share with you two important lessons I’ve learned.

1. Food is not my enemy. I consider food to be a wonderful way to indulge my senses of taste, smell, sight, and even hearing and touch! The senses are gifts for us to enjoy. When my perception is one of acceptance of food as part of the deliciousness of life it contributes to my well-being and physical health. The key is learning to enjoy all things in moderation, including food.

It’s a quirk of human nature that whatever is forbidden to us often becomes more attractive. If I think of fried chicken as something I can’t have, that is what I’ll want most. But if I realize that I have a choice between fried chicken and roasted chicken and choose the roasted chicken as the healthier alternative, then I empower myself by exercising my free will. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a piece of fried chicken occasionally; it just means I’ll opt for healthier alternatives most of the time.

I used to think of eating a piece of Swiss chocolate as “bad.” Chocolate, like any other food, isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad.” It is what it is. I’ve learned to give myself permission to eat a bit of chocolate and take pleasure in the experience. The way the experience of eating can get out of balance is if I’m using it as a way of coping with emotional stress or seeking to fill a void that really has nothing to do with nutrition. And that brings me to my second point:

2. Eat consciously. I’m learning to focus on what I’m doing day by day and minute by minute. Some people call this “being present in the moment.” I want to be aware of my surroundings at all times so I can experience life to the fullest, and a big part of life is food. So often, we eat unconsciously—while we’re driving or watching TV—and we don’t engage our senses in the experience. I strive now to be aware of each meal or snack as I prepare and eat it; that way, I can feel that I’ve truly satisfied my craving. It also helps me be aware of why I’m eating. Am I really hungry, or am I just eating to have something to do or to satisfy some emotional need?

Remember that we eat to live—we don’t live to eat. I realized that, particularly when I was dieting, I would fill my down time by flipping through magazines with pictures of scrumptious-looking desserts. That behavior made me think about how much I was denying myself and made me want to eat sweets. We all tend to do what we focus on the most. Between meals I don’t need to be thinking of food all the time. Now when I browse through magazines, it’s to look for ideas to stimulate another of my passions: interior design. That keeps my mind focused on things I love to do and away from constant thoughts of food.

By learning which foods keep your body functioning at its best, you can enjoy optimal health without missing out on the pleasure of great eating.

Try some of my great recipes over the holidays!

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