I am an intuitive eater. It’s become my natural state of being. I try to eat when I’m hungry. Stop when I am feeling full. I don’t see food as “good” or “bad.” Most of the time, I eat what I want, when I want.
So what is intuitive eating exactly?
Intuitive eating teaches you to become the expert of your own body, by creating a healthy relationship between your mind, your food and your body.
It helps you gain a sense of body wisdom, so that you can differentiate between your physical and emotional feelings. It can help you remove any reoccurring ‘food worry’ thoughts, so you can make peace with food. It’s knowing that your health and your worth as a person does not change as a result of the food you eat.
The fundamental principle of Intuitive Eating is that you were born with all the wisdom you need to eat intuitively, by listening to your body cues.
It sounds simple, although it is quite complex. Your inner wisdom is often buried under years of dieting and food myths that are prevalent in our culture.
To regain that natural intuitive eater in you, a number of factors need to be dealt with- mainly, learning to believe in yourself.
As an example, some days, my body craves french fries. Other days, all I want is a salad. Sometimes I have a bowl of soup and a bowl of pasta for lunch because I am so hungry. Other days, I have a light dinner. When I crave something sweet I would have a small piece of dark chocolate that would satisfy my craving. It may take some time (even a few months), though once you’re comfortable with the fact that you can have any food at any time, most of your food cravings disappear.
This is not an easy journey. As with all change- it’s uncomfortable. Though it’s incredibly rewarding to find freedom around food. Your body knows what it needs. You need to start listening to it. You need to get to know your body better and reprogram your body so that you can give it what it needs, when it needs it. It’s about progress, not perfection.
At the same time, nourishment is more than food. Look at the emotional, physical and spiritual needs you have. How are you using food to satisfy these other hungers? To me this really is the key to intuitive eating. Understanding the whole body, mind and soul when it comes to why you eat what you eat, when you eat it. You have to find what works for you and your body.
To me food is fuel and a wonderful sense of pleasure. I love connecting with family and friends over a good meal.
According to Intuitive Eating experts, here are the 10 principles that will help ‘reprogram’ your body:
Reject the Diet Mentality. Get rid of your diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently.
Honour Your Hunger. Keep your body fuelled with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Listen to your own biological signals when they first appear, as this helps set the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
Make Peace with Food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Denying yourself particular foods, can lead to uncontrollable cravings, which can result in overindulging and guilt.
Challenge the Food Police. Get rid of the voices in your head, telling you that you’re ‘good’ for eating only 1000 calories or ‘bad’ for eating that piece of chocolate cake. Remove all negative phrases and associations with food and soon your mindset to food will also help you change your physical habits around food.
Respect Your Fullness. Eat until you are approximately 80% full. Look out for the signs that show that you’re nearly full. Take a break in the middle of your meal and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
Discover the Satisfaction Factor. In our constant bid to look and be a certain way, we forget to savour the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in eating. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is appealing and encouraging, the pleasure you receive will assist you in feeling satisfied and content. You will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
Respect Your Body. Accept your genetic makeup, in regards to body size. Respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
Exercise. Forget high impact exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel as a result of exercise, such as greater energy levels, it can make the difference between grudgingly getting out of bed for a morning walk or hitting the snooze button. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
Honour Your Health. Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that honour your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters; progress not perfection is what counts.
So how to get started?
Grab a pen and your journal and start brainstorming some ideas:
Here are some other tips:
Remove all distractions. Turn off the TV, move away from your computer. Eat at the dinner table and do nothing else.
Look at the appearance and physical composition of the food, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, a snack, dessert.
Smell your food. What does the aroma remind you of? Close your eyes and try to pick up on the different sensations of the food (or drink).
Taste the food. Savour it in your mouth for a moment. What are the textures and how does it feel? What flavours are there? Does it remind you of anything? Does the flavour change as you chew? Do you like it? What flavours remain in your mouth after you swallow? Are they different from the original flavour of the food? Is there an aftertaste?
While you are eating, pay attention to your stomach getting fuller. Do you feel more satisfied? Are you finding more or less pleasure in the food and are you still enjoying it? Take a break and give your body time to catch up. Stop eating when you start to feel satisfied; don’t wait until you feel full.
Eat as little processed food and added sugar as possible.
Use foods rather than supplements to prevent chronic illness. Instead of taking the antioxidant lycopene in a tablet, eat a tomato that contains both lycopene and a number of other antioxidants, along with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that work together to prevent disease.
As well as having a nutritional program, combine it with stress reduction strategies and raising your awareness about how as well as what you eat. Stress obstructs and interferes with every aspect of digestive functioning even with the efficient use of nutrients. Stressed-out people can’t make very good biological use of even the healthiest diets.
Eat slowly and mindfully to increase your enjoyment of meals, as well as reduce your consumption of food (at times we eat so fast that our tummy doesn’t notice that we are full), and help you make food choices that are optimal for you.
Over 50 years ago a biochemist by the name of Roger Williams stated that we are all biochemically unique. Even if we are roughly the same age and ethnicity, and have similar health levels and income, you may use double the zinc as I do and may require higher levels of Vitamin B.
At times additional tests done by a nutritionist or other health professional is necessary to determine your deficiencies and needs. You can always learn a great deal about what’s good for you by experimenting with different diets and foods, and by paying close attention to the results.
Don’t become a food fanatic.
Practice these guidelines (and add others that work for you) and don’t feel bad about not following them religiously. Pay attention to the consequence of a questionable choice, learn, and return to your program.
Lastly, don’t spend your time and energy judging others for what they eat! It will just make you feel bad, resulting in a stressed out emotional state that will ruin your digestion. Others won’t benefit from it either!