What is Intuitive Eating?
And How Does It Fit Into Weight Loss?
I expect you have a vague idea what I am referring to when I talk about intuitive eating, however it may only be a vague concept and you may not understand how it applies to you, or how you can put it into practice in your own life to help you lose weight. However it is part of the ONLY method that I have seen work to help people manage their weight issues long term, so if you are tired of faddy diets that get you nowhere, read on!
First let me explain exactly what I mean by intuitive eating.
It means getting back in tune with your body, and listening to your internal signals which tell you when you are hungry, what types of food your body needs and when you are full. All those things that we do instinctively as babies, and then un-learn as we grow up and become adults. For most people, as we become older, we get further and further away from being able to follow our body's innate wisdom, instead falling into bad habits. We put on weight, and then we try to control our bad habits and 'manage' our weight using our minds, which doesn't work! Often even the people who do manage to 'achieve' thinness still don't feel at peace, and still harbour a fear of getting fat! I'm here to tell you that there IS another way of doing things!
If this doesn't make any sense to you yet, bear with me, it will.
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The Reason Diets Don't Work!
Perhaps you feel that this whole 'eating intuitively' approach can't work for you, because deep down you don't trust yourself (and your body's cues) to tell you how and when to eat in order to be your healthy, ideal weight. You think that if you did this you would just end up pigging out and put more weight on! I get it, I had a lot of resistance to this approach too at first. However, a couple of years down the line, slim and happy, I can attest that if you can really get to grips with this you will end up healthy and feeling good. And trust me I don't eat just lettuce all the time! I LOVE chocolate, but I love vegetables too!
As I mentioned before, when we are babies we automatically intuitively and listen to our bodies. We cry when we are hungry, eat the food provided and then stop eating when we are full. When we are small children we don't drink more milk, or finish what is on our plate because 'there are starving children in Africa' (I never really got how us eating too much would help the children in Africa anyway), unless an adult tells us to, nor do we feel guilty because we have eaten something that is high in calories, and then spend the next few days trying to restrict our intake to make up for it. We don't attach all those emotions to food when we are babies, why should we. We are simply fulfilling a basic need. Perhaps we feel happy when we eat, and satisfied when we are full, but we sure don't feel guilty or shameful after we have eaten. We don't know a thing about calories at that age, however provided with the correct types of food and left to it's own devices, it would be very rare to see a small child with a weight disorder. All these negative emotions around food are learned later in life, and especially in today's society where fat has been demonized, and there is so much stigma around being seen to overeat, or eat the wrong thing, especially if you are deemed by society to be overweight!
And this is where we are messing ourselves up!
Tell me a single case where this cycle of restricting and depriving, followed by bingeing and then feeling guilty has ever led to a person being their ideal weight and having a healthy relationship to food. I can guarantee they are few and far between if they exist. You can't make peace with eating and your weight by dieting, and dieting doesn't lead to weight loss! Do you think that is a big statement to make? It's not! - How can you develop a healthy attitude to food if you do not trust yourself to be around it?
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The Key To Weight Management
The Key To Being Healthy
The key to weight management is in developing a healthy relationship to food. Just like when we were babies:
>Listen to your body
>Eat when you are hungry
>Stop when you are full.
>And also stop eating in response to your emotional cues.
This may sound impossible to you, and it isn't, there are just a couple of little things you need to learn. Also there are no gaurantees that you will get to be the weight you want, everyone is different. To be healthy you need to learn to love and accept yourself just as you are!
You will also need to move your body, and it is also important to get the right mindset and emotional coping strategies in place to support these new behaviours. These two aspects will be covered in separate articles.
It really is as simple as that, however I also understand that for most people that is not so simple at first. We have a lot to unlearn first. Let's look at each of the four things listed above in a bit more detail.
Listening To Your Body And Eating When You Are Hungry
Restoring The Balance
> Listen to your body - What we are aiming for is to get back to a way of being whereby you trust your body's signals to tell you what to eat, when and how much. You may well say to me that if left to your own devices you would just eat chocolate all day. And I would say to you that when you really DO tune back into your body, you won't! At first you might, after all it is a novelty. Suddenly you have permission to eat whatever you like, woohoo, crack open the Hershey's, however after a day or two of eating chocolate I bet your body will be craving something more wholesome. I can tell you from experience that if I eat a lot of junk food, it is not long before I crave some greens and decent protein.
Deep down your body really does know what you need, it's just that sometimes your mind, and the thoughts you have learned (such as not to trust yourself around food because you think you are a greedy pig) will get in the way and sabotage this natural instinct. Fat and calories are not bad. In fact sometimes we need calorific and fatty foods. Fat is essential to survival (that is why they are called ESSENTIAL fatty acids!) and good fats play an important role in nutrition for our body. However in restricting these foods we set up an internal struggle which even the strongest minded person is going to find hard to win. Did you know that there's lots of evidence around now that highlights the importance of the role of eating some fat for weight loss. If you give your body some fat it triggers satiety and provides the nutrition your body is craving. Even some of the so called 'bad' foods are fine, IF you can really learn to tune back into your body again. Like I said when you can really hear your body it will not tell you to just eat chocolate!
And once you have got back into the habit of listening to your body again, you will easily know when you are hungry (and this is different to having cravings, which come from your head and from restricting food) will no longer be afraid to eat a little of what you fancy. You won't feel afraid, guilty or shameful. You will just eat what you want and need, because that is what your body requested, you were hungry so you ate some meat and vegetables, and that piece of chocolate cake you had after dinner looked and tasted good. AND you will know that you will stop when you have had your fill. And this is the first step in restoring the balance. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your food, EVEN IF YOU ARE A BIGGER PERSON!
Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn
> Stop when you are full - Believe it or not this will happen naturally, once you tune back into your body. And it may take a bit of practice, along with some times when you get it wrong and listen to your head instead. You will know when you have overdone it. You will feel overly full, uncomfortable and not good about what you have eaten. Once you can let go of guilt, and give yourself permission to eat whatever you like, and that includes the times when you get it wrong and eat too much, then you will be surprised at how quickly it will become more natural to you. If you do eat too much at first when you are re-learning this skill, you are NOT to beat yourself up about it. You simply OBSERVE what has happened, as though you were watching an experiment, and take note. Then you will make adjustments so that next time you are more likely to get it right. But if you don't, you simply adjust again. In the long term berating yourself and trying to FORCE restrictions on yourself simply doesn't work. NOTE - if you have a lot of negative emotions that you are used to coping with by eating, you are going to need to find some other emotional coping strategies. I go into more detail about this in my article about loving an accepting yourself.
It is likely for many people that they have become SO out of tune with their own bodies that this habit of listening to your body will have to be re-learned. It may take some time and some slip ups before it is mastered. Be gentle but persistent with yourself.
Stop Emotional Eating
Learn how to manage your emotions to prevent emotional eating
> Stop eating in response to emotional cues - Let me just say something here to those who don't think this is possible. I was an emotional eater. AND I STILL AM AN EMOTIONAL EATER! However I have just learned some new skills for how to get in touch with my emotions, and manage them in new ways, so that I don't go on to autopilot and stuff my face whenever I feel a strong (previously unmanageable) emotion. Let me just say, this is on-going work for me. Some days even now, I STILL have this old learned response, however more and more I can catch myself and deal with it another way.
Before when I used to feel stressed, miserable or lonely I would eat and binge. Then I learned about and practiced eating intuitively. Recently I went through a stressful time again. Although my eating DID increase, it was nothing like as drastic as the response used to be. It helped that I had a level of acceptance about it too. I knew that I was going through a stressful set of circumstances, that I did not have as much time or energy to focus on what I was eating. So I allowed myself not to be perfect, I gave myself a little leeway. So what if I put on a couple of pounds during this time. I was still getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrition that I need, eating plenty of veg and wholesome foods, and I knew this stressful time would not last forever. I also trusted myself enough, having already learnt how to eat intuitively for the most part, that I would naturally lose the weight again once this stressful time passed and I was able to focus on feeding myself better again. So I had a bit more chocolate and a few more take aways than usual for a while. Sure enough, this time passed, and the weight came off again. Without all the struggle and emotional angst of the past. The damage was without doubt much less than it would have been with the added mental pressure of feeling ashamed and guilty about the extra weight I had put on!
Are you starting to get the picture?
Image courtesy of 'David Castillo Dominici' www.freedigitalphotos.net
Forget Weight Loss - Learn To Love And Accept Yourself
We are not all meant to be a size 10
There is SO much pressure on us these days to be a certain weight and shape, and we are 'bad' if we cannot live up to these unrealistic expectations. HUMANS ARE MEANT TO BE ALL DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES! And a lot of the newest research points to the fact that being heavier doesn't necessarily mean being unhealthy! Really. It is in fact about the behaviours we have (how we eat, exercise/move our bodies, and how we feel about ourselves) NOT our weight that determines how healthy we are. Don't believe me (I didn't used to believe it!) click on the link to 'Health At Every Size' in the sidebar and read more.
I do understand that this is a very hard concept to grasp after the years of being barraged with the 'dangers of being overweight', however I have worked with a lot of women and I have NEVER seen one case where they have had long term success by dieting and following the latest weight loss craze. NOT ONE! A little short term success perhaps, but they will always show up again years later, exhausted, fed up and HEAVIER than they were before. And still searching for that 'magic' cure to their weight problems.
However I have seen some cases where the woman has surrendered, given in if you like, and finally decided to focus on her health instead. She has concentrated on creating a healthier relationship with food, as well as moving her body for joy, and learning how to love herself REGARDLESS of whether she loses the weight or not, and guess what, in most cases this is when people do finally become a healthy weight. AND THAT MIGHT NOT BE A SIZE 10!
Health At Every Size
Better than diets
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Focus On Health - Weight Loss Might Just Be A Side Effect!
We are meant to be all different shapes and sizes!
I am not at my slimmest. Nor am I at my biggest, however for the first time in my life I have reached a level of acceptance of myself, including my weight. I feel good in my own body. My relationship with food is the most healthy it has ever been and I enjoy exercising. And I feel happy. If you want to feel like this too then learn to eat intuitively. I can guarantee you will have more success this way than following another diet! Yes of course choose wholesome foods for the most part, but you will because your body will guide you to do so!
Or, if you are not quite ready for this yet, you can continue searching out there for the magic answer, try some more fad diets, perhaps lose some weight, put even more back on, feel bad about yourself, get even more exhausted with the whole process, and then come back here again in a few years time when you have finally had enough of struggling in the weight loss industry, and you are ready to do the work! :-) When you do finally surrender and open yourself to this simple approach the results are worth it - a lifetime of health and feeling good!
To learn more about exercising and moving your body in a way that feels good to you click on the link in the sidebar.
To learn more about loving and accepting yourself click on the link in the sidebar.
To learn more about my own past struggles with my weight click on the link in the side bar.
I hope this article has been useful to you. Please leave me a 'like' if it has and feel free to comment and ask me any questions.
Wishing you health and happiness.