Tell me, how many diets have you tried in the last 5 years?
If you’re like me, you’ve done a grand royal tour of almost all of them … French woman diet, low carb, slow carb, Mediterranean, low fat, high protein, raw, gluten free, dairy free, sugar-free… you name it and I’ve probably tried it. Yet, like me, you may try out a diet for a few months but soon feel off-kilter, as though you’re eating too much of one thing, or eating too little of another. You may also feel tired, achy, moody, bloated or even nutritionally deficient due to your strict dieting regime.
As you sheepishly reach over to that bag of French Fries you’ve been craving to devour for 2 months, you wonder, “Where the hell did I go wrong?” Then, with guilt weighing heavily in your nether regions you start the dieting cycle again. And again. And again. And again. This can go on for years or even a whole lifetime.
If you’re struggling to find your “miracle” diet, I understand your frustration, I really do. While I’m not obese (although I’ve gained 10 extra kilos in the past 5 years), I’ve attempted to use diets as a way to help me reduce my chronic fatigue and skin problems. And let me tell you, some of them DO work. Some diets are really great at helping you lose weight and feel more energized and healthy. But the truth is that eventually I get bored and sick of them. Why? Because I’m a bit of a rebel at heart: I hate following the rules of others – I prefer to make my own, and sooner or later I feel boxed in. And that makes my inner free spirit scream.
Enter: intuitive eating. Yes, even the briefest mention of using your intuition to pick the food you eat sends eyebrows soaring and noses wrinkling. But although intuition is a trait we all possess that can’t be measured or quantified, I have relied on it for the past 6 months to guide me through my eating habits. Since deciding to try out intuitive eating I have felt my chronic fatigue subside and my body gain more vibrant energy, I have experienced more mental clarity, clearer skin and a permanent loss of 3 kilos (which is a bonus that I didn’t expect).
Most of all, I actually ENJOY intuitive eating because I don’t feel controlled or confined by the rules and restrictions of pre-established diets. I take full and absolute responsibility for my eating.
What is Intuitive Eating + How Can You Do It?
Intuitive eating, also known as mindful eating, is not a diet, it is a way of life. As dietitian and author of “Intuitive Eating” Evelyn Tribole writes, intuitive eating:
- Rejects the diet mentality that we’ve been conditioned into, and instead promotes a healthy relationship with food
- Is about developing a mindful understanding of your body and its cues
- Is about understanding the difference between emotional eating and bodily hunger
- Helps you to find satisfaction when eating
We live in a society that is constantly bombarding us with messages such as “You must diet in order to be healthy,” “Your body must be controlled,” “Eat this delicious food!” “Don’t eat that delicious food!” “If you aren’t toned and skinny you are abnormal,” “This diet will change your life!” and on, and on, and on. There are so many conflicting and extreme messages out there on TV shows, news programs, commercials, advertisements, movies and celebrity lives that we are exposed to every day. We are constantly told that we aren’t good enough and that we need to be improved in some way … and all for the profit of big companies like Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast and Jenny Craig.
Just think about it … it’s in every dieting brand and companies best interest to keep you fat, unhappy and/or unhealthy … or else completely financially reliant on what they sell to you!
Now, I’m not saying that every diet name, brand or company is bad for you. Far be it! In fact, if you’re morbidly overweight at the moment you may benefit greatly from the smorgasbord of diets available out there. These can help you initially reduce your weight to a healthy level so that later you can try out intuitive eating. On the other hand, if you are of average weight and struggle with a variety of non-life-threatening issues and would like to improve your general health and well-being, I think intuitive eating will be a great fit for you.
I like to think of intuitive eating as the magical process of transforming the way you eat, perceive food and understand your body. Intuitive eating is also a terrific way to hone your intuitive and mindfulness skills, your mind-body connection and your development of self-love.
Here is what I’ve learned:
1. Get rid of all distractions and focus solely on your food
Yes! That means closing the laptop, turning off the TV, putting away the mobile phone and closing the book or whatever other distractions there are around you (such as busy environments). If possible, find a quiet place free of distractions to enjoy your food. If finding a quiet place isn’t possible, at least try your best to focus solely on your food despite what is going on around you. Binge eating is often enhanced by a lack of mindfulness when eating. When you fully pay attention to the food you’re eating, the tastes and the textures, you can better control your portions and feel fuller for longer.
2. Chew your food properly!
I kind of feel like a scolding mother or prim old woman writing the last sentence, but it’s true! Most of us don’t chew our food properly. Instead, we give our food a few chews, then gulp it down quickly. In fact, it’s estimated that the average person chews their food about six times before swallowing. The reality is that we should be chewing soft food (e.g. bread, bananas) about 5-10 times, and harder food (e.g. meat, vegetables) up to 30 times per bite. Why? Chewing your food more breaks it down better for your body to absorb. Chewing food properly also has the added benefits of helping you to feel fuller, reducing bloating and indigestion and getting more nutrients from your food.
My trick? I generally don’t count how many times I chew my food because it gets laborious and takes away the joy of eating. Instead, I ensure that every bite has lost its texture, then swallow.
3. Give yourself permission to eat slowly
The truth is that most of us rush around due to our (often) unnecessarily busy lifestyles. Eating is one experience of many that gets pushed to the side and left unappreciated. This is so sad because experiencing food is such a great joy! If you’re like me you’re probably in the habit of shoveling down your food like there’s no tomorrow. I like to refer to myself as an Overly Enthusiastic Eater because I’ve been known to polish off an entire dish in 2 minutes flat. I have such a voracious appetite that I’ve beaten many males to the finish line of eating … no wonder eating slowly has been such a struggle for me!
If you’re in the same boat, I implore you to at least try eating slowly for 1 week. At first you’ll struggle and probably forget a few times, but after a while you’ll get the hang of it.
I find that the more slowly and mindfully you eat, the less you consume (therefore the more money you save), and the more grounded you feel.
4. Ask, “Do I really need to eat or is this just a mental/emotional craving?”
There is a big difference between reaching for mashed potatoes out of stress/boredom and reaching for mashed potatoes because you need your daily fix of vitamin B6. Learning to decipher your cravings can be super difficult. Untangling your web of emotions from your cravings takes a lot of dedication, forgiveness and self-awareness. Intuitive eating is not just about tuning into what your body really needs – it’s also about getting in touch with your emotions/thoughts and learning to express and release them in healthy ways.
5. Pay attention to the sensations in your body
Intuitive eating is like yoga for the stomach: it’s all about tuning into your inner sensations and working with the energy you currently have. On top of everything I’ve mentioned in this article, intuitive eating is also about determining when you authentically feel hungry or full. Take time to stop and experience what your body is going through: are you feeling fatigued and is your stomach grumbling? On the other hand, do you feel satiated, yet still hungry for more food? Learn to listen to the messages your body is sending you.
6. What do you really feel like eating?
This is a tricky question. There is a very fine line between what we think we need and what we really need. Intuitive eating isn’t about indulging any and every craving (including that large mound of cookies in the pantry). In fact, I recommend revamping your entire kitchen (if you’re in the position to) and throwing away or donating food items which you KNOW are bad for you. This will make your job way easier. I often find that when I’m craving for something like hot chips, what I really need is some form of healthy carbohydrate because I haven’t had an appropriate portion that day. Or perhaps you may have cooked yourself soup, but what you really feel like is a fresh salad. Learn to be flexible and open to your needs.
7. Educate yourself
Life is about balance. Don’t expect to have much success with intuitive eating if you know nothing about basic nutrition. Explore what others say about nutrition, read studies and also be aware that you may have food intolerances (such as to gluten, soy or lactose) that need to be dealt with. The more you know, the better informed you’ll be to make intelligent gut-centered decisions.
8. You need strong-willed dedication
Don’t get me wrong: intuitive eating is not for everyone (although I wish it was). Studies have shown that while many people who initially try out intuitive eating lose more weight than those counting calories, sooner or later they begin packing on the pounds again. This is due to a lack of self-discipline which often comes as a result of hectic mental, emotional or physical environments. There is no denying it: you definitely need strong-willed dedication in order to reap the benefits of intuitive eating. In fact, at the beginning intuitive eating can be even harder than dieting because it requires you to rewire your brain and learn to approach eating in a completely different way. But all the effort is completely and utterly worth it in the end, especially if you hate following the rules of diets and like to feel responsible for, and in-tune with, your body.
Do you have any advice to share on mindful or intuitive eating? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences below.
Finally, if you want more info about intuitive eating, check out Tribole’s book here.