(Article originally posted in the Elephant Journal February 23, 2018)
This year, I ended a negative relationship and started a beautiful one.
I dropped my love-hate battle with diet, weight, and body image, where “food is the enemy” and made peace with food instead.
I decided that since we’re in this together, we might as well make friends.
I stopped listening to everything else out there and started listening only to what my body wanted and needed. Honestly, after years of trying every diet in the book, consuming every nutrition blog, trying every expert recommendation, and researching the latest fad, I didn’t need any more information. That was merely muddying the already murky waters, ramping up my stress, and layering on the guilt if I wasn’t doing it “right” or managed to fail once again.
No, the last thing I needed was more information—what I needed was wisdom, body wisdom. And it was there all along, I just hadn’t bothered to pay it any attention. God forbid I trust myself!
However, once I decided to tap into my intuition and truly embrace that innate body wisdom, some interesting and exciting things happened. Check it out:
1. My waistband loosened.
Whaaa? I’ve been wearing the same Lulus to my workouts for years. They’ve always left that telltale mark from the elastic waistband. (Ya’ll know what I’m talking about.) Today, I noticed they were actually gaping at the waist. Apparently, since I’ve dropped my stress-inducing obsession with right-or-wrong, good-or-bad foods and just followed my gut (no pun intended), I’ve dropped some pounds too!
2. I’ve stopped eating when I’m full (and I’m eating less)!
By giving my body exactly what it’s asking for as opposed to what I think it’s supposed to have, I feel satiated earlier, my body is satisfied, and I am therefore naturally just eating less.
3. My relationships are flourishing.
Now that I am no longer distracted with my constant worry (obsession) about food, what I should or shouldn’t have, or will or won’t be eating, I am more fully present in my conversations and interactions with my friends and family…and those relationships can’t help but flourish for it.
4. I’m sleeping better.
No more tossing and turning, worrying about what I ate, overate, or didn’t eat that day. If you’re a ruminator like me, you know what I’m talking about. Plus, no more early alarm clock to get that extra workout in because I need to “burn off” those extra calories from losing yet another mental battle with my fork. And better sleep equals a healthier mind and body.
5. I am happier.
I never realized the amount of precious energy I was wasting on my toxic relationship with food and the quest for the “perfect” diet. Now, I fully trust my body to tell me what it needs, trust myself to listen, respond appropriately, and then just move on. I have subsequently freed up so much mental bandwidth for all the wonderful things my life has been waiting for me to show up for! I am free to be present, to participate in this beautiful life I’m lucky to lead—and that makes me one happy girl.
Reality check: While I was pretty psyched that I was experiencing these benefits, I wanted to dig a little deeper. Was there really something to this intuitive eating thing?
In my digging, I found a literature review published by Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2014) that reviewed over 40 articles and research interventions looking at intuitive and mindful eating. They concluded that “overall, overweight or obese participants who learned to eat intuitively achieved significant decreases in weight or maintained their weight.”
Several of the studies went on to show improvements in depression, self-esteem, quality of life, anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, and general well-being. And in addition to the mental health benefits, one study even showed physical health benefits including decreased blood pressure, improved cholesterol, and increased physical activity (and subsequently, improved cardiovascular health) at the one-year follow up.
So what does intuitive eating look like for me?
My intuitive eating practice focuses on what my body wants and needs. I listen for hunger cues and craving cues as opposed to how many calories, carbs, or macros I “should” be consuming.
Case in point: at a recent breakfast out, my body was craving something cold, crunchy, and sweet. One look at the menu and the yogurt bowl with fruit and house-made granola got my mouth watering.
Historically, I would have pushed this desire aside in lieu of a lower-carb, higher-protein breakfast such as eggs and veggies with a side of sausage—because that’s what I was “supposed” to have. Having ignored what my body was asking for, I would have consumed the more savory meal, but not been satisfied. I’d have found myself grazing the rest of the morning, not because I was still hungry, but because my cravings hadn’t been met, and because of that, likely over-eating.
Instead, I allowed myself the yogurt bowl, which, mind you, was still perfectly healthy. There was nothing wrong with either choice; I just allowed myself that crunch, cold, and sweetness that my body was asking for, and I was satisfied. I didn’t think about food again for hours.
By listening to my body and honoring its request, I was able to eat just what I needed to feel light and satiated at the same time, and I wasn’t left with lingering, unmet cravings.
How to start intuitive eating:
You might be thinking: this sounds amazing, but can I do it?
Yes—you absolutely can. You were born with this innate wisdom.
Trust that your body knows what it needs.
Pause, take a deep breath, do a body scan, ask what you need, and just listen. Secondly, and this is important, don’t judge! Remember, there is no right or wrong when it comes to food—other than what we label it ourselves.
Release the judgement and guilt and begin listening to your body’s natural intuition when it comes to food. Drown out the “experts” and latest diet hype. Sure, they may work for some, but if that way of living isn’t working for you (and if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing it’s not), then surrender the battle already.
Make friends with food and agree to move forward as a united front, in it together, for your well-being, mind, and body. I promise it’s not only possible, but totally worth it!