While many of my clients have specific outdoor goals they are pursuing, most eventually ask me specific nutrition questions such as, “What should I eat?” or “Can you design a diet plan for me?” The answers are as diverse as the people asking them. My first suggestion is to focus on your foundational eating habits. In other words, start with how to eat, not what to eat.

Pineapple pufferfish


The Eating Habits

Before learning about the habits, please pick only ONE to play with over the next two weeks. Trying to do them all at once will dilute your efforts and set you up for frustration and failure. I have been coaching nutrition change for about seven years now and I am still working on mastering the habits.

But awareness is half the battle. Pat yourself on the back for wanting to change and then find someone who can help point out when you are making the change and when you have slipped into previous habits.

Between Meals

The following practices are suggestions to try before you ever take a bite.

  • Listen to your body’s signals for hunger. Legitimate hunger may signal to you by making your stomach rumble or gurgle. If you feel lightheaded, you may be low in blood sugar. Having a headache could mean either dehydration or a need for nourishment. Pay attention to your body’s cues. It is very smart. By learning what your unique physical hunger signals are, you can start to distinguish them from emotional cues.
  • Avoid multitasking at mealtime. Your goal when you eat should be to enjoy, savor, and taste your food. That is difficult to do if you are numbing yourself in front of the television, reading, scrolling through messages or cat videos on your phone, driving the kids somewhere, etc. If you are doing anything else, put off eating until you can focus on just eating.

As You Prepare a Meal

As you get ready to have a snack or meal, consider the following habits.

  • Make it a meal. Set the table with a bowl or plate, fork or spoon, placemat, and napkin (even if it’s paper rather than cloth) in full view of whoever is in your household. NOT in the car. NOT standing in front of the open refrigerator. And definitely NOT hiding in a closet or bathroom or in the basement at oh-dark-thirty after everyone has gone to sleep.
  • Help your body rest and digest. As you get ready to sit down meal, take a deep breath, hold it for a second, sip in a little more air, then slowly release to a count of eight. Do that “sipping breath” three times before you ever take a bite. Doing so creates a “rest-and-digest” state rather than a “fight-or-flight” state. Even the most nutritious of meals will do absolutely no good if you are eating it in the car, dashing between appointments, with three screaming kids in the back seat. Nobody can digest a meal like that!

Cucumber cantaloupe sea turtle


Slow Down During a Meal

Once you are legitimately hungry, focused, sitting at the table, and calm, you are ready to actually eat.

  • Chew thoroughly. This practice does not apply if you are consuming Gu packs at altitude on the mountain (Gu is designed for consumption when you do NOT feel up for chewing) or if you have some physical problem like dental work or a jaw wired shut, or if you have to be on a liquid diet. Otherwise, to start the digestive process, we need to chew our food well. The next bite you take, try chewing forty times before you swallow. Then think about what that experience was like. You can bet it will slow you down!
  • Set your spoon or fork down between bites. This is another great strategy for slowing down and allowing your body and mouth to enjoy your meal. This also gives you time to have a conversation with someone at your table instead of constantly shoveling food into your mouth.
  • Eat with your non-dominant hand. Since breaking my wrist in February I have had a lot of experience with this one. Now that I am trying to eat with my right hand again, I sometimes have trouble cutting with a knife and cannot fully supinate (turn the palm up) which makes using a fork tricky. But it is improving.

Homemade sushi



Keep Your Table a Guilt-free Zone

ENJOY and SAVOR your food without guilt or shame. If you really want that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, have it. Just be sure to grab a chair, and sit down with a bowl, placemat, spoon, and napkin. Light a candle. If there are any cookie dough chunks, chew them forty times. Set the spoon down between bites. Guilt has no place at the dining table and will only add to your stress.

Eating Habits After a Meal

  1. Hydrate between meals rather than during. In order to properly digest your food, experiment with liquid consumption outside of mealtime. Digestive enzymes help you digest your food properly; water dilutes these enzymes and might cause sub-optimal utilization of the nutrients you are trying to supply.
  2. Learn to recognize your “satiation sigh.” Your body signals when you have had enough, usually at about 80% full. You will experience a deep sigh of satisfaction which means “stop.” The trouble is, the faster we eat, and the more unaware we are of what we’re eating, the less likely we will hear our body’s request to stop. Most people who multi-task around mealtime or power-eat in five minutes may not even recognize the signal, then wonder why the heck they are so full.
  3. Leave some for later. The great thing about modern refrigeration is we can always save part of our meals. My daughter and I always order more pizza than we can eat in a single sitting, so we have leftovers for breakfast and sometimes lunch. Bonus!

Next Step: Choose Which Eating Habits to Change

Remember, these are starting points. We are all works in progress, and we have had decades to engrain our habits. Be gentle with yourself as you try to change them.

One way to choose which to focus on is by recognizing how you reacted when you first read them. If you scoffed and said, “Well that’s impossible,” you’re probably right. For now. If your reaction was, “Ooh, maybe I could try that,” put it at the top of your list. For any that seem challenging but not impossible, hold them as options for the future.

Give yourself a good week to ten days to experiment with one. If it isn’t something that works for you, try another one. Maybe you can revisit it in the future.

And remember, do not expect perfection. Keep it simple and good enough. Pick one to try. Gamify it. Make it fun. Learn from it. And after ten days, if you notice a difference in how you’re eating, try experimenting with another.