You are a grown-up. You probably don’t dress the way you did a decade ago, so why should you eat the same?
Take a moment to consider:
- How much has your body changed in the last 5 years?
- How much have you intentionally changed your diet in the last 5 years?
- Are your body and life different now compared to 5 years ago?
- Are they different in the ways you want them to be?
Why Most People Don’t Eat Like A Grown-up
Your eating patterns are largely a legacy of your upbringing. You ate food that was available or served to you. You got comfortable eating certain things, at certain times, in certain ways because it was how you got by.
Don’t assume that because it worked for you in the past, it will work for you today.
All things change, and what used to be suitable for “younger you” may no longer be best for “grown-up you.”
- Your body may no longer be happy with skipping meals all day and then devouring a huge meal late at night.
- That 1,2000 calorie spicy supreme burrito you used to crush in college may sit like a brick in your belly and cause gnarly heartburn.
- Your late-night ice cream habit may have been benign when you were younger and your body was more forgiving. Now it seems to be associated with bloating and the scale continuing to go up.
There are dozens of ways that your food habits may have made perfect sense in the past — finishing your kid’s uneaten meals so you don’t waste food, eating quickly on-the-go for work, ordering take-out at night for convenience — the question is whether these patterns are still serving you?
It’s time to accept and honor what is true for you today. Here are 7 signs to pay attention to in order to eat like a grownup.
1. You Don’t Pay Attention to Your Microbiome
While I am against broad sweeping generalizations when it comes to health, your microbiome impacts just about everything: your digestion, your immunity, your hunger, and your bodyweight.
There are even growing connections between your gut flora and your mood — waking up on the wrong side of the bed may have something to do with disturbances to your microbiome as much as a difficult emotional event.
It is your responsibility as a grown-up to keep your gut ecosystem happy. In fact, your health depends on it.
Here are a few principles to help you eat with your microbiome in mind:
- Imbalance = Problems: Your microbiome is a complex ecosystem of numerous organisms living in dynamic balance in your gut. When that balance is thrown off, it can have wide-ranging symptoms or predispose you to diseases. What you want is a resilient gut: one that can quickly bounce back from disturbance and find a healthy equilibrium with its host (aka: you!)
- What you feed grows: If you eat only apples, the bacteria that love munching on pectin in the apple skin and fructose in the flesh will grow and multiply. Those that don’t feed off of apple will slowly die away. (This is oversimplified for sure, but roll with it.) Day after day of eating apples will shift the composition of your microbiome to contain more “apple loving bacteria”, and in this way, food shapes your gut ecosystem. In particular, fat and fiber have immediate and dramatic impacts on the makeup of your microbiome.
- Diversity is typically good: Ultimately, two healthy people may have very different microbial communities but still be healthy. What appears to be true accorss individuals is that diversity in types and families of organism is beneficial. There appears to be a link between decreased microbiome diversity and increased prevalence of chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBS, diabetes, and obesity.
- Fermented foods can help (but don’t over do it): As I like to say, if it smells like fart, it’s probably good for your gut. Kimchee, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, and other fermented foods contain lots of beneficial bacterial strains. Yet, more isn’t always better. Chugging kombucha or popping probiotics can disrupt the dynamic ecosystem balance. Even typically beneficial bacteria can become problematic when overgrown.
- Highly processed foods are gut unfriendly: It’s probably not news that highly processed foods (i.e. high in added sugar and fat, low in fiber) tend to lead to unfavorable shifts in your gut. Research has found that a high fat diet can alter the microbiome circadian rhythm, changing the ways your gut digests and assimilates nutrients. Moreover, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers that are common in highly processed foods can also disrupt your gut harmony.
- Prescription medicines, infections, and chemicals are wildcards: Consider how your past or present use of antibiotics or medications may be altering your gut flora. These prescriptions along with parasites, alcohol, and even chemicals in tap water can change your microbiome, predisposing you to the overgrowth of potentially pathogenic organisms.
(Note that too many veggies (i.e. non-digestible fibers) can be irritating and problematic for some people: See FODMAP Diet.)
2. You Are Unaware of Your Blood Sugar
In younger years, you could probably skip multiple meals, eat an entire cake, and still feel perfectly good to do it all again. As an adult, there’s a good chance you no longer have that luxury.
Eating like a grown-up means taking responsibility for your blood sugar fluctuations during the day. Your hunger, energy, and mood depend on it.
If you experience sudden increases in your appetite, persistent energy dips, or are constantly getting “hangry,” it could be a sign that you haven’t learned how to properly feed yourself. Or worse, that you’ve lost some ability to regulate your blood sugar.
Diabetics know all about this, as they must carefully monitor and manage their blood sugar. What you need to know is what low blood sugar feels like and how to plan your meals to avoid becoming excessively hungry. This also requires that you understand how your food will wither normalize your blood sugar or send it skyrocketing.
Preventing chronically elevated blood sugar is a skill of adult eating. When sugar in your blood remains elevated for prolonged periods – either due to sugar and carbohydrate-rich meals, a lack of insulin, or insulin resistance – all sorts of problems can arise. Elevated blood sugar can cause oxidative damage to your cells, impair your mitochondria (your cellular powerhouses), and limit your ability to make energy.
