5 Tips To Create Food Awareness

It’s dinner time, you’re driving home from work, and you are starving.

Like, HANGRY.

It’s Monday, so naturally, you’ve told yourself today is the day that you’re getting your life together and going to start changing habits and living a healthier lifestyle.

You decide to grab a quick healthy meal from your favorite restaurant or fast food joint, and as you scan the menu, you realize that you aren’t really sure what’s healthy. You decide on the salad because “Duh, salad is healthy”. When it arrives, it’s loaded with hard boiled eggs, nuts, bacon, dressing, chicken, and so much more. All of a sudden, what was supposed to be a healthy meal has turned into a 1,000 calories meal in the blink of an eye.

What you are lacking is real, long-term food awareness.

What is Food Awareness?

Food awareness is at the heart of long-term nutritional success.  My definition of food awareness is having knowledge and understanding of what food is made up of and what purpose it serves for the body so you can make food decisions that support your goals.

Sound complicated?

Increasing food awareness gives you the ability to answer the following questions:

What’s in the food?

What does that food do for you?

Whatis the food made of?

The more knowledge you have about the foods you eat, the more powerful your choices can be.  In turn, you can make better decisions on the foods you select to fuel your body. It takes time to invest in the understanding of food awareness, but it’s so worth it! It’s really the “secret sauce” behind my one-on-one work with clients.

You can read more about their success stories to building a lasting relationship with food here.

 

You don’t know what you don’t know

I learned a simple quote from my husband that is so applicable to food. He is a police officer who is frequently thrown into unique situations that bring about new learning.

He shared a quote with me they use in his unit often:

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”  

It is so relevant food too. How can you really understand all the excess ingredients and calories stuffed into foods if you don’t have a baseline level of knowledge to go from? How do you know what you’re putting into your body if you don’t know how your current eating habits are or what a nutrition label is?

I want to help you improve your food awareness by helping you practice a few simple steps that will help you gain knowledge and thus, increase your ability to make good choices. I’m going to share with you 5 easy tips that you can start implementing to increase your food awareness.

5 Tips To Create Food Awareness

Here are 5 tips to improve your food awareness.

1. Evaluate Your Current Eating Habits

To become food ware, you must first learn what you’re eating RIGHT NOW. There are so many different ways that you can evaluate your current eating habits.

A food journal like this one is a simple place to start.  You can list the foods you eat each day and then ask yourself a few questions, like:

  • How do I feel after I eat these foods?
  • Did I eat mostly whole foods, or processed foods?
  • Did I crave certain foods, or crave foods more than I normally do?

We all need to know where we are starting from, so we can gauge where we are going. By starting small, like writing in a food journal, we can understand what we are doing now so we can look back and see how the foods we eat impact us.

If you want to take it up a level, use an app! My favorite food app is My Fitness Pal. In the beginning, don’t worry about the numbers, just use it as a diary and record your foods. You can even make notes and comments in the app

This is really valuable information to have. As you begin to get more advanced you can then begin to look more specifically at the macronutrient values of food, including fiber and lots of other valuable info about the foods you are taking in.

2. Invest In Understanding Nutrition Labels

If you want to increase your food awareness, take the time to read and understand nutrition labels. When you go to the store, pick up the foods, and actually read the labels!  First things first, read the ingredients. If you struggle to pronounce the ingredient list, it’s a great red flag to reevaluate. That’s just too much “stuff” that’s not a necessity.  A great rule of thumb when selecting pre-packaged foods is to stick with something that has roughly a maximum of 8-10 ingredients listed that you are able to pronounce out loud.  Likely the other unnecessary terms are disguised sweeteners and preservatives that don’t serve your overall health any good.

Ingredients are listed in order by weight.  The ingredient contained in the largest quantity will be listed first and the smallest last.  What does that mean to you?  If you find something like “sugar” (or another secret form of it) listed first, it is likely a product you should pass on.  Look for things like sugar and sodium to be listed last (or not at all).

Just because the ingredient list doesn’t spell out the word “SUGAR” there about 50-60 other forms of the word that could be included to sweeten the product.  Manufacturers are in the business of selling their product, so they use other forms of sweetener to mislead the average consumer.  Labels and advertising on foods is truly a very misleading market.

Next, asses serving size. Nutrition labels can be tricky, and most of the time you can’t eat the whole box as a serving size. You may read the label and realize that the box contains 8 servings of the food inside, increasing the macronutrient ten-fold.

Next, begin to familiarize yourself with macronutrients. How many carbs, protein, and fat does each serving size have? How much fiber? You can download my FREE Macro Basics guide HERE to understand more about what macronutrients are and why they are important to you.

