I had two clients this week who changed their eating habits after a heart-related diagnosis, but were still not quite in the “sweet spot” in terms of food enjoyment. One described it as missing that happiness you feel when eating something like a great steak. Can you relate?
With that in mind, I thought I’d share this excerpt (adapted for the blog) from my free e-book, The Sweet Spot Guide to Eating Well After a Heart Event.
Focus on Satisfaction
Once you’re familiar with the general principles of a heart-healthy diet, I invite you to put them in their proper place alongside, not above, other considerations, particularly pleasure.
Factoring in enjoyment (and convenience, affordability, etc.) when making food decisions is critical to sticking with eating habits that support your recovery, something only about half of cardiac rehabilitation participants are doing a year after their program.
This might feel counterproductive. If you’ve had a cardiac event, aren’t you supposed to avoid the foods that caused the problem?
Your heart problem is likely much more complex than what you had for dinner. Food is important, but family history, lack of physical activity, stress, socioeconomic factors, even pregnancy complications have been implicated.
Food can play an important role in boosting health and reducing risk (yay!), but let’s not give it more credit/blame than it’s due.
Also, as I’ve mentioned, restrictive eating doesn’t last. An “all or nothing” approach is likely to derail your intentions. Dieting rules trigger rebellion and cravings. Forcing yourself to eat an austere diet you don’t enjoy, banning your favourites, and labeling some foods as “bad” or “off-limits” can cause a problematic “restrict and binge” cycle.
Plus, mental health matters too, right? Food can be one of life’s great pleasures.
What to do instead?
Explore the bounty of delicious heart-health boosting foods. Try new recipes. Give your tastebuds time to adapt. Ideally, eventually you learn to choose and prepare heart healthy foods that you truly enjoy.
But also give yourself unconditional permission (!) to enjoy ALL foods, including the ones you may think of as “bad,” without guilt or shame. You may soon find they soon have less power over you.
An occasional hamburger for someone who is eating mostly minimally-processed, plant-based foods, walking, meditating, taking their meds, seeing friends, and living their life, might ultimately be more heart-healthy than the woman miserably suffering through a cardboard breakfast.
Think 80/20. If 80% of your foods are supporting health, and 20% are in the mix for other perfectly good reasons, happiness among them, you’re doing pretty well.
And hopefully expanding your sweet spot of happy medium, delicious and nutritious foods, along the way, because there are lots of satisfying, wholesome, energy-boosting foods out there. If you haven’t yet developed a robust collection of them, reach out for help! You owe it to yourself.
Other practices that can help
- Eat with the intention to feel good. Satisfaction is about more than taste. Really pay attention to how you feel after eating. Does the meal sit well? Are you energized?
- Eat a nourishing meal or snack every 2-5 hours so you don’t get overly hungry. Hunger is a primal urge and when it’s strong, your best laid plans are no match.
- Practice eating away from the TV or other distractions, so you truly experience the satisfaction of eating and notice when you start to fill up.
- Learn strategies for coping with emotions that don’t involve food. Emotional eating isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you feel it’s gotten to the point where it’s interfering with your health, and you want to change, make a plan for what you’ll do to fill the void and provide yourself with that legitimately-needed comfort.
If you’ve read the book Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch, you’ll recognize some of these ideas. I highly recommend it and their workbook, especially if you struggle with letting go of diet rules and allowing yourself to let satisfaction guide your food choices.
I hope this is helpful! Do you have a heart-healthy meal or snack that you truly find delicious, and would choose to eat no matter what the long-term health effects? I invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and share. I’ll share mine too.