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Brain Food Column Month Three: A delicate balancing act

Every month Amerley Ollennu challenges you and herself to road-test research and healthy strategies to help change the way we think about food once and for all

by Psychologies

Brain Food Coumn Month Three

So far, I’ve let my scales gather dust in an attempt to stop giving the number staring up at me power over how I feel about myself and the way I eat. I’m slowly allowing myself to acknowledge my feelings by writing them down after so many years of pushing them down with food.

And although I’m becoming more conscious of what I’m eating and why – comfort, hunger, reward – I still haven’t managed to stick to the eating plan I devised with nutritionist Yvonne McMeel. Why? After a session with psychotherapist Elaine Slater, I realised the reason was willpower.

The challenge

As a self-confessed perfectionist, I grew up believing being slim equated to love and success. I’d reached my target weight once before but love and success didn’t follow as I’d expected, and I quickly began to put the weight back on. What I had believed for so long was untrue. Life, it turns out, is not a bed of roses when you’re thin; it can be as thorny as when you aren’t.

But if our beliefs shape us, who are we without them? I didn’t want to find out, so rather than reprogramme myself, I ditched the willpower. This explains the disconnection between what I want and what I’m prepared to do to get it – but the food I’ve been eating hasn’t helped either. McMeel advised me that eating in a way that kept my blood sugar levels balanced would mean cravings wouldn’t be the reason I have no willpower.

The experience

As well as having a detrimental effect on your physical health, long-term elevation of blood sugar can have an effect on your energy levels, mood, memory, and appetite. ‘The more sugary processed foods you eat, the more tired, irritable and out of control you will feel,’ says McMeel.

Instead of banishing all sugar from my diet (a current trend that can be impossible to stick with), I was advised by McMeel to avoid sugar, sweeteners and refined carbohydrates, opting for fruits and foods low in sugars that release energy into the bloodstream slowly, such as vegetables, wholegrains, protein, nuts and seeds. Easier said than done. I’d been eating cheesy, carb-laden food in recent weeks in an effort to deal with my stress.

I fooled myself into thinking that because I wasn’t overeating or eating between meals I wasn’t comfort-eating so therefore it was OK, but it was still a way of eating for consolation.

The result

I like rules, and as long as a plan isn’t restrictive, calorie-focused or lacking in nutritional value, I’m happy to follow it daily. Working from McMeel’s suggestions, I began planning my weekly meals in advance. It isn’t smooth sailing. My love/hate relationship with food has meant I tend not to think about it until I’m hungry and because I hate to cook (that involves thinking about food), when I’m tired or stressed, I just don’t want to make the effort.

But even a 60/40 approach has allowed me to see what life is like when sugar cravings don’t control you. I am less irritable, exhausted, and don’t crave sweet things as much as before. I’m less hungry, too. So, before you start, visit psychologies.co.uk for McMeel’s three-day blood sugar balancing meal plan.

Amerley Ollennu is Psychologies' Beauty and Wellbeing Editor. Find her on Twitter @AmerleyO.