One of the most challenging parts of REDEFINING my relationship with food and nutrition was learning how to listen to my body again.
After 15 years of pure dieting in my eating disorder, and a dieter’s mentality, I was confused about what hunger felt like (and sometimes what full or satisfied felt like).
For many years, I was also forced to go in and out of nutritionists’ offices—all whom gave me meal plans to follow, check boxes to check, exchanges to consume and/or calorie totals to count in order to be “healthy.”
—None of which really worked for me.
Yup, for a very long time, my mind was at war with my body—and I was VERY out of touch with what I wanted, what I needed, and how much of what to eat or consume.
Then…in my recovery journey, I discovered intuitive AND mindful eating…and things began to change.
Today, let’s talk about Intuitive Eating—and how to listen to your body.
What exactly is intuitive eating?
Simply put: It’s eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.
Like a baby who knows when she is hungry, and then turns her head away when she is full…you are in touch with your hunger and fullness cues, and food has no control over you (except for nourishment and enjoyment!).
INTUITIVE EATING 101
Varies from person to person
Since our tastes, bodies, activities, emotions, and spiritual journeys are different, what our bodies require in terms of nourishment is also different.
Weekly, monthly, and annual cycles, and life cycles (i.e. a 5-year-old compared to a 55-year-old), change our body’s needs and responses to food.
Intuitive eating does NOT mean we’ll always choose absolutely “healthy” or “perfect” foods. We won’t always feel in “perfect balance.”
Is not overly fun or insatiably starving.
We feel pleasantly full and satisfied (but not stuffed) after a meal and pleasantly hungry (but not starving) before the next.
Includes a wide variety of foods.
Meats, fats, fruits and vegetables, and even starches play a role in normal, intuitive eating. You don’t restrict your body from the foods it was intended to thrive upon. And, the exact balance and variety of foods must be individualized.
Is FREE of obsession.
It acknowledges that our compulsions are due to biochemical or emotional reasons and any over- or under-eating is a clue to begin looking further as an opportunity for learning.
It is nourishing—to the body and spirit.
Like watering a plant and giving it sunshine nourishes that plant and makes it come alive, intuitive eating—giving our body what it wants and needs—nourishes us physically and connects us spiritually to our own soul.
Intuitive eating feels good.
Good food in the right amounts and at the right times enlivens your senses—taste, texture (tactile), smell. The excitement of these senses results in a pleasurable “satisfied,” comforted, renewed and nourished feeling afterward.
It is essential to self-care.
What better way to nurture yourself than with the foods we need and enjoy in the amounts we require?
What is your relationship with food like?
Do you eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full? Do you check in with your body and feed it what it really wants?
For example, drinking water when you are thirsty, or reaching for citrus fruit when you are sick and your body is craving Vitamin C?
Do you choose the bison over the chicken on those days, because something inside you just wants some rd meat (i.e. your body is signaling you may be low on energy or iron)?
Feel incomplete without some healthy fats like avocado or coconut oil for a brain booster at meals?
Muscles and body craving a hearty starchy veggie like a sweet potato? Do you deny it because you “shouldn’t eat carbs,” or do you acknowledge and honor it? (Perhaps you expanded more energy the day before or your hormones are ebbing and flowing)?
A hearty bowl of chili sound good on a cold winter’s day—your internal body cues are speaking.
Orrrrr, on the flip side of the coin:
Do you obsessively think about or plan out all your meals?
Do you count calories or fat grams or macronutrients (carbs/proteins/fats) to ‘stay on top’ of your nutrition—letting your brain lead your body?
Do you reach for something sweet every single day after dinner, or a double shot espresso every morning to get going—in these cases, you’ve again, let your brain hijack your body? You’ve trained it to become addicted to foods, rather than nourished and guided by foods?
I am not necessarily saying that, “all counting is bad: or meal plans are bad if they help you stay within reach of your personal health goals or stay accountable to yourself and/or a close support partner, or nutritionist….
However, LONG before calorie counting or macro-counting was a “thing,” our ancestors KNEW how to simply listen to their bodies and the seasons—eating the foods that grew and roamed the earth to nourish their energy needs to get on with the other important things in life (like homesteading, child-rearing, community-building and survival).
And, what I am saying is that, more often than not, many people in our disconnected society have also lost touch with what their own bodies need and want.
HOW TO DO IT?!
Intuitive Eating begins to naturally happen the more you STOP using your head and start checking in to your body—and your gut feelings.
It won’t come easily at first, but with some practice, you, too, can begin to experience freedom in your food choices, your nutrition and your relationship with food and your body.
This is called both learning to eat intuitively and mindfully.
Here is your challenge for the rest of the day: Check in with yourself.
For at least the next 24-hours…before each meal, assess your hunger level on a scale of 1-10
(1= starving! 5=neutral. 10=stuffed).
At the end of the meal, same thing—but this time, assess your fullness.
Appropriate hunger before a meal is usually somewhere around a 3 or 4, although being a 5 is not all too uncommon if you have a certain schedule (such as work) where you have to eat at certain times. While you may not necessarily be hungry at your noon break, you still may eat in order to prevent hunger at a future time (this is where ‘mindful eating’ comes in to play).
Appropriate fullness is typically around a 7 or 8.
In addition to checking in with your hunger/fullness, check in with how you feel—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Do you have gas and bloating after that meal? Still feel hungry? Constipated? Does your skin break out later that day?
Begin to be a sleuth to your bod’s cues.
INTUITIVE EATING IS WITHIN YOU
Like I said, learning to eat like you knew how to as a kid (when you are hungry!) is a process—our minds like to trip us up.
I dare you to give it a shot though.
With a little practice, it can become a healthy habit.