Picture the scene:
It’s c1989, Bibi is 3 years old and is sitting at her little foldaway table, drawing (I use the term loosely).
‘Mummy,’ she says, ‘I need a biscuit.’ I look at her quizzically. ‘Please,’ she adds, for she is a polite child.
I explain the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need.’
‘Sweetheart,’ I say, ‘if you want something, it simply means that you would really like to have it. When you need something, it means that your life depends on it and you can’t manage without it.’
Head tilted, she purses her little lips, thinking hard. ‘Hmm,’ she replies eventually, ‘then I really do need a biscuit.’
In a rare moment of parental capitulation, I give her a biscuit, mainly for her cheek. (I should point out that Bibi probably wouldn’t be a Veggie Runner now if I’d given in every time she needed a biscuit).
It’s odd that we observe how children behave and recognise the difference between what they need and what they simply want. We know that children will ask for food they don’t need. We know too that they’ll accept something more healthy if we don’t give in to demands for sweets and biscuits every time. We also know that they’re grumpy when they’re hungry and make sure we don’t have to deal with the fallout from this by feeding them regularly.
Odd, then, that we forget to do this for ourselves as we get older. Which is a shame because the same needs prevail…
Know when you’re hungry
Do you know what you’re like when you’re hungry? How do you behave? Some people have a real energy dip. Others glaze over. I get really irritable. I am aware of this because enough people, pissed off with me for suddenly becoming a raging Gorgon, have told me this over the years.
These days, I do all I can to avoid this, for everyone’s sake. I eat proper meals at proper mealtimes and I always have something to eat in my bag in case I get a hungry, low-sugar wobble on when I’m out. A granola bar, piece of fruit or a bag of nuts and raisins will do; anything that will let my brain know I’ve been fed until I can get to sit down and eat properly.
Listen to what your body’s telling you
I was vegan when I was pregnant with Bibi and sometimes used to snack on bags of mixed nuts. I noticed that I was eating them in a particular order: almonds, Brazils, walnuts… Then I saw a list of the calcium content in nuts and, wouldn’t you know it, my clever little pregnant body was showing me exactly what I needed.
We all get cravings or have foods that our bodies suddenly love for no apparent reason. When this happens we need to determine which of these things we simply want and which we really need. I’m reasonably sure that the fact that I currently love figs and beetroot (not together – not yet, anyway… *rubs chin, dreams up new recipes*) is my body’s way of telling me I need more potassium – both foods contain it in high doses.
If you’re craving a particular food, find out if it’s symptomatic of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. There are loads of articles on food cravings on Livestrong (great site for food and fitness info; hope it lives on – lives-strong? -without Lance Armstrong). Check that and others like this one from the Southern California Institute of Clinical Nutrition.
We’re not being deterministic here – we recognise that eating is a complex issue and that social, cultural and psychological factors all play a role in what we eat and crave and why. That said, finding out first whether your nutritional needs are being met seems a good place to start understanding if what you want is what you really need.
Treat food – and yourself – with respect
Take time to sit down and enjoy your food. Your body can’t know what it wants or needs if you always eat on the fly. Grabbing snacks, snatching sandwiches at your desk or having takeaways because cooking seems like too much hassle are sure fire ways of baffling your body. These things do happen, of course – life gets in the way sometimes. Try not to make them the norm, though.
Have breakfast if you can (to save time, fill the kettle the night before, spoon the coffee into the pot, lay out your bowl and cereal or get the bread out of the freezer). If you’re working, promise yourself you’ll make time for lunch at least 3 times a week. You’ll be much more efficient after taking a break away from your desk than you will ever be eating soup with half an eye on your computer screen or half an ear on a phone call. On an evening, cook a meal, sit at the table and enjoy eating it. There, that feels nice, doesn’t it…?
We’re not prescriptive at Veggie Runners. We believe in all things in moderation. If you listen to your body, it will cleverly blend the science and the psychology for you, giving you a good idea of what you should and shouldn’t be eating. I mean, there will be times when, like 3 year old Bibi, you really need a biscuit. By all means, capitulate like I did, just don’t do it too often 😉