When deciding upon an official name for my business, I knew I wanted it to represent not just me as an individual, but also my coaching style. Feed Your Intuition, aka FYI, gave me this idea that what we feed our minds is just as essential as what we feed our bodies. You can eat all the apples, egg whites, and spinach you want, but if your mind isn't in tune with your body and its needs, how can we fully reap the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle? When working with clients I am upfront about how I like to approach weight loss or diet changes. I'm not one to hand someone a meal plan and say, "okay, eat these meals for 6 weeks and you'll get results". What does that teach someone about how to best fuel their body and match their unique health history? If you ask any random person how successful they were on a diet that told them what they can and cannot eat and for how long to do it, they would probably tell you that not only did they hate the process, but that it didn't last.
Have you noticed a trend? Most conventional diets don't teach you how to listen to your body's hunger cues or to pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. Instead, they give you a list of foods you can and cannot eat, or they tell you the number of points/calories you're allowed to rack up each day in terms of the meals and snacks that you choose. It's uncommon for these types of diets to help you learn about why certain foods are better nutritionally for you than others or what it feels like to truly be hungry and full. How is intuitive eating different? Intuitive eating is all about focusing on you as a unique individual with a specific set of needs. You tune in to your mind and body to discover which way of eating works best for you as opposed to following a restrictive set of rules, numbers, or other external cues that companies provide you with the hope of convincing you that promises such as "become a fat burning machine!" or "lose 15 pounds in 30 days!" will actually happen.
So how does one eat "intuitively" and avoid all the redundant bullshit out there? To break it down, there are a set of 10 principles of intuitive eating that can guide you. Let me reiterate: these are principles, not rules! They are meant to guide you in changing the way you think about food and your body.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
For many people this can be the most difficult principle to implement, but I believe it to be the most important of them all. Once we allow ourselves to ditch the rules, restrictions, and belief that there is one right/healthy way of eating, we can begin to allow ourselves to truly enjoy eating in a way that makes us feel energized, happy, and sustained. No more feeling like a failure every time you start to lose motivation or "cheat" during your diet. No more confusion about whether or not carbs are okay to eat for dinner, or if fasting for 16 hours is the only way you can efficiently lose weight. Allowing ourselves to eat the foods we enjoy without anxiety or guilt is the end goal, and to do this we must remind ourselves that diets and the rules that come along with them are not effective long term!
2. Honor Your Hunger
When we're told what to eat and when, it forces us to ignore our own biological hunger cues. Over time, this can cause us to lose trust in ourselves. Think about a time you were trying to lose weight and you suddenly felt a pang of hunger. Did you get nervous or have anxiety because you thought you weren't supposed to eat again until dinner? Did you ignore those hunger cues and feel miserable for the next 3 hours? Forget the idea that you must have willpower or motivation to successfully stick to a diet. The concept that one must have willpower to lose weight or be healthy is a load of garbage. It takes education and respect for one’s body – not willpower. Just eat when you're effing hungry! Your body will thank you for it. As will everyone else because no one enjoys being around someone that is hangry… and we’ve all been there. Allowing those feelings of hunger to linger until your next meal will only cause you to want to eat everything in sight. No more asking yourself questions like "do I deserve it?", "is it the right time to eat?", or "but shouldn't I not eat past 8 pm?" Tell those thoughts to shove it and get yourself a snack.
3. Make Peace with Food
Most of us have those few foods that seem to trigger overeating. It could be donuts, pizza, pasta, chocolate, or maybe a French baguette (hi that's me, the bread bitch). Ever notice how when we tell ourselves we can't have a certain food, it makes us think about it and crave it MORE? Think about a diet that told you to quit sugar, give up bread, or said cheese was off limits. Then think about when you finally let yourself have it again after that horrendous period of deprivation. Did you feel like you couldn't get enough of it? Thought you might never stop eating? We need to normalize these foods in order to avoid this "all or nothing" mentality that comes with diets that tell you to ditch them. Food should be your friend, not your enemy!
4. Challenge the Food Police
Think of the food police as being the sum of all the food rules and restrictions housed inside your brain. These can accumulate from years of yo-yo dieting, from comments made by family and friends, marketing labels, magazine covers, etc. This is the part of your conscience that tells you you've been good or bad depending on your food choices. Types of rules you tell yourself to follow could include "no carbs for dinner", "all dairy I consume should be fat-free", or "I'm only allowed to eat out if I work out this morning". These are unique to each individual, but the feelings of guilt and shame for breaking a rule tend to be the same across the board. This is why years of off and on dieting can lead to a negative mindset in terms of our eating patterns. The next time you feel those thoughts creeping in, tell them to F off. They provide zero benefit to your mental and physical health, and your mental health is what ultimately controls your physical health.
