Broccoli: Yes. Coffee: No. Carbs: Yes. Fats: No.
Nowadays we are constantly bombarded with so much information and conflicting opinions about how and what to eat. Because of this, our internal queues and responses have become deceptively clouded by the rigid rules created from all these external influences. So many of us have been on at least one diet of some kind at some stage in our lives – and these diets always initiate rules and unhealthy boundaries around eating. Often, much to our chagrin, these food rules stick with us long after we have given up on the diets. The danger is that such an approach to food can leave us with reoccurring feelings of guilt, shame and disgust – when really, we should be feeling the very opposite when we reflect on the food that nourishes and sustains us.
We are all born with the internal wisdom for eating intuitively. Have you noticed how toddlers always stop when they’ve had enough? They know instinctively when to stop. This is the very instinct that dieting blurs. Once you have lost the natural response to your hunger signals and have recognised how negatively it’s affecting you, it’s time to reconnect and learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional queues.
Your health and worth do not change because of the food you eat, e.g. “I ate a slice of chocolate cake- therefore I am a bad person”. How much your eat is entirely disconnected from the core values that define you as a person. But in order to reboot and take you back to a state of intuitive eating, you’ll need to learn to trust your body and make peace with food. This is a complex process and can take some time – after all, you are re-programming your brain after years of dieting and food rules. But it’s a process that’s well worth it. Learning to eat intuitively brings a satisfying freedom so you can finally leave diets as a thing of the past.
So here are my top tips for intuitive eating. By starting with baby steps you are setting yourself up for long-term success:
Ditch the diet mentality – Think back to all the diets you’ve ever followed. Did they work? Were you obsessive and miserable about food? What about all the crazy thoughts, fatigue and cravings that came along with it?
The first step in embracing intuitive eating is to fully let go of dieting and to start detaching yourself from any rules and restrictions those diets demanded of you. Recognise that those diets didn’t work and that they never will. It’s been proven time and time again that people who follow restrictive diets and lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time end up regaining that weight further down the track. Moral of the story: diets just don’t work!
Think of intuitive eating as a well balanced approach to feeding and fuelling your body with what it needs (and wants), without compromising your happiness.
Honour your hunger – Thanks to the clever marketing fuelled by the diet industry, our hunger has been made out to be the evil villain that we must ignore. To beat this untruth, you’ll need to reframe your hunger and recognise that it’s a positive instinct that tells you when you need to be refuelled. This is the natural process we were all born with, but many have forgotten: simply said, when the body feels deprived of energy it naturally sends a hunger signal to the brain to tell you to eat. Whenever you try to ignore that hunger you are simply setting yourself up for a potential binge later on. Instead, honour and satisfy that hunger with something nourishing and healthy. A handful of nuts, a piece of fruit or raw veggies, some wholesome crackers – these are all great hunger-busting options for when you find yourself hungry but in between meals. Satisfy according to your hunger levels. By honouring this hunger you are rebuilding trust with yourself and with food.
Observation – Recognise your own behaviours. Observe the types of food you eat, how and why you eat and how that food makes you feel. By really connecting to yourself and trying to understand your relationship with food, only then will you be able to start making peace with food. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. By learning to eat intuitively you are challenging possibly years of the dieting and restriction mentality. Think of it as building new habits not trying to stop old ones.
Know your body’s limitations – Our bodies are all built differently. Some of us are small and petite, some are larger and curvy, while others are tall and skinny. A lot of this comes down to genetics which are completely out of our control. So if you are 5ft 1 and pear shaped, you are never going to reach the body goal of that girl in the gym who is 5ft 10 with narrow hips. It’s important to align your expectations with a physically achievable goal. No amount of food deprivation or training in the gym is going to change your bone structure or distribution of fat deposits. Strive to the best version of YOU that you can be. Rock it and own it at every step of the way!
Listen to your fullness signals – With constant access to fast-food options and the abundance of processed foods, we experience temptation at every turn these days and often, we eat mindlessly. But in reality, our brain will always send a signal to tell us when we are hungry and need to be fed. It also tells us when we are full and it’s time to stop. Just listen! If you eat mindlessly, e.g. at your desk while you’re working, then there is a chance you’ll miss these queues.
Remember, it takes 20-30 minutes for the brain to register the food you have eaten so the key here is to SLOW DOWN and eat MINDFULLY.
Try to consciously create environments where you can eat without distractions and really focus on every bite that enters your mouth. This could mean putting your phone away, switching off the television, or just sitting at the kitchen table. You’ll be able to enjoy what you’re eating more, and will also find this eating experience leads to higher levels of satisfaction when it comes to feeling full.
It’s a slow process of learning to trust your body again that it it knows exactly what you need. Take the time, be kind to yourself, and be grateful that you have access to and the ability to give your body whatever it needs. There should be no guilt associated with fuelling your body with what it needs.
Release the guilt and trust your body.