Watch a child eat and in that experience one will witness the most organic definition of intuitive eating. If they’re young enough to not be negatively influenced by cultural rules around food, they tend to have a very natural ability to intuitively eat. A two year old knows when she’s hungry, she stops when she’s full, and she gets up from a meal and moves on with her life. She never thinks “Oh no, I just ate a cheese stick now I need to run for 20 minutes to make up for it!”
We all know that dieting doesn’t work for long-term success. The research is really clear about that. Intuitive eating, however, has been shown to improve health in the long run by improving one’s relationship with food. Intuitive eating is a philosophy of eating which is based on the belief that one is born knowing how to eat. That includes knowing when one is hungry and full, knowing one’s taste preferences, and knowing how one’s body feels after making a food choices. Many people, for various reasons, lose trust in this natural intuitive eater at an early age.
Does intuitive eating take a lot of self-control? Consider the question in a different way. Intuitive eating is not about willpower or self-control. Instead, it’s about trusting the body to give us accurate information about the what, when, and how much to eat. This ability is learned after practicing intuitive eating over time. And intuitive eating is just that, it is a practice. It takes a lifetime to learn all the ins and outs of one’s own body’s wisdom.
Tips for intuitive eating
- Find satisfaction in your eating experience. People have this idea that eating is supposed to be boring and maybe that food is just for fuel. Enjoy your food. Find pleasure in the experience. Enjoy the myriad of tastes, revel in the experience. That is ok.
- But in order to find pleasure and satisfaction with our food, we need to pay attention to the eating environment. You’ll find more satisfaction when there is a lack of emotional tension and stress in your eating environment. Experiment with clearing off the dinner tables, turning off the TV, try ignoring your e-mails and other notifications while eating. Ask yourself, “If I really sat down to slow down and enjoy that (salad), would it be satisfying to me?” Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no.
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. This one is a hard one for most people. It’s important to make peace with all foods, so no food is forbidden. In our diet-centered culture, you have likely absorbed judgments about “good” and “bad” food, and when and how you should eat it. This labeling of food and the restrictions that comes as a result often creates a sense of deprivation. And often this feeling of deprivation leads to a period of overeating, which then leads to shame, which often leads to another period of overeating, and so the cycle continues.
- Honour your hunger. When you feel stomach hunger, your body is asking for food. Despite what our culture tells us, this is not something that you need to ignore. Sometimes there’s even a feeling of virtue when we’re able to ignore hunger. But in intuitive eating, you are allowed to honour it. You are allowed to answer your body’s request for food.
- In the same respect, you also want to honour your fullness. When you feel satisfied, it is ok to get up from a meal. Your past history may tell you that you have to clean the plate in order to not waste money. But you are allowed to listen to your body before listening to food rules. You can leave food on the plate; that honours your body telling you that it has had enough.
- Be compassionate toward yourself. When the world around you is dieting and you are being bombarded with the latest diet craze, it’s easy to get pulled in. You may feel like you aren’t enough the way you are, or you may get caught up with society’s definition of acceptable beauty. You can never create fulfillment through deprivation. It can never work. You will never have your needs met by way of deprivation. Acceptance and long-term success happen through fulfillment. When you can listen to your body and understand its needs, you are on the true path of healing and happiness.
Jodi Marie Brisco is a registered intuitive eating counsellor in Greater Sudbury.