Nutrition: Intuitive Eating
I’ve never really been one for counting calories or keeping track of macros. My health and fitness goals are built around me feeling good and having energy and I’ve always felt that keeping track of those sorts of things contributed to the diet mentality and have caused a lot of people to develop unhealthy relationships with food. That being said, anyone who has read my posts The Vegetable Challenge, The Sugar Experiment, or How I lost Weight Without Trying will know that I still have my own history of restrictive and unbalanced eating. So obviously I still have some things to work on.
Now that I’m taking time to learn from my mistakes and working on developing a healthy and balanced lifestyle, I want to talk about what that means in terms of eating. There is a philosophy of eating (I swear this is not a fad diet) called intuitive eating. I’m a huge fan of the basis of this because it’s a way of eating that literally works for everyone. Alright, I’m sure that this statement has made a few people a little skeptical because the only thing that seems to be consistent about all these different diets is that none of them work for everyone because we’re all so different. Well, that’s actually the basis of it all. Everyone is different. We all react to food a bit differently, we all prefer different foods, we all crave different foods. You can’t give people a “one size fits all” diet and expect it to work. Intuitive eating is completely malleable because it only has one rule. The only rule is that you make all of the choices about what to eat!
Intuitive eating is about getting rid of restrictions and promoting a healthy mentality towards food and your own body image. There are so many people and sources of information out there that are telling you what and how to eat that we forget that it’s our body and that we actually have our own intuition about what to eat. When it comes to eating intuitively it is important to distinguish between the following:
- Emotional Hunger: We are all familiar with this. It’s what I like to call our feeling’s stomach because that’s what gets hungry when we are stressed, sad, or just dealing with any sort of emotion in general. This sort of hunger often leads us to want our comfort foods. Eating to satisfy this sort of hunger often results in guilt and self loathing.
- Physical Hunger: This is the type of hunger we experience when our bodies are in need of fuel. We usually get physical signals for this such as a growling stomach, irritability, and low energy. The only way to satisfy this hunger is to eat food.
Eating intuitively means being able to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger and learning how to satisfy these needs. Obviously there is only one way to satisfy physical hunger, and that is to eat. When it comes to emotional hunger, the next after identifying it is to learn how to address this. Emotions are complex and can range in their severity. The important thing is that food will never be able to solve this, so it is best to learn how to tackle it.
Key Principles of Intuitive Eating
In their book on intuitive eating, Tribole and Resch listed 10 key principles of the philosophy.
- Reject the Diet Mentality: Get rid of everything that gives you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. You should be angered by the fact that you were made to feel like a failure every time a diet stopped working and you regained the weight you lost. If you believe that there is some secret diet out there that you haven’t found yet then you won’t be free to rediscover intuitive eating.
- Honour Your Hunger: Whenever you are physically hungry make sure to eat, allow yourself to eat enough, and obtain an adequate amount of energy and carbs. Failing to do this can lead you to overeat. Once you are excessively hungry you lose the ability to moderate and eat consciously. Learn your biological signals for hunger and honour them no matter what.
- Make Peace With Food: Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. By restricting the foods you allow yourself to eat, you can trigger feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings which, in turn, lead to binges, which lead to the inevitable and overwhelming guilt.
- Challenge the Food Police: Challenge the thoughts in your head that praise you for eating fewer calories than necessary or the ones that criticize you for having some ice-cream. These “Food Police” are only enforcing the unreasonable rules created by dieting mentalities.
- Respect Your Fullness. Listen to your body. When you are full you will experience signals that tell you that your physical hunger has been satisfied. Eat slowly and mindfully. Take pauses between mouthfuls to notice the taste of your food and to register your current fullness level.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor: North American culture has completely overlooked the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the experience of eating. When you eat what you want in an environment that is inviting and conductive, the pleasure you obtain from this experience will help you feel satisfied and content; thus satisfying both your physical and emotional hunger.
- Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food: Find ways to comfort, nurture, and resolve your emotions without food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are all emotions we experience throughout life. Food won’t fix any of these feelings, it will only act as a short term comfort. In fact, eating for emotional hunger will only take you feel worse in the long run. Ultimately, you have to deal with the source of the emotion.
- Respect Your Body: Accept that your body is determined by your genetics. A person with size 10 feet could not expect to fit into a size 5 shoe. Similarly, it is futile to have the same expectations for your body size. It is important to respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It is hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about the way your body looks.
- Exercise – Feel The Difference. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus on how it feels to move your body rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. The best exercise you can do is the one that you enjoy. If you focus on how exercising makes you feel, it will motivate you. If your only goal is to lose weight, then getting up to exercise will not be enough motivation.
- Honour Your Health: Make food choices that honour your health and that you enjoy. Don’t force yourself to eat kale just because it’s healthy for you. You don’t have to eat 100% ‘clean’ (I emphasize this word because what the hell does clean eating even mean!?) to be healthy. Health is about balance and eating 100% a certain way is extreme, which throws off balance. It is about what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress is what counts, not perfection.
The Take Away
Intuitive eating is about lifestyle. It’s not about having that “summer bod”. It is about a way of eating that you can sustain for the rest of your life. Your body knows itself better than any professional ever can. Observe how you feel when you eat. Learn what satisfies your physical hunger and learn to pick up on your body’s cues. It is also important to learn to satisfy your emotional needs. Talk to a professional about this if you need to. Take some time to get to know yourself. Above all, change the way that you look at food. Food is meant to fuel your body and to be enjoyed.