Considering how your next meal will impact your blood sugar is a hallmark of eating like an adult. Here are some ways to keep your blood sugar in check so you can burn fat efficiently and feel consistently energized during the day:
- Identify Blood Sugar Surges: I probably don’t need to state the obvious, but sugar and other refined carbohydrates will lead to the most dramatic rise in blood sugar, which, depending on your ability to pull glucose from your blood, can cause issues. Notice crashes in energy an hour or two after you eat. Notice how different foods may leave you feeling less than stellar. If you had a particularly sugary snack earlier, consider how many times in a day you’re spiking your blood sugar.
- Be Mindful of Meal Composition: Generally, meals, where carbohydrates are paired with protein and fiber, will cause a more blunted rise in blood sugar. If you are going to eat something that tends to spiked your blood sugar, pair it with veggies and lean meat or high-protein vegetables to help balance things out.
- Take a Walk: Exercise can help your body release insulin and pull sugar out of the blood and into the muscles. Walking and dancing are nature’s way to keep blood sugar in check. Be cautious about high-intensity workouts. These can produce a stress response which actually causes the body to release stored sugars as a fuel source. If you want to buffer the blood sugar impact of a meal, go for a 20min walk after eating.
- Drink More Water. Your body will try to flush out excess sugar in your urine which can lead to dehydration. Drinking water can help your body handle some of the glucose in the blood and keep you hydrated.
How much any particular food will raise your blood sugar after eating it depends on a lot of factors including your age, current weight, and microbiome (see #1), so unless you have a blood glucose monitor, you need to do some investigative work and track how your meals affect your hunger, energy, and cravings a few hours after you eat.
3. You are Clueless About Inflammation
Inflammation gets blamed for a lot these days. Saying your body is inflamed is like saying you are stressed and burnt out. It’s a catch-all term for things not being as well as they could.
Acute inflammation is vital for the body and a necessary part of healing from wounds or disease. What you need to be concerned about is chronic inflammation.
Eating like a grown-up means being aware of whether your meal is pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory and aiming for the later.
I wish there were a simple way to tell the two apart, but there’s not. While there are certain proinflammatory culprits like trans-fats, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fats, and refined sugars, the overall inflammatory impact on your body depends on numerous factors, including:
- Your Microbiome: Yup, back to #1. Your gut bacteria are the mediators of inflammation. They can either help produce anti-inflammatory compounds like short-chain fatty acids that protect your cells or they can produce endotoxins like lipopolysaccharide (LPS) that are known to induce a variety of inflammatory reactions.
- Maintaining a stable glycemic response: Catch a trend? Wild blood sugar fluctuations are going to exacerbate inflammation. High blood sugar levels produce advanced glycation end-products which are known to lead to inflammation.
- A Whole Food Diet: eating whole, plant-based foods that are rich in healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, are natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory in nature. Typically, the more colorful the better. Strive for color in your place, not because it’s pretty, but because it will give you the broadest amount of anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Eating Appropriate Quantities: Too much food at once, even typically healthy whole foods, can create free-radicals that can damage your cells. There’s a “Goldilocks Zone” of portion sizes where your body and buffer the inflammation caused by digestion without tipping into an overstressed and pro-inflammatory response.
4. You Have No Idea What You’re Eating Tomorrow –#mealplan
Another hallmark of eating like a grown-up is having a sense of what comes next, specifically, what will you eat tomorrow.
Do you meal plan at the beginning of the week? Do you know where at least one your daily meals will come from?
If not, you’re still eating like a child. Leaving your diet up to chance is not a good long-term health strategy.
I’m not against spontaneity or having flexibility in your food. This isn’t about adhering to a strick diet plan where every meal has been predetermined.
It is about planning and overall balance in your nutrient intake. The reality is that if you wait until meal time to decide what you’re going to eat, convenience will win. You’ll choose the quickest, simplest, or easiest option. Usually this means something prepackaged, microwavable, or ordered out.
When this becomes the norm for how you eat, you’re on track for a dietary disappointment. It’s just harder to find the quality of food or balance in your diet when you’re making last minute decisions about what to eat.
5. You Don’t Know How To Cook – #mealprep
This is a corollary of #4. If your kitchen skills are subpar, you will constantly rely on other people to feed you (i.e. takeout). Cooking is the de facto skill of grown-up eating.
Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, complicated, or fancy. Trying to Top Chef your way into a cooking habit will probably set you up for disappointment.
First, make sure you’ve got the basic kitchen essentials: a frying pan, sauce pot, a good knife and cutting board. A sheet pan and a crockpot can take you a long way.
Then learn how to make a few dishes well and let these be your staples. Keep refining them until they are second nature. Stir-frys, stews, and salads are difficult to mess-up. Basically anything goes: toss in whatever you have, maybe try a new ingredient or two, and enjoy consuming the fruits of your labor.