At the end of the day, real food doesn’t have nutritional labels.  The awesome part is there are resources to better understand their values too.  MyFitnessPal has a huge database of food so you can learn what really is in an egg, cup of strawberries, or any of your favorite whole foods.  I also love Calorie King as a means of researching foods and also as a guide to what is in some of your favorites foods when dining out.

3. Get To Know Portion Sizes and Food Value

Portion control is a major step toward food awareness.  When dining out, we are served HUGE portion sizes, and it’s so much more on our plates than we really need.

A basic step in portion control is learning use to use your hands as a guide.  To create a balanced plate, add a:

  • A handful of lean protein
  • A handful of carbs
  • Two handfuls of vegetables ( and maybe a bit of fruit)
  • A thumb full of healthy fat

No complicated measuring or tracking initially, just food awareness when it comes to portion sizing. You carry your hands with you everywhere you go and using them as measurements give you a nudge in the direction of what you a true portion should look like. You’ll come to realize that maybe you weren’t eating enough, or maybe overeating at each meal.

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with texture and the purpose of foods. Foods that share similarities often fall into the same macronutrient category.  Think about fruit, like bananas and apples, and how they share the characteristic of sweet. Things that taste sweet tend to be high in carbohydrates.

Nuts and seeds leave an oily feeling in the mouth and leave you well satiated.  They all belong to the same macronutrient category of fat. If you aren’t sure which foods fall into which macronutrient category, check out this link to my free real food list that helps you see the categories of macronutrients that foods fall into to help you select portions for your meals.

Download my FREE list of real food macronutrient ideas HERE

Learn the Value of Food

Quick and convenient foods often provide a calorie dense, but a nutrient-poor option.  When we measure up fast-food options or pre-packaged options against real food, they often leave little to be desired.

Take a look at the picture below.  One meal is a fast-food restaurant’s chicken nugget meal (4 nuggets and small french fry) compared to my homemade version of chicken nuggets, curly sweet potato fries, and cauliflower “wings”.  Both contain the same calorie content.  However, there is clearly much more bang for your buck when you chose the real-food option.

Although these foods contain the same calorie content, their macronutrient profiles are different.  The fast-food meal has nearly 25 grams of fat and only 6 grams of protein.  My homemade meal has nearly 40 grams of protein and only 8 grams of fat.

Let’s look at another example.  Below is my favorite on-the-go bar option, the Rx bar.  It contains 12 grams of protein, 25 grams of carbohydrate and 9 grams of fat.  You can see a side-by-side comparison of two other meal and snack options that contain a very similar macronutrient profile.

The point is that you must understand what your food is made of to truly understand the best option for you.  You can get a whole lot more food when we sacrifice convenience and work towards bringing in more real food options.  Ultimately, it is all about balance and understanding the reward and consequences of food selections.

You can watch and listen to my Facebook Live where I talk about food values and real food comparisons HERE.

4. Realize That The Whole = The Sum Of The Parts

The next time you go out to eat, take your burger, burrito, or whatever you get and deconstruct it. What’s inside the burrito? What’s underneath that hamburger bun? This will expose the oils the ingredients were cooked in, sauces, and things like fried onion rings hidden under the protective covering of a “bun.” Those items can really increase the caloric value of the meal.

If we deconstruct these meals, we can gain a better sense of what is truly in the food.  Ketchup, Chick fil a sauce, butter, all add up when we don’t pay attention to what is really hidden inside. Once you become aware, you can make more informed choices, like asking for steamed veggies (instead of sauteed in butter) or the sauce/dressing on the side so you can control how much is used.  In the end, knowledge is power.  When we make these choices consistently, they become a habit and that is where real change happens.

5. Evaluate Your Real Hunger

When was the last time you really listened to your body and the hunger cues it provided?

We are creatures of habit, so many of us are used to running from place to place and not paying attention to what our bodies are telling us they need. We eat fast, snack often and don’t ever truly slow down enough to listen to what our bodies need.

Take a moment to stop and really get in tune with the messages your body is sending you. These days, we aren’t listening to our hunger; eating has just become a habit for us. Before you eat, feel it out. Are you truly hungry? Maybe you’re just thirsty, or bored, or eating just because others around you are. Increasing our food awareness also means increasing trust with our bodies.

After you eat a serving of food, ask yourself “am I content?”. Are you going back for seconds because that’s what you’ve always done? Have you created a habit of feeling like you need more because you’ve eaten so fast you haven’t really let the rest of your body catch up? Take this time and listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. You may be surprised that you’re full after just one serving of food.

At the end of the day, food awareness is a lifelong skill that is priceless.  All it takes is you investing time and looking at your day to day life so you can make simple changes. It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s really all about your mindset.  These small habits all compounded over time create a life rich in food awareness that will support your health and wellness goals.

What is one area of food awareness you struggle with?

 

Work Hard Be Kind,

AWalk

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