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5 ways to add joy into your meals

A woman and child put food in the oven in this undated file image. (Cottonbro studio / Pexels) A woman and child put food in the oven in this undated file image. (Cottonbro studio / Pexels)

In this season of the podcast Chasing Life With Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent has explored the topic of weight: what it really tells you about your health, why it’s so hard to lose, how the new diet drugs work and its links to menopause (you can listen to the episodes here).

Whether you are happy with your size or not, whether you follow a special diet or eat what you want when you want, the basic fact of life — unavoidable, inescapable, non-negotiable — is that we all have to eat. If we are fortunate, it’s usually up to five times a day, every day.

How you choose to nourish yourself can make a big difference in how you feel, not only in your body, but about yourself and the world around you.

“I had this babysitter who was a chronic dieter,” Dr. Linda Shiue, an internal medicine physician and trained chef, told Gupta on the podcast recently. “She would eat this colorless, aroma-less food and she was sad all the time.”

That is not Shiue’s style. She is the first director of culinary medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. That’s where she founded Thrive Kitchen, a teaching kitchen for patients, so she could do more than just hand out prescriptions for chronic conditions.

She wanted to create a place where she could teach her patients to make healthy food taste good. “They think it’s deprivation and, you know, loss of joy and kind of penance even,” said Shiue, who is also the author of “Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipe.” “It’s colorless, it’s bland, it has no texture, it has no flavor and — we’re not supposed to enjoy it.”

Similar to her cookbook, Shiue’s classes show patients how to use spices and herbs to flavor seasonal cuisine while following an eating pattern that supports health.

“As a food lover since birth, and a physician who has seen the negative effects of chronic dieting, I encourage people to reframe their relationship to food as a source of pleasure, cultural connection and well-being, regardless of weight. This can be a hard task given the pro-diet messaging that surrounds us,” Shiue said in an email.

What can you do to break out of the diet mindset and really enjoy your food? Shiue has five tips.

Stop judging food as good or bad

Food isn’t intrinsically good or evil, so there is no need to feel bad about food choices.

“Many of us have experienced shame or guilt around food, and a lot of that is a product of our culture and what the food industry has taught us and what the fashion and whole dieting industries have created,” Shiue said.

“Even though we, as an individual, may not even think that we care that much about that message, it’s reached all of us — it’s in all of our subconscious,” she said. “I think that most people at some point feel like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t eat that. That’s bad for me. It might affect my weight.’”

Shiue wants to help people learn how to stop thinking that way. “There’s no room for shame on the plate,” she said, choosing her language around food carefully.

“In diet culture, people talk about ‘cheat’ days (but) I prefer to celebrate ‘treat’ days. Everything in moderation, and that means there is room for the occasional indulgence,” she said.

Don’t go on ‘diets’

Restrictive diets are counterproductive because most of us won’t be able to stick to them perfectly and forever.

“(S)tudy after study has proven that the best eating plan is the one which any given individual can stick with — a sustainable lifestyle change,” Shiue said.

“Rather than restricting, add more of the foods (that) science shows us are better for our health: lots of plants, legumes and whole grains. This will improve your health even if (you) aren’t eating ‘perfectly’ all the time, and even if you don’t lose weight,” she said.

Shiue admitted to not eating perfectly all the time and having a sweet tooth; she said she allows herself to enjoy her favorite treats — just not all the time.

Listen to your body

Eat intuitively.

“That means several things,” said Shiue said. “First, are you actually hungry, or are you feeding an emotional need, such as anxiety, sadness, or fatigue?

“How does the food make you feel after you eat? Do you feel comfortably full, or are you feeling stuffed? How is your energy level after eating?” she said. “When you pay attention to these feelings, your body will guide you to making the healthiest food choices for you.”

Also, eat mindfully, which Shiue said does not mean meditating over your food.

“It means when you’re eating your food, just focus on the pleasure of that,” she said. “Eat slowly. Chew your food. … Also pay attention to when you’ve had enough.”

Reclaim your food heritage

Healthy diets can come from a variety of ethnicities and customs, and they can contain a cornucopia of flavors and ingredients.

“A lot of people were taught that quote-unquote ‘cultural food’ … is not healthy,” Shiue said. “People are told, ‘Oh no, no: The food that you eat, that’s why you have diabetes. You have to eat this kind of standard, healthy American diet.’”

But she said that many people from different backgrounds either don’t want to switch diets, or they don’t know how or it just doesn’t work out — and, Shiue said, they really don’t have to.

“The traditional diet of every culture contains healthy foods, and should be celebrated, with pleasure,” she said.

Think beyond calories

Remind yourself that food is more than a way to simply stay alive.

“Nutrition and sustenance — that’s only one small part of food,” Shiue said. “Food is, for me, mainly pleasure. It’s a connection to myself, to my loved ones, to my culture.”

She added food is also an expression of love and caring.

“Enjoy your food,” she said. Top Stories

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