Eating well is also listening to your body

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Find the nutrition column of Stéphane Besançon, nutritionist and director of the NGO Santé Diabète in Bamako, Mali. This week, he explains to us what it means to “eat well”.

To start this column, how would you define the notion of eating well?

There is no single definition of the concept of eating well. For me, to “eat well”, you have to take into account several parameters. First of all, of course, it is necessary to apply the nutritional recommendations that will allow you to adopt a balanced and diversified diet.

► These recommendations follow 5 main principles:

  • Reduce the consumption of fats, salt and sugars
  • At the same time, sharply increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Minimize the consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods to prepare meals yourself as much as possible from raw or lightly processed foods
  • Limit snacking as much as possible
  • Finally, drink mainly water and avoid all forms of sugary drinks as much as possible.

These nutritional recommendations allow you to know what to eat, but to eat well, you have to go further and take into account 3 other very important concepts:

  • Identify why we want to eat
  • Choose in which environment we will eat
  • Finally, don’t forget that eating should be fun

Can you explain to us how we can identify if we really need to eat?

To identify if you really need to eat, you have to learn to listen to your body. This will allow us to listen to our sensations when we eat, but also when we drink in order to better understand the effect of food and hydration on our energy, our thoughts and our moods. This is central to better understanding whether we eat out of hunger, boredom or stress and therefore to know how to recognize our need to fill a real hunger with a more emotional hunger. To achieve this in practice, we can recommend two exercises:

  1. First, before starting to eat, we must pay attention to our breathing to allow us to observe the sensations around our belly and relate these to the needs that our body expresses: is it asking to fill a small, medium or very hungry or is it just asking to fill a stress or a boredom without the presence of a real hunger
  2. Then, while we eat, we must pay attention to the effect of what we ingest on our senses: hearing, smell, taste and sensations produced in the body. This will allow us to analyze whether we are satisfying our taste for a food, our hunger, or if we alleviate our stress!

Why do you differentiate between taste and hunger?

Because the taste for a food is the desire for this food. If we only focus on this taste, we will swallow the food and then take it again and so on, without paying attention to our real hunger and end up eating in excess. On the other hand, if we focus on our real hunger, we will eat until the feeling of hunger is lost, then stop naturally without excess.

Now that we know what to eat and when to eat, are there environments to favor in order to eat well?

Today, we know that you should absolutely avoid eating at your desk, in front of your computer screen, or at home in front of the television. The recommendation is therefore to never eat in front of a screen, because the risk is to eat more and promote weight gain whether you are a child or an adult. If we eat in front of a screen, it will absorb and focus all of our attention and consequently cause us to eat more than we should, without paying attention to the satiety signals sent by the body. We will eat in larger quantities during this meal, without our mind really counting everything that has been ingested and in addition we will eat more at the next meal, even if we are not in front of a screen, because the body will make up for what he thinks he did not eat at the previous meal.

So what are your recommendations?

If we summarize these different tips, to eat well, you must eat balanced and diversified in peace and around a table without a screen on. It is also important to listen to your body before you start to eat and during the meal. You should also not forget to eat slowly, because it takes about 30 minutes for the brain to realize that it is full. Finally, even if eating meets a need of our body, we must not forget that food is also a pleasure!


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