Over time you can slowly expand your repertoire of dishes that you feel comfortable cooking. Recipes online are abundant. Cooking new dishes with and for others can become a fun way to socialize.
Buy a cookbook. Sign-up for a cooking class. And most importantly, let go of that childish mindset that says you’re a good chef or you don’t know how. As an adult, it is your responsibility to increase your comfort in the kitchen.
Learning the basics of cooking will serve you a lifetime. Your wallet with thank you. Your friends and family will thank you. And most of all, your future body will thank you.
6. You Aren’t Paying Attention to Your Poop
For a long time I’ve wanted to write a book called, Get Your Shit Together: A guide to perfect poops and a pleasant life.
You might be wondering why defecating made it into an article about eating, but what goes in must come out. And how it comes out can actually tell you a lot about your health.
Whether you have pooping issues (e.g. constipation, diarrhea, IBS, etc.) or not, you should pay attention to what plops in the toilet.
If it is hard as rock and difficult to pass, you probably are a bit backed up. Conversely, if it flows like a hose and floats at the top, you’re likely passing food through your system too quickly to be fully assimilated. Either can become problematic over the long-run.
An ideal poop is a number four on the Bristol Stool Scale (see the chart below.)
What’s more important is knowing what is normal for you. You want to pay attention to deviations from your norm, either in terms of consistency or frequency. If your bowels change, it is a sign there’s something going on under the hood that may require you attention.
Grown-ups pay attention to this shit (literately.) Kids do not. In fact, they have adults deal with the shit for them.
From a food perspective, there are three factors that have the biggest impact on your poop:
- Quantity and Meal Timing: More food in means more raw material to go out. A drastic change in how much you eat or when you eat may back you up or throw your body out of its natural rhythm. A healthy elimination system should be resilient and adaptive to handle changes in your eating as long as they are not excessive.
- Food Water & Hydration: Your colon’s job is to absorb water from your stool. If it sits there too long, too much water gets reabsorbed and your poop becomes rock hard. If it passes through at lightning speed, your poop will still carry a lot of liquid and be loose. While the water you drink is important, the water in the food itself may play an even bigger role in your poop consistency. Most vegetables contain a lot of water. High-fat foods do not. Thus, eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber will lead to a dryer, less hydrated poop.
- Fiber: Fiber is probably the most important nutrient impacting your stool and there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough of it. Many adults don’t hit the recommended fiber intake, but before you start supplementing with fiber, simply add in more fibrous foods to your diet. Read food labels to discern the difference between the two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers dissolve in water and can form gel-like compounds that tend to slow down and add bulk to your stool. Insoluble fibers don’t dissolve and tend to speed up passage through your system. These two work in tandem to help keep your poop on track, but too much of either can cause issues.
7. You Eat Odd Portions at Odd Times
Childish eating entails eating whatever, whenever, and not thinking twice. Eating like an adult means respecting your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Your liver, pancreas, and gall bladder all have their own 24-hour cycles for producing digestive enzymes. Interestingly, these seem to peak around mid-day and production slows-down a night. Metabolically speaking, this means your body is most ready to process food during the day, and eating late at night can push your organs into working when they’d rather rest.
Moreover, your body learns to produce stomach acid and hunger hormones around the same times each day based around when you typically eat. This is why you may get a hunger pang at noon if that’s your typical lunch time. Your body is telling you it is prepared and ready to go.
You don’t need to freak out if you miss your meal time (a healthy body is resilient and can handle day-to-day variation). However, keeping a fairly consistent schedule helps your body self-regulate. It reduces the stress of making your body mobilize stored energy to compensate for missed meals or having to ramp up digestive processes at odd times.
Eat Like A Grown-up. Enjoy It Like A Kid.
A lot of time you didn’t deliberately choose to eat the way you. You fell into this pattern because at some point it made sense. And like most things in life, the way you eat trends towards maintaining the status quo.
Hopefully, a clearer understanding of what your meals are doing to your body can help you make better decisions about what meal comes next.
Eating like a grown-up is about appreciating the complex and far-ranging effects food has on your health, and taking responsibility to be a good steward of your body by feeding it appropriately.
Eating like a grown-up is not about eating certain healthful foods — though it’s clear that the maxim “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants” seems to hold up — it is about being a little more conscious and intentional as to how you’re balancing your body’s ability to digest, assimilate, and excrete your food beyond the childish, “What will taste best right now?” mindset.
Keep in mind that all of these signs can be taken too seriously. If you only eat food that is microbiome friendly, blood sugar approved, anti-inflammatory, home-cooked, bowel-beneficial, and consumed at the exact right time to maximize your biocircadian rhythm, you’ll probably go crazy. It’s possible to “over-adult”. In clinical terms, this is referred to as orthorexia: the unhealthy obsession with eating healthfully.
Don’t lose your childish drive for delicious food, spontaneous snacks, and pleasurable eating experiences. Rather enfold this joyful and sensual eating into an adult mindset that can also see that planning ahead and making sensible trade-offs will help your future body feel and look great.
Eating like a grown-up and enjoying it like a kid,
~ Jeff Siegel ~
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