In Part 1 of Intuitive Eating we introduced the topic of intuitive eating or mindful eating. Here in Part 2 we are going to talk about the principles of intuitive eating that we mentioned at the end of the post, and how they can help us to stop overeating. If you didn’t read the first post you might want to click on the link and read it before you go on.
9 Principles of Intuitive Eating
These principals will help you if you have struggled with food, with your weight, and/or with your health because they’re all connected. We don’t look at deprivation and dieting as positive things. We want to enjoy our food but we also have to integrate eating healthy with that. And you can do that!
Healthy food does not have to taste terrible, not all of it is expensive, and it doesn’t have to be too much work to eat healthy.
1- Reject the Diet Mentality
How many times have you dieted and how many diets have you tried? The statistics are staggering. It’s estimated that by the time a woman is 45 years old, she’s dieted 61 times. The age of “dieters” is getting younger and younger, too. It’s not uncommon to find an 8 year old on a diet.
And it’s no longer gender specific. Men and women are struggling with their weight. The diet mentality will tell you to cut your calories, to eliminate specific foods, and they’ll require you to count, measure, and track everything you put into your mouth. Intuitive eating asks you to forget all about this approach and never diet again.
Instead, you’ll start paying attention to what foods make you feel healthy, strong, and energetic. You’ll start eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. To make intuitive eating part of your life, it’s time to let go of the concept that there is a diet somewhere that will work for you. There isn’t. Dieting doesn’t work. Eat to live.
2- Value and Recognize Hunger
There are many signs that your body gives you about the food that you put into it. For example, you might get a headache when you drink wine or you might get bloated when you have dairy. These signs are valuable because they tell you what you’re eating isn’t agreeing with your unique body and systems.
Hunger is another sign and it’s a valuable one. How often do you actually wait until you experience hunger before you eat? And how often do you find yourself ignoring your hunger signs until you’re so famished that you eat the closest and most convenient option, which is usually junk food?
Paying attention to your body and becoming aware of the early signs of hunger help you begin to embrace food as the solution rather than the enemy.
3- Learning to Recognize Fullness
How often do you find yourself pushing away from the table feeling like you’ve eaten too much? Maybe you’ve even had to unbutton the top button on your pants. It’s happened to everyone and it happens for a number of reasons. We just talked about ignoring hunger signals. When you do this your blood sugar drops dramatically and your body needs fuel to function.
You become exhausted and suddenly the fastest calories feel like the best calories. Fast calories often contain a lot of sugar. It might be a starchy carb like a bag of chips or a handful of cookies. You’re so hungry that you consume ten times what you really wanted or needed and then you’re overstuffed.
Mindless eating also causes problems. It’s easy to eat too much when you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing. Learning to recognize fullness helps you stop eating before you feel awful. Balancing signs of fullness with signs of hunger is half the challenge. Master these two skills and intuitive eating will become second nature.
4- Let Go Of Emotional Eating
What do you eat when you’re stressed out? What about when you’re sad? Sugary foods and/ or salty foods are often the food of choice. Some people head straight for a bag of chips or a tub of ice cream.
Emotions often make eating decisions, and unfortunately when you focus on your emotions and let them rule your choices, you’re not paying attention to what your body is telling you. Learn to be more aware of your emotions and how they impact your behavior.
You’ll be able to recognize your emotions for what they are. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel them. Emotions are signals that other things are going on in your life. However, they shouldn’t be part of your food making process. Your body should be your best reference.
5- Ignoring the Food Police
Ugh, how many people do you need in your life telling you what you can and cannot eat? Don’t eat fat. Eat fat. Watch your calories. Stay away from meat. Eat meat. It seems that everyone has an opinion and they want to share it with you.
And the food police aren’t just external voices telling you what you can and cannot eat. You have your very own internal food police as well. This is the voice that tells you you’ve been good so you can have a cookie or you’ve been bad so you have to run an extra mile today. This voice is negative and it’s often quite dumb. Food isn’t a reward and exercise isn’t a punishment.
And too much of any food probably isn’t’ great for you and most anything in moderation is just fine – even cookies and ice cream. Start ignoring these negative voices inside your head and outside, as well.
6- Enjoy Your Food
Food is fuel. It’s also more than that. It’s part of your culture. It’s a part of how we celebrate, spend time with friends and family, and it’s often how we connect to one another. Intuitive eating is about more than being aware of what your body wants and needs, it’s also about appreciating food and enjoying it.
We spend so much time feeling bad about what we eat that it ruins the relationship with food. It becomes the enemy rather than the life giving fuel that it is.
7- Respect Your Body
Do you ever think about what your body does for you? It protects you. It moves you from one point to another. It dances and smiles and skips and runs and so much more. Your body is amazing. Whatever it looks like and whatever package you came in, that package is simply astounding.
It is constantly working super hard to keep you alive and functioning on a high level. Fuel it well and treat it with kindness. Learning to respect your body and all that it does for you shifts your relationship with it.
Instead of it being something that you dislike, or despise, it becomes a part of you that you’re grateful for and we tend to take great care of things and people that we’re grateful for. Be grateful for your body. You wouldn’t be here without it. Treat it with loving kindness and feed it well.
How often do you hear someone say, “I’m gonna have to work off that meal.”? Or “I’m going to have to…fill in the blank… to make up for eating that….fill in the blank….”?
It happens all the time. People have a punishment/reward relationship with exercise and food. Both should be pleasurable and part of how you take care of yourself. If exercise is a punishment, a chore, and something that you do because you should, then it’s not the right exercise for you.
Your body was designed to move. That’s first and foremost. Move it. It wasn’t meant to sit at a desk all day or on a couch or in a car. It is meant to move. Walk, jog, roller skate, dance, jump, swim, do whatever you want to do that feels good and makes you smile.
If you love to bend and twist and feel the power and stillness in your body then try yoga. If feeling strong and empowered makes you feel alive then try weight lifting. If you thrive on variety, consider CrossFit. Love to dance? Zumba might be in your future or check out a tango or ballroom dancing class. Love the water? Go swimming.
And if walking is your thing, then you’ll be glad to know that walking is one of the best exercises that you can do.
9- Value and Respect Your Personal Health
Finally, when you shift your mindset about your body and your health, when you stop fighting it and begin to listen to it and work with it, you’ll find a new respect for your health. Many people find themselves blaming their body and their health.
They feel like a victim and that being healthy is a battle. When you’re able to stop battling with yourself and work to listen to your body, you will find that eating healthy and losing weight becomes easier.
Okay, so if all you have to do is ignore diets, fads, and negative talk and thoughts about food and embrace your body, listen to it, and stay positive about your health and well-being, then why isn’t everyone eating this way? The truth is that it can be difficult. Over the years you’ve probably established some pretty entrenched thoughts and feelings about food.
For example, do you believe that you have to have breakfast and that skipping breakfast is bad for your health? Many people, including nutritionists and physicians, believe this to be true. But what if your body feels better if you don’t eat breakfast?
What if your body feels better if you exercise first and maybe eat a few hours later? Which is better? Which is right? Intuitive eating says that you listen to your body and you skip breakfast but that may go against everything you’ve ever learned and have been told to believe.
And this is a simple example. Many other thoughts and fears about food aren’t so easy to identify and deal with. So before we talk about how to embrace intuitive eating, let’s talk about some challenges to intuitive eating.
In the third and final part of this series on mindful eating, we will explore the challenges that can be present when we decide to embrace intuitive eating, and also more about specifically how to eat mindfully.
Update: Part 3 of the series can be found here: Intuitive Eating Part 3: How To Overcome Challenges and Eat Mindfully.
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