One of the main areas that many of us struggle with in modern life as it relates to health is eating. We are constantly surrounded by unhealthy foods, which means that making healthy food choices takes conscious effort - it's not automatic anymore. There is also a lot of conflicting information out there about what "healthy" even means when it comes to eating. Should you avoid red meat? What about fat? Do you have to buy everything organic just to be healthy? Is vegan the way to go? Should you be eating gluten-free?
It's no wonder so many of us give up and spend most of our lives overweight or even obese!
But what if we could find a way to make it easy to choose what to eat, and completely change our love/hate relationship with food? What if we could relax in the knowledge that we actually can automatically choose the foods that our bodies need and want, without any guilt or stress?
If you've read my post mentioned above about listening to your body, you may know where I'm going with this, but even I did not realize there is actually a term for it.
It's called "intuitive eating," and it just may be the end of all diets, and the one way that we can finally turn our destructive relationship with food around once and for all.
While some diets are more forgiving, and some are more effective than others, Intuitive Eating is emerging as an antidote to diets of all kinds. Instead of sticking to a defined diet plan, intuitive eaters eat whatever they are craving when they are craving it, without attaching "good" or "bad" labels to different foods.
By doing this, you give yourself permission to enjoy your food, rather than restricting yourself, then losing control and pigging out, and feeling guilty about it (not to mention sick and sluggish) the next day.
Of course, this does NOT mean that you will be gorging yourself on milkshakes and fries all day long. While you may do this a bit in the beginning, once you adjust to intuitive eating, you'll find that you start to choose healthier and healthier foods naturally.
There are several important keys to keep in mind when starting to eat intuitively.
#1. Mindfulness, awareness, and trust are paramount. You have to constantly pay attention to your body, be aware of how it feels and what it wants, and trust that it will lead you to make the right decisions.
#2. This is not a skill that can be developed overnight. It will take some time, and a whole lot of patience with yourself, as you develop this new habit.
#3. You will have to learn to distinguish when you are truly hungry. Is your stomach rumbling and aching with the need for food, or are you just bored, stressed, or depressed? If it's the latter, you will need to learn to exercise self control and not eat just to assuage emotional needs that really have nothing to do with food.
If you are truly, biologically hungry, then have at it! Really. Don't limit yourself - let your body have what it wants.
BUT, before choosing each food, truly stop and ask your body if it wants that food - and listen to the answer! Sometimes you won't know the answer until you take the first bite or two - and then sometimes, if you listen, you'll realize your body is saying "yuck - that wasn't want I wanted"! (This happens to me fairly often - usually when I've picked up something non-nutritious to snack on.)
While this may take some time, and at first it may feel like you're eating a bunch of junk (which you probably will, since you've been denying yourself - or feeling guilty about - these kinds of foods for so long), eventually your cravings will even out, and your body will naturally begin to gravitate to a more balanced diet.
#4. Eat at the right times - when you're hungry, but before you're starving. Pay attention to when you do feel truly hungry, and eat before you get to the point of ravenous, which will make you more likely to stuff yourself and eat far more than you actually need.
#5. Enjoy your food! Eat slowly, and savor the taste, the smell, the texture of the food in your mouth. Turn off the TV or computer and truly focus on just eating, and enjoying it! When you eat this way, you will also start to notice when you are satisfied, so you will end up naturally eating less.
This is one of the main reasons that intuitive eating works for many people who have not gotten good results with dieting. Once you build more awareness of your body, you will notice when you're hungry, when you're full, and how you feel when you eat certain foods (this will also help you naturally start to avoid foods that don't work well with your body - for some people this may be gluten, for others dairy or meat, or simply certain foods you may be slightly allergic to).
#6. Incorporate the healthy exercise your body wants. While this may not be an intuitive eating tip, the two go hand-in-hand, as once you become more in tune with your body, you may also find that you naturally want to exercise more. This is awesome, and you should embrace the forms of exercise you find most fun and enjoyable - but again, there's no need to stress out over it or push yourself into it! Just listen to your body and do what feels right. As you become better at this, the amount and type of exercise that you need will naturally emerge.
If you're used to counting calories and depriving yourself of "bad" foods that you crave, Intuitive Eating can seem a little overwhelming at first. But if you really stick with it, you'll find that it becomes very simple and second nature. Eventually you'll wonder why you ever had such difficulty eating healthy or losing weight!
Click here to learn more about Intuitive Eating, or check out the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch.
To your health (and healthy eating)!
P.S. Thanks to Thrive for introducing me to Intuitive Eating!