Paleo, Whole30, Vegan, Autoimmune Paleo, SCD, Low FODMAP, Candida, South Beach, Keto and the list goes on. There are hundreds of diets out there all promising weight loss and total wellbeing. But are these diets really beneficial or sustainable?
Through my chronic illness and all the diets I’ve attempted, I’ve learned this: diets are great guidelines to follow, but no one diet was ever always optimal for me. Diets provide a great baseline, but they are just that and nothing more. Our bodies know what they need. The key is to truly listen to what our body is telling us.
That’s exactly where intuitive eating begins. Listening is the first step and eating the second. Listening to our physicality, our body, is essential. It points us in the direction of reaching for beverages and foods that provide us with hydration, protein, iron, natural fats and sugars. If we listen to our mind and are solely tuned into our emotions, we’re emotionally eating. This is when our mind says, I’m deprived, I’m stressed, I’ve earned it. When this happens we bypass the body’s intuition and messages and reach for less than healthy choices like sweets that give us an immediate rush.
If you haven’t made this delineation in the difference between our body’s intuition and emotionally-triggered eating, this is a great place to start paying attention. If we go back to look at the beginnings of intuitive eating, you’d discover you were once an intuitive eater! We all were! Babies cry when they’re hungry and stop eating when they’re full. Ever notice how kids never seem to want to eat? They only eat when they know they’re ravenous! They’d rather be playing than concerning themselves with where their next meal is coming from. When they do eat, they immediately stop when they’re satisfied – no more and no less.
As we grow, eating moves more toward habitual behavior. These habits (lunch at noon, dinner at 5:30) along with rules around eating (finish everything on your plate) are learned behaviors. Anyone’s parents tell you to finish everything on your plate because there are starving kids in Africa? Additionally, we’re taught that good performance means we’ll be treated with a sweet and poor behavior or performance means that treat will be taken away. And after you’ve been around a few decades and have witnessed a million diets and trends come and go (no or low fat, protein only, the grapefruit diet, etc), chances are your views of food are very distorted and potentially unhealthy.
So let’s get to the meat of the subject. What is intuitive eating and how do we accomplish it? Intuitive eating is rather simple. It’s eating as eating should be. It means ditching the diet mentality, the restrictions, the rules, the rewards, the deprivations and all the shoulds around eating! It means embracing your body’s natural ability to communicate with you rather than listening to your emotions or rational mind, which is suppressing your innate instincts or shouting out the shoulds around eating.
Intuitive eating means you eat whatever feels good to your body — not your mind. And ultimately, what is nourishing for your body will be nourishing for your brain. When we are intuitive we slow down and we listen to our natural instincts for hunger. We eat when our stomach is physically hungry and we stop when it’s perfectly satisfied.
Tuning into our bodies, we’ll notice that our bodies naturally want the variety of nutrients that fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pasture-raised meats provide that are required for optimal functioning. And when we have cravings, it might mean that our body is deprived of those nutrients or we have emotional needs that aren’t being met, which is a signal that the mind has taken over.
When we ditch the diet plans and cue into our body’s whispers, the rules are thrown out the window. We find freedom as we are able to eat what our bodies REALLY want! And when we have this freedom we gain a sense of peace and life within us and lose the guilt and fear over food and our bodies. We naturally start gravitating towards healing foods that nourish our body, mind and spirit.
To demonstrate this concept, I’ll refer to one of my favorite quotes of all time by Geneen Roth: How you eat is how you live. I guarantee if you’re shoving food down your mouth to get a quick meal in, you’re not only missing out on the pleasure of food, but you’re also not enjoying the simple pleasures in life. If you eat in a hurried rush, it means you’re living life in a hurried manner. Intuitive eating allows us to fully enjoy the present, to savor every moment, to take back our power to co-create our lives!
To help you to get started on your intuitive eating journey, start with these tips:
Practice Mindfulness: Being aware of the endless conversation in your mind and then being curious about it is the first step to intuitive eating. You have to understand what’s getting in the way of knowing what your body truly wants. Pay attention to your thoughts and ask yourself “what is it that’s really going on here?” You’ll start to get insight into your internal state of being so you can then ask your body “what is it that I need to nourish my mind, body, and soul?”
Tap Into Mindful Eating: According to the Center for Mindful Eating, Mindful Eating is “allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.” It’s about using all of your senses to choose and enjoy your food. Allow yourself to be fully absorbed in the experience of the meal and recognize the positive sensations in your body.
Practice Using the Hunger Scale: This is one of my favorite tools! It has helped so many understand physical hunger vs. emotional hunger. When using this, aim to start eating when you’re around a 3 or 4 and finish eating when you’re at a 5 or 6.
Be Patient and Gentle With Yourself: Life can throw us curve balls and when those happen, most often we turn to food for comfort because as humans we naturally want to feel safe and comforted. If the above practices skip your mind during these times, simply remind yourself that you’re human and send loving kindness to yourself. After all, relationships of any kind take patience, love and hard work – and they’re sooo worth it – especially the one with your body and food!
In addition to following these guidelines, I challenge you to think back to your eating habits, your rewards, and all the rules and requirements you had around food growing up. How has that impacted your perception of food and your body? What patterns do you see in your life?
The way we eat can literally change our life! One of my favorite results of intuitive eating is that my relationship with food and my body is in a much better place. I’ve healed and continue to work on this practice. I also love that eating healthy has become more sustainable because I’m in control again. Remember that the choices around how you nourish your body are your birthright. It’s not a miracle diet, rather it’s the miracle of you, in tune with your body. Start taking that back and owning it today!
Jen and Amanda of Empowering All are pleased to feature guest blogger, Heather Tesch. Heather is a student of life, seeker for answers of the big questions of life, food lover, and quirky, fun loving healer. After suffering from many mystery chronic illnesses such as adrenal fatigue, SIBO, dysbiosis, and hypothyroidsm; just to name a few, she healed herself naturally through a drastic change in her food and lifestyle. Her illness allowed her to see that she’s meant to help others reclaim their lives and so she became trained in co-active coaching techniques through the Coaches Training Institute, certified as an Institute for Integrative Nutrition coach, masters in Change Leadership, certified as a Nutritional Therapist, and self taught spiritual teacher from well known influencers such as Glennon Doyle, Gabby Bernstein, Louise Hay, etc. She uses her education and life experiences to inspire others to heal their mind, body and soul.