This sounds like a simple concept but when you have a history of disordered eating, dieting and/or an unhealthy obsession with working out then the idea of abandoning the socially accepted structure of mealtimes and learning to just listening to your body is extremely difficult.
It's a controversial idea but the basic idea of intuitive eating is about eating when you're hungry, no matter what time of day it may be, and to stop when you are full even if there is food left on your plate. This is something I have always struggled with because when I was younger I personified the phrase 'eat your feelings' and would eat not when my body was telling me I was hungry...but rather whenever I was sad, scared, or angry. Then during my teenage years when I was in the grips of my anorexia I wasted SO much food by throwing it all in the bin that since committing myself to recovery my guilt complex has come into play and I have developed and intense loathing for food wastage. This means that even if my plate is still piled high with food when I'm entirely full up, I will still force myself to polish it all off.
We are all born natural intuitive eaters. Babies cry when they're hungry. They eat, and then stop eating and stop crying until they’re hungry again. Kids innately balance out their food intake from week to week, eating when they’re hungry and stopping once they feel full. Some days they may eat a ton of food, and other days they may eat barely anything. As we grow older and rules and restrictions are set around food, we lose our inner intuitive eater. We learn to finish everything on our plate. We learn that dessert is a reward and can be taken away if we misbehave. We are told that certain foods are good for us and others are bad; which causes us to feel good about ourselves when we eat certain foods and guilty when we eat others. Intuitive eating, if done correctly, is about defying these socially accepted food laws and taking the pressure off of not just meal times, but food in general.
There are 10 main principles of intuitive eating:
1) Reject the Diet Mentality
I mean think about it: where has your focus on strict dieting schedules gotten you? Really? We’ve all been that inspired New Years soul who signs up to the gym and swears they’ll only eat spinach and bananas for the year, then by February we’re feasting on Valentine’s chocolate and feeling like a failure for it. The truth is it’s not really about your ‘lack of will power’, it’s the dieting system itself that’s the problem. Research shows that dieting actually increases your risk of gaining weight because the act of restricting when and what you eat means that if you do slip up, you want to make up for lost time and you start over eating all the foods that were ‘off limits’. Even if you manage to maintain your diet, you run the risk of becoming so obsessed with your regimen that your life becomes about nothing but diet and exercise. Either way, the diet mentality increased the risk of disordered eating be it binge eating, bulimia (binge and purge), or anorexia. Remind yourself: if dieting is the problem, how can it be part of the solution? Reject the idea that there are any good diets out there. Get rid of books and magazines that tout diets and easy or quick weight loss. Unfollow social media accounts that propel the dieting myths and behaviors- especially the ones that lead you to believe your natural body is ‘unhealthy’ if it’s not muscle toned and tight
2) Honor Your Hunger
Our body’s are incredible machines, and like any machine they need to be fueled properly otherwise they run the risk of failing us when we need it most. The concept of hunger is effectively our ‘check fuel’ gauge on the dashboard of our car. It’s a warning that’s telling us ‘feed me now or you run the risk of me cutting out’. There’s such negative mentality around hunger. It’s almost viewed as a challenge to see if you’ll ‘cave in’ or resist. You wouldn't ignore your body when it’s telling you you're thirsty, so why is hunger any different? If you try to override feelings of hunger and don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates, your body reacts with cravings and binges; disordered eating habits that can become serious and cause irreparable damage
3) Make Peace with Food
Stop viewing foods as "good" or "bad". No one food has the power to make you healthy, just like no one food has the power to make you unhealthy. If you tell yourself you can’t have or shouldn’t have a certain food, you will eventually feel deprived; this deprivation builds into uncontrollable cravings and overeating. Give yourself unconditional permission to allow all foods into your diet. When it comes down to it, a healthy body is not really about what you eat, it’s about how much. It’s about the balance of food groups and your balance of calorie intake/outtake. This is something your body naturally aids you with. If you listen to your body when it’s telling you it’s hungry or full then there’s no risk of under or over eating and as much as we might say the dream would be to live off McDonald’s and cake for the rest of our lives, the reality is our body disagrees and after just a couple of days it will be screaming at you to eat something less heavy and saturated fat filled. Take it from me; I am addicted to sugar and even I couldn’t live off of doughnuts forever. My body craves its fair share of fruit and veg!
4) Challenge the Food Police
whether that's society or the nagging voice inside your head, the ‘food police’ are those that label you as ‘good’ for having a salad for lunch and ‘bad’ for having a dessert after dinner. It’s impossible to view eating as a normal, pleasurable activity when the food police have hold
5) Feel Your Fullness (and stop when you do)
Social construct causes us to feel like we have to eat at set mealtimes (breakfast, lunch and dinner) rather than simply when we are hungry. This can lead to a build up of hunger throughout the day and therefore an excess binge when we do finally eat. On the flip side it can make us feel guilty for leaving food on the plate and thus forces us to polish it off even when our bodies are telling us we are full. Your body wouldn’t choose to feel uncomfortably full so you must always make sure you pause partway through a meal or snack and check in with your body. How does the food taste? How full do you feel? Bring more consciousness and awareness to your meals
6) Discover and embrace the Satisfaction Factor
It’s possible to be physically full but not satisfied. If you’re unsatisfied you’ll probably keep looking for that one thing that is going to make you feel satisfied and content and you’re likely to overeat. When you eat what you really want, the feelings of satisfaction and pleasure you feel will help you be content (and often with less food)
7) Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food
Emotional eating is very common way of covering up unpleasant feelings and emotions. Disordered eating is also often linked with depression; a state in which those negative feelings are almost constant. It’s important to find ways to comfort yourself and resolve your emotions without using food other wise we would be at risk of over eating. Furthermore, food is meant to be a normal and enjoyable part of life. So when we use it to mask hostile emotions, we start to associate it with those emotions and food suddenly becomes the ‘enemy’ and thus a destructive loop begins it’s cycle
8) Respect your body
If you're hyper critical about the way you look, you're always going to reject the idea of letting go of a rigid diet. Intuitive eating is about respecting your body which you can’t do if you’re always judging it harshly. Your body is smart enough to tell you what it needs to stay healthy. Love it. Nourish it and it will carry you far
9) Exercise for YOU
Instead of focusing on what you think you should be doing. Workout out what exercise works for you. For example, I hate the gym, but I LOVE going for super long walks through the countryside. Forget about the calorie burning effect of exercise and think about how you feel after working out. Do you feel energized? Do you sleep better? If you use exercise only as a way to lose weight or eat more food, it’s not going to be something you will stick with and it certainly won’t be something you enjoy)
10) Honor your long term health with gentle nutrition
Eating when your body tells you to eat does not mean letting go completely. If you're used to a history or disordered eating then your stomach may be larger or smaller than it should be. Make sure you get a balanced diet but recognise that being healthy doesn’t mean eating perfectly. Consider how certain foods make you feel, in addition to how tasty and satisfying they are to you. This includes everything from salad to cake
Intuitive eating is meant to lead to:
•Better self-esteem/body image •More stable metabolisms •More all around energy & positivity •Proactive coping skills •Lower rates of emotional/disordered eating •General health benefits such as higher HDL cholesterol levels & lower BMI's
Intuitive eating, if abused it can lead to some very unhealthy consequences, but if done right, it can improve a person's relationship with food and improve their mental health for the rest of their lives!
COURAGE --- Alice xxx