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 Develop Personal Nutritional Awareness 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

1. Find out what you are eating, when, and how the food makes you feel by keeping a Nutritional Journal for a week or more. Record anything that you learn about your relationship to food and use this knowledge, when you’re ready, to design a simpler and healthier diet for yourself.

2. Pause for a moment and become aware of how hungry your body feels. Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = fainting from hunger and 10 = overstuffed, just how hungry you are now. Do this several times during the day to heighten your self-awareness and to get in the habit of eating only when your hunger score is 5 or less. Learn to distinguish between stomach hunger and mouth hunger. Mouth hunger is usually experienced in the jaws, tongue, teeth, and gums—which want to chew on or be stimulated by something—or in a salivary reaction prompted by the sight of food or food cues, such as a restaurant sign or images of eating on TV. Mouth hunger often indicates a need for attention, affection, pain relief, or security of some sort.

3. Observe bodily signs that indicate imbalances in your diet. Look at your tongue, for instance. If it is frequently discolored or coated, or if you consistently have bad breath or a sour taste in your mouth, you need a change of diet. The health of your gums and teeth are indicators both of good dental care and of a healthy diet. Teeth can become discolored from caffeine and nicotine, and eating foods with lots of sugar can cause cavities. Fingernails that split may mean that your body is not assimilating protein properly. Read your bowel movements for signs of a poor diet. If stools are hard to pass and dark, and sink rather than float, dietary change is indicated. Many processed foods, like white flour products, are slow to move through the intestines. Eating foods with a high fiber content, adding a moderate amount of oil (such as flax [always uncooked], olive, or canola) to your diet, and drinking lots of water will speed intestinal transit time, lowering your risk of colon or intestinal cancer and improving your health in general.

4. Consider headaches as loud and clear messages that something is amiss. Frequently they are indicative of stress, but they are also associated with a host of dietary problems, such as excessive alcohol consumption, reactions to caffeine, undereating or overeating in general, and blood sugar imbalances.

A Nutrition Journal
For example:
Subject under Consideration breakfast

Day/Time
Monday, 3/22, 9:00 a.m.

Breakfast Foods
2 eggs
bacon—2 strips
toast—2 pieces
butter and jam
coffee—2 cups

Immediate Effects/Later Effects
Left the table feeling stuffed. Too much food. Generally good day. Not hungry until 3:00 p.m.

Reflections:

Resolutions:

5. Do you experience frequent indigestion? Listening to your body means carefully noting how you feel after eating certain foods. Indigestion is not normal. If you get up from the table or wake up in the morning feeling nauseated, bloated, heavy, or achy, it’s time for a change of menu or an adjustment to the quantity of food you consume.

6. Do you have difficulty sleeping? Try to recall what food or drink you consumed in the hours before retiring. Many people find that heavy foods (like pizza), caffeine drinks, or chocolate and other sweets interfere with their ability to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
 
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