Have you struggled with food, guilt, over-eating, under-eating, dieting, bingeing or hating your body? The path of the diet with the promise of perfection is long and treacherous; with conflicting advice about which diet will lead you to happiness – paleo, fasting, low carb, low fat, no sugar, juicing and the list goes on. For that matter how can any one believe that hating their bodies and shaming themselves into restriction will make them happy? Sadly I have, and if you are reading this you probably have too. I am here to tell you it is time to free yourself from this mindset. You can heal your relationship not only with food but with your body.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Diets for most folk do not work as a long term solution to improving their health, fortunately this is where intuitive eating comes in. Intuitive eating is simply an approach to food and your body based upon your body’s individual needs. Instead of having an outside source tell you what or how to eat you listen to your hunger and fullness levels, your physical cravings and eat accordingly. To eat this way makes you a natural eater, like the healthy, happy individuals who have never lived through the restriction, bingeing and guilt associated with dieting, how refreshing.
Studies by UCLA show that although people can initially (within six months) lose weight on a diet, in the long term (four-five years) as many as two thirds of those people will regain that weight and some.
Listen to Your Body
Your body has the most amazing ability to tell you what it needs. Your body tells you how much to sleep and try as you might to restrict sleep even with the help of stimulants, eventually your body’s biological needs overpower your will and sleep happens. In the same way if you try to deny yourself carbohydrates (or any other food) when your body is asking for it, eventually you will fail and almost certainly end up bingeing on carbs.
If you’re used to the dieting-bingeing-dieting cycle then listening to your body might be something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Intuitive eating focuses around really paying attention to what and how much your physical body is asking for.
You can stop counting calories or the number on your scale. This is a process of letting go and learning to trust your body. If you’re coming from a background of restricting the initial period of intuitive eating may indeed be one of overindulging, but I can assure you restricted foods loose their hold when they are no longer denied. When you allow yourself to eat chocolate every single day and you never again tell yourself that tomorrow or Monday you will avoid chocolate for the next several months then the desire to binge on chocolate disappears. When you can have the chocolate (or previously restricted food) any time you want, suddenly you’re not anxious knowing there is a block in the fridge and you simply eat it with pleasure knowing you will always have permission to eat it.
“You will never stop wanting more until you allow yourself to have what you already have. To take it in. Savor it. Now is a good time to do that . . .”
― Geneen Roth
When people think of intuitive or mindful eating they tend to associate it with eating junk food exclusively whilst completely ignoring any nutritional needs. Fortunately your body is rather clever, you’d be surprised how often you crave nourishing meals, especially when you’re paying attention to what your body is asking for. When you practice intuitive eating you’re checking in with your body, asking “What does my body want?”, yes sometimes it will desire a burger and sometimes its a mighty big salad. If you have a food intolerance to wheat or dairy or you choose to avoid meat for ethical reasons you can absolutely eat intuitively.
The dogmatic and restrictive approach to nutritional perfection that each new diet brings is what you can release with intuitive eating. Goodbye perfection, goodbye clean eating! Extremes of not allowing yourself to eat high carbohydrate fruits because of this months sugar-free cleanse are one example of what you can let go of. You know what foods make your body feel nourished, energized and give your skin that gorgeous glow and those particular foods are different for everyone. Some people feel wonderful with little to no sugar and others live on high fruit raw diets and feel equally amazing; the point is only you know what is nourishing for you. I personally feel my best when I am eating a whole foods, however I listen to my body when it tells me that it’s craving chocolate and I try to make sure to eat the most decadent kind when I do.
If you have used exercise to burn calories or to justify eating something you’re craving then your exercising for reasons of guilt in the hopes that if you work yourself to the bone that maybe just maybe you’ll be able to accept yourself and be happy with your weight. Wow that is one crazy (and sadly common) mentality. Exercise is amazingly good for you, for your physical body, for your bone health, for keeping focused and it is wonderful stress relief making it great for mental well-being too! However as part of intuitive eating you should aim to choose exercise that you enjoy, or even love. When you love moving your body it becomes an effortless joy, instead of a punishment.
The dieting mentality says that if you do aerobics for an hour each day then you will burn 400 plus calories and you will suddenly be worthy of perfection and kindness to yourself. The intuitive mentality says that today your muscles might be tight and yoga is more rewarding and tomorrow you might feel like dancing; both are wonderful because you’re moving in a way that’s fun and considerate of what your body is asking for without judgement for how many calories you burnt.
Harming yourself, whether through food deprivation, binge eating or negative and derogatory self-talk will never lead to you being at a healthy weight or loving your body. When you are able to love your physical self and accept yourself exactly as you are right now, in this moment, not five pounds lighter but right now, then you are treating yourself with love. Kindness to oneself means that the offer to look ‘different’ on a particular diet holds no sway on you, because you love you, and with that love means nourishing your body the way it needs.
Unfollow any social media accounts that promote the diet mentality, by doing so you will stop the insidious flow of messages telling you to change how you look. Instead find a handful of body-positive, gentle-nutrition accounts to inspire your journey.
How To Eat Intuitively?
Begin by lovingly accepting your current size, shape, weight and form. Use body positive language, and talk to yourself about your body with kindness. You can also try mirror work whereby you spend some time looking at your beautiful self in front of the mirror focusing on all the wonderful bits that make you who you are.
Before you eat, ask yourself how hungry you are. If you are not hungry but still wanting to eat, now is the time to sit with that feeling and find out why – are you bored, angry, lonely, excited? Have a little list of things to do if you find yourself in this boat such as going for a walk, doing some light cleaning, meditating, reading, writing in your journal etc.
If you’re hungry ask yourself what you’re body is craving and try to give yourself the best quality of that food possible, don’t settle for lots of ‘low fat’ dip when you would feel more satisfied with a smaller amount of the full fat version. Whatever that food is aim to sit down with it and really make eating the focus (that means not in front of the computer or television). By focusing on your food you can check in with yourself so that when you’re satisfied you can stop; say goodbye to the clean plate club, just be sure to store the left overs for another day.
The 10 original principles of intuitive eating from the book Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch are:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Respect your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
- Respect your Body
- Exercise – Feel the Difference
- Honor your Health
For more information on these principles check out Intuitive Eating.