5. Feel Your Fullness
As silly as it sounds, all these diets and rules can make it very difficult for us to know what it truly means to feel satisfied. Some of us only know the feelings of ravenous hunger or filled to the brim fullness. We can't seem to find that sweet spot where we're satisfied and still comfortable. But why? Well, most diets have us cutting back so much or only eating at specific times that we begin to feel deprived. And then once we have certain foods in front of us, we engorge ourselves due to being so hungry or restricted, thus we have a hard time recognizing when we begin to feel full. When we're allowing ourselves to eat when truly hungry, we give ourselves the opportunity to focus on these cues and understand better what they feel like to us as individuals. Mindfulness is key in this principle. Take the time to assess your hunger levels. Take a moment during your meal to determine whether or not you're beginning to feel full, and what comfortable satiety feels like to you.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The food that you choose to consume should be food that fulfills you and satisfies you both physically and mentally. If you're choosing to eat a rice cake when all you really want is an actual piece of bread, there's a good chance you'll most likely end up feeling unsatisfied and find yourself rummaging through the pantry for more food in the long run. We fear that if we allow ourselves to eat a cookie or reach for the bag of chips that we will feel out of control, when in actuality our sense of control or willpower is wiped away due to the fact that we have told ourselves we can't have these certain foods!
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
When feeling sad, stressed, or angry, we often look for instant gratification to resolve these feelings. Food is an easy go-to. Going through a break-up? Bring out the ice cream. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed after a full week of work? Order a huge pizza and open a bottle of wine. Regardless of weight, food usually has emotional associations. Some are positive, some are negative. The goal with this principle is to be able to separate and recognize what we're feeling from the action of eating. If the first thing that comes to mind to take care of yourself when sad, lonely or uncomfortable is to search through your fridge or pantry, this can become a destructive coping mechanism. Dieting itself can trigger certain emotions, which in result can lead us to use food to try and cope with these feelings. The next time you feel yourself reaching for the chocolate after an emotionally charged day, take a moment to ask yourself... Am I truly hungry? What am I feeling at this moment? What do I need instead? Rather than looking to food, what you need could be a talk with a friend, a walk outside, or a moment to decompress with music.
And finally -
8. Respect Your Body
9. Exercise - Feel the Difference
10. Honor Your Health
These last 3 principles are centered around loving your body and acknowledging all that it can do, using exercise and nutrition gently while still honoring your cravings, and giving yourself permission to eat what you what, when you want. It's definitely a difficult balancing act at first, however once you find the balance that's perfect for you and your lifestyle, eating becomes much more fun - just as it should be! It takes the stress and anxiety out of every food decision you make, which I think many of us suffer from on some small level.
How has intuitive eating helped me? As someone with a history of an eating disorder, I still find myself susceptible to certain triggers that bring up old thoughts, rules, and restrictive eating behaviors. After years and years of trying to follow specific guidelines and diets, I came to terms with the fact that I was only hurting myself mentally in the long run. I finally began to tune in to my body to figure out what way of eating worked best for me. Now, the foods I eat are based on what I'm in the mood for, what I know is healthy AND tasty, and what makes my body feel good. I look for foods that give me optimal digestion, energy, and satiety. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a hearty spinach salad, other times I want gnocchi and dark chocolate. I let myself have the things I want in moderation so that I can normalize these foods, rather than considering them "cheat foods". Even by giving certain foods this label, it can cause us to feel guilty after eating them, which is what we want to avoid. By allowing ourselves to eat the foods we love, we reduce the risk of entering a dangerous cycle of restriction, deprivation, bingeing, and guilt. Following the principles of intuitive eating can give your body the time it needs to reach a natural and healthy weight that is unique to you because you are eating based on hunger cues, satiety, and gentle nutrition. I work with many of my clients to begin incorporating these intuitive eating principles which has drastically changed their mindset when it comes to balancing nutrition and their relationship with food.
If you're someone that's working to break the yo-yo dieting cycle or know that you need to change your mentality around food, start simple and begin with training your mind to reject the diet mentality, the first principle mentioned above. This looks different for every person depending on their history with diets and body image issues, however for the majority it will include saying no to the internal rules they've created for themselves in terms of eating patterns, releasing the idea that certain foods must be categorized as "good" or "bad", and working to understand which way of eating truly feels best for their own body. Re-wiring the way we think is hard, and it takes time. If it were easy, then my type of job probably wouldn't exist! It's okay to need extra help in this department. It took me years to work towards a healthy mindset when it comes to food and nutrition, so I understand while working with clients that it is truly a wellness journey, as cheesy as it may sound.
Do you feel stuck in the midst of all the fad dieting bullshit in the media and don't know where to begin? Let's chat. We can talk about how to begin your own intuitive eating process, change your mindset for good, and get you back to enjoying your favorite foods without stressing when you want that late-night pizza. Because pizza is essential.