By being less concerned with how many calories you eat and instead focusing your attention on your physical and emotional experiences of eating, you can retrain yourself to enjoy food in a more natural way — but if you want to keep weight off for good, first you need to ditch the diet mentality and trust yourself.
The problem with diets
To a generation obsessed with dieting, eating what you fancy sounds like the complete opposite of what we believe we should be doing.
We are living in a time where celebrity dieticians dictate our daily meal plans, and we believe that calorie counting is the way forward to re-attain our waistlines.
There is much more to health than your diet, and we have overlooked the deeper issues at play.
While some people desperately try to regain their natural weight by skipping meals, others forego solid food altogether by going on a liquid diet of shakes and vegetable juices to rediscover their ideal weight. But what is your ideal weight? Do you even know? Or are you picking figures from the air?
Say you do know your perfect weight; what happens when you arrive there? It’s an anxious process with many unknowns, and darn, you wish you could just eat something decent so you could actually think and work this all out!
The problem I find with any diet is that they work in the short term, but are hard to sustain in the long term. And while you’re following the diet’s many rules, you become food obsessed as you painstakingly plan and prepare your every meal and snack.
You clean out your cupboards, dust off your juicer, and go shopping for a long list of strange food from the grocery store that you are not even sure how to pronounce — let alone know if you can afford. But you do, because health is the most important thing — right? And being slim is the sure way of staving off most diseases that people die from these days. It’s a good thing!
Here’s my diet handbook, but where’s my intuition gone?
When you buy a new “how to” diet book, what exactly happens to you? You may hand over your mind-body connection as you pore over the chapters of well-meaning advice in your manual.
Your body’s cues of “full” and “hungry” may be ignored as you turn to the process happening in the external world, like reading the nutrition guidelines on the package of the food you are just about to ingest, and re-reading the section about what to do when you get crazy-hungry.
While the pounds are dropping off you, how is your mental health going? Are you relaxed and in control, or full of anxiety? If you forget your body’s needs and feelings, I’m afraid you have missed the forest for the trees.
I’m saying, instead of following the advice of others, you can learn to be the ‘expert’ of your own body.
Eating intuitively will actually lead to health and weight loss in time. It’s an organic process, and both an inward and outward journey where you will feel more sustained, and feel more in control of the process.
Dieting, on the other hand, can never achieve that sense of empowerment, as you are following another’s guidelines — it’s an extrinsic force. Ideally, your control panel should be manned by you, yourself.
Intuitive eating uses the skill of mindfulness
“Intuitive eating,” as it is known, is more like a mentality than an eating plan — actually, there is no plan at all, that’s what’s so freeing about it. But it means that a shift in the way you think about food is required for it to fully take effect, and for you to make the necessary changes around your eating habits and relationship with food.
The main point of eating this way means that you need to ditch the dieter’s mentality, as you know that dieting inevitably leads to weight gain in the long term anyway, right? And the really sad thing is that the dieter’s blame themselves, but it was doomed to fail from the beginning.
By stepping outside of dieting rules, you can eat what you feel like as you listen to your body’s messages mindfully.
You may be skeptical here, and many are, as you question this point: How can eating junk food without restraint help me lose weight and get healthier? Well, that’s where the crux of this alternative viewpoint rests, and a revolution in thought is required.
When you are listening to and honoring your body’s natural appetite — eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, eating food that is satisfying and makes you feel good during and after you eat it — you may gain genuine health, and allow your body’s weight to return to normal.
While eating this way, binging and emotional eating subsides as you give yourself permission to eat the food you love, and look within to question the real reasons why you want more food than you need.
Instead of binging, you may ask: “Am I still hungry, or am I bored and distracted by the TV? or “Am I feeling lonely?” A new cognitive pathway may be used then. “Maybe I’ll call up my friend and get together for a coffee. I just need to vent a bit and get this heavy feeling off my chest; maybe she has some advice for me.”
You can learn new ways to satisfy your whole emotional and spiritual self — without abusing or restricting food.
It’s the mental processes of eating that are brought into the limelight here, rather than food choices.
Healthy reasons to give intuitive eating a go
- Did I mention the simple fact that eating the food you love brings you enjoyment? Eating yummy food of your choice promotes contentment and mental health. Being hungry and eating raw vegetables when you would rather have a cozy warm soup and buttery sourdough does not!
- Intuitive eating has been found to improve self-esteem, optimism, psychological resilience, and better coping skills with life’s ups and downs.
- It also lowers the incidence of depression, anxiety, and negative self-talk in many people.
- Contrary to belief, intuitive eating lowers the incidences of binge eating, which decrease more with time. It also allows you to develop a more realistic sense of your true ideal weight — rather than a thinner, unrealistic expectation. It naturally counteracts emotional eating as it brings you into attunement with your body’s present energy needs.
- It also helps you develop self-acceptance and unconditional self-regard, which is the greatest gift for a generation of people who are told they should never be satisfied until they resemble a Barbie Doll!
- Healthwise, intuitive eating lowers your body mass index (BMI), lowers your triglycerides, and increases your HDL’s (your healthy and protective cholesterol), as well as decreases blood pressure, and increases cardiorespiratory fitness.
Do I need will power or self control to try this?
A common question people have when they learn about intuitive eating is about will power and self control, as with regular calorie restrictive dieting, will power is always stressed, and it feels like there is a struggle between you and food. But food is not the enemy; it should be seen as a friend that nurtures you. There is no will power needed in intuitive eating. If you really want an ice cream, eat an ice cream.
Elyse, from Intuitive Eating.com, in an interview explains that most people trying this way for the first time may eat more than usual. Yet after a short while, when they realize they have unconditional permission to eat anything they desire, they naturally begin to want a balanced diet that is right for them, and become more picky and begin to turn their noses up at “naughty” food they once could not refuse.
Elyse says that intuitive eating “is about trusting the body to give accurate information about the what, when, and how much to eat.”
Jenny Craig cannot fix this!!
Intuitive eating addresses the mental and emotional component of why you make poor food choices, and why you overeat or under eat. It’s a holistic approach, and looks beyond dieting and food — which are only a small part of the story.
For example, you don’t need to be a psychologist to know that excessive bingeing and other eating disorders are issues that run deeper than food alone. For many of us in the West, the way we relate to food has become unnatural, the way we eat has become unnatural, and as a consequence we are, as a whole, getting fatter despite all the dieting we seem to do. What’s really going on? It’s more than what Jenny Craig can fix!
The disconnect between you and food, plus the tonnes of conflicting information at your fingertips, is leaving you confused and not knowing how to relate to a basic survival activity — in short, you have forgotten how to eat!
Enjoying food, as the French and Italians are known to do, not only brings enjoyment at the dinner table and satiety that fulfills a deep bodily need, it brings energy, happiness, belonging, and well-being that comes from the feeling of plenty and contentment. It’s the mind-body-spirit connection that may start with food, but carries forward from generation to generation of full and happy families, who are not — gasp — overweight!
Want to learn more? In this video, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, who is a co-author of “Intuitive Eating,” talks about the importance of making peace with your food: