What’s your decision-making style, come meal or snack time? Are you impulsive, spontaneous, contemplative, indecisive, or obsessive? We all fall somewhere along this spectrum. In fact, it’s been proven that our emotions, not our knowledge about food and nutrition, have the greatest impact on our behavior and choices. But I think you’ll agree with me that allowing boredom or stress to guide our food choices doesn’t usually work in our favor.
What does work is rewiring our brain so our emotions can’t get the best of us. This has nothing to do with willpower though. To be wired for comfort is to transform our emotional intelligence into eating intelligence, or Eat.Q, as Dr. Susan Albers, an American psychologist specializing in mindful eating, emotional intelligence, weight loss, and body image, has coined it. In her latest book, Eat.Q: Unlocking the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence, Albers describes Eat.Q as “a concept that helps you align your intellectual knowledge about food and nutrition with your emotions, so you can make food choices that support your intentions and goals.” We don’t always choose the most nourishing foods due to how we’re feeling in that moment. But developing our Eat.Q allows us to be more tuned into our emotions and improve the quality of our food decisions, no matter how we’re feeling. Albers argues the solution to taking control of our eating decisions, managing cravings, conquering emotional and stress eating, and managing weight is “learning to identify what you’re feeling in that critical moment of decision and to manage that feeling so you can make a healthier eating decision.”
Albers’ 10 years of clinical practice and involvement in many research studies have proven eating intelligence is learned behavior. Her book details the full set of skills and strategies involved, but I want to share the crucial first step and primary keep-calm tool with you here: the PAUSE formula.
The PAUSE Formula
*This formula, also referred to as “pressing pause”, is used at the moment of a decision to work through that first impulse to react by creating a space between the impulse to eat and actually eating.
P: Perceive. Stop and tune in. Identify this moment as a moment of decision.
A: Allow at least ten seconds for that awareness to sink in.
U: Understand your feelings. First, sum up whatever you’re feeling in two or three words (sad, happy, frustrated). Next, ask yourself if your thoughts are being driven by insight or emotion. Finally, tune in to your body. Is it offering any clues about how you’re feeling (i.e. frowning, slumped shoulders, rapid, shallow breathing)?
S: Stay in the moment. Breathe deeply and notice any urge to push your emotions away (I don’t want to feel this!). “Lean into” the feelings, asking yourself how you can use them to guide rather than push away.
E: Entertain your options. Give yourself at least two. They may address eating specifically (option A: eat another helping; option B: skip it; option C: one more bite) or provide an alternative activity that calms body (walk, yoga), mind (crossword puzzle, listening to podcast), or spirit (meditation, prayer).
Once we’re attuned to our food choices, we might begin to notice that a feeling is what distinguishes a nourishing eating decision from an undesirable one. (I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing I reach for a snack when I’m tired or need a distraction from work!) But pausing in this critical moment brings us closer to that contemplative decision-making style. It’s the first and most crucial step to snapping out of autopilot and defusing our mental wrestling match with food. Best of all, we can take absolute comfort in our food choices that are based on insight rather than impulse.
But the comfort doesn’t stop there. Now that we’ve established internal comfort in body and mind, let’s move on to our external environment – our home and community. Come back next week for some clever and fun food and home design tips that will have you mindlessly reaching for that apple instead of the chips. ;-)
Harissa Baked Butter Beans
Notes: It seems that baked beans are a universal comfort. There are variations of this deliciously humble dish across the globe. Butter beans are my ultimate comfort bean, so my version uses butter beans and quick-cooking red lentils simmered in a rich and smoky, sweet and tangy tomato sauce. This dish is twice the comfort for me because it’s a pantry meal I can make last-minute, as it uses ingredients I usually have on hand, and I bet you do too. If you have the extra time and fresh ingredients though, steamed broccoli or a side salad are nice additions. And if you liked my Chickpeas in Adobo you will love this dish!
- 2-15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
- 3 tsp. smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 5 jarred sun-dried tomatoes (dabbed with paper towel to remove excess oil and roughly chopped
- 3 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 cups (710 ml) water
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup (154 gr) red lentils, rinsed and drained
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1-2 tsp. Muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
- 3 cups (500 gr) cooked butter beans (or 2 cans, rinsed and drained)
- To finish: cooked basmati rice (or brown rice), fresh cilantro to top (optional)
- Make the harissa sauce in a small food processer. Add half of one can of tomatoes along with the remaining harissa ingredients (through garlic). Blend to make a smooth sauce.
- Heat a large, deep skillet over medium high heat and add sauce along with remaining 1 1/2 cans of tomatoes, water, and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Add lentils, reduce heat to simmer, and cook covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add vinegar, sugar, and beans, and cook another 10 minutes, covered.
- Taste for salt, sweetness, and acidity, adjusting as needed.
- Serve over basmati rice with fresh cilantro, if using.