Along with the challenges of most things in life, including intuitive eating, there are helpful tips on the other end. In this article we explore mindful eating challenges and then look out how to eat more healthy because we choose to healthy instead of eating because we are stressed or having a bad day or anything other than eating for health.
(This is Part 3 and also our final article about Intuitive Eating. If you missed the first two, check these out before reading the rest of this one: Part 1 Intuitive Eating and Part 2 Intuitive Eating.
It might be easy to read about intuitive eating and even decide to start eating for health, but it can still be hard to implement in your life every day. It can be helpful to understand the challenges so that you know they are normal and can happen to me the same as you or anyone else. Being aware is important in change.
Challenges to Intuitive Eating
One of the primary goals for intuitive eating is to give yourself permission to eat anything. Yes, anything. If you want French fries drizzled with chocolate syrup and topped with bacon, then you are supposed to be comfortable, and not feel guilty, eating that.
There is a lot of fear around giving yourself permission eat anything. Getting past this fear begins with recognizing it and questioning it. What are you afraid of and why are you fearful? What’s the worst that can happen, and is your fear realistic?
2- Preconceived Myths Or Beliefs About Food
What do you believe about food? Do you believe that cookies are bad and carrots are good? Do you believe that fat makes you fat? What about calories? Are they all created equally? We all have beliefs about food that we’ve grown up with.
We adopt them over time and don’t often question whether they’re really true. Start writing down what you believe about food, eating, and health. Then start exploring why you have those beliefs and whether they’re true. You may find that most of your negative or limiting beliefs about food aren’t really true, which is liberating.
3- Emotional Eating
People tend to have emotional triggers that elicit certain behaviors. Some people shop when they’re stressed or sad. Other people eat. They eat when they’re stressed. They eat when they’re sad or overwhelmed or angry. Think about when you eat and what emotional triggers may be involved with your food choices.
For example, after you get yelled at by your boss, do you hit the fast food drive-through on the way home? Spend some time contemplating what makes you eat emotionally and start thinking about new habits that you can embrace instead. If you tend to have an emotional eating episode after a bad day at work, another option might be to call a friend or listen to upbeat music. Start learning how to distinguish “emotional hunger” from actual hunger.
When you’re tired, it’s difficult to pay attention to your body. You just want to get something into your stomach so you can do what you need to do and so you can go to sleep. It’s a common issue and it’s part of living a hectic lifestyle and fueling your body with foods that don’t support good health.
Rest assured that as you begin to pay attention to your body and fuel it well, the fatigue will go away. You’ll have more energy from your food choices. You will also likely sleep better and you may be more relaxed about food and eating. Additionally, if you incorporate exercise into your lifestyle, your energy will increase.
While fatigue will become less of an issue for you as you begin to eat intuitively, it’s also a part of life. Sometimes you’re just tired. That means it’s also important to learn how to manage it and still make the right decisions for you and your body, regardless of how tired you are.
It’s also important to point out that intuitive eating doesn’t say you can’t have a cookie or ice cream or potato chips. It’s not about deprivation. It’s about paying attention. If you want a cookie, eat a cookie. It’s about moderation and awareness. When you know that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want it and as much as you want, you’ll end up eating fewer cookies, cakes, and chips. You know you’re not restricted, so you won’t feel deprived and you won’t overdo it.
You’re going to receive external pressure from your peers and from the media. You’ll hear people talking about what they eat or don’t eat. You’ll hear the media talk about what you should and shouldn’t eat.
Tuning this out can be really difficult. Consider creating a mantra or an affirmation. For example, “I listen to my body and pay attention to what it wants and needs. That’s how I stay healthy and manage my weight.” You can repeat this to yourself and to your peers when you feel pressured or criticized for your choices.
While these challenges may seem difficult, the proof is there. Intuitive eating is worth it. Imagine living your life without being concerned about what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. You simply eat. Instead of stressing about it, you listen to your body and trust that it’s telling you what you need to know. You know when you’re hungry, when you’re full, and when you should have vegetables and lean meat and when a hamburger and fries is okay.
And the science is there. It backs intuitive eating. In fact, an article published in Public Health showed that intuitive eating is linked with lower BMI and better psychological health. (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23962472). People who practice intuitive eating are happier and healthier.
The benefits are substantial and they’re backed by story after story of people who have found a new relationship with food and their body. This relationship and approach leads to:
- Weight loss
- Weight control
- Improved health
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Less stress about food, more happiness
- No more diets!
Sounds pretty good, right? Let’s talk about how you can begin to eat intuitively and say goodbye to dieting forever.
Getting Started with Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating changes lives. It reframes how you think about food, how you feel, and how you live your life. Getting started is an exciting time. It can be filled with a bit of anxiety because you’re challenging your beliefs and habits. So let’s start simply and begin at the beginning.
Step One: Checking In With Your Body
The first and fundamental component of eating intuitively is to eat when you’re hungry and to eat until you’re full. You want to learn to become aware of your body. What does it want and need and when does it need it?
Start asking questions. Consider checking in with your body on an hourly basis.
Assess hunger. Ask yourself, am I hungry? Learn to recognize what hunger feels like. It can take some time to get used to this feeling. Most people wait until they’re famished or they just eat by the clock. Start learning your hunger signals. And honor them by eating when you feel them.
Assess fullness. Ask yourself, “Am I beginning to feel full?” It takes your body a full 20 minutes to send this message. If you gobble down your food, you’re not going to get the signal until long after you’ve finished eating. This means that you may miss the signs. So part of learning to assess fullness is to slow down when you’re eating.
It’s also a balancing act because you want to stop eating before you feel full. Again, this can take some time to learn. As you eat your meals over the next week, pause several times during the meal and tune into your body and your digestive system. How does it feel? Is it full? What does “full” feel like? What does almost full feel like?
Assess Cravings. Start asking yourself why you’re craving a food or avoiding a food. Awareness is as much mental as it is physical. It’s important to learn your triggers. We talked about emotional eating earlier. Emotions and your mental state help you make decisions about your food.
When you find yourself craving a snack, ask yourself why you’re craving it. We’re not suggesting that you judge your reasons for wanting a particular food, only that you become aware of your reasons. There’s strength and power in knowing that you want a cookie because you’re stressed. You can then make an educated decision about that cookie. You might have it. You might not but at least you’re eating with awareness. As you go through your day and you find yourself thinking about food or craving a particular food, ask yourself why you want it. You’ll be amazed at some of the answers you uncover.
Step Two: Stock Your Shelves
Take a trip through your home including your pantry, cupboards, and refrigerator. Consider removing the items that you want to cut back on. You might not throw them away but put them somewhere out of sight. They’ll be less tempting to you and you’ll have to be intentional when you eat them. For example, put the cookies in your laundry room cupboard or on a high shelf somewhere.
Then, stock your home with healthy options that you enjoy eating. Start looking for delicious recipes and fun and tasty foods. Remember that eating is supposed to be enjoyable.
Step Three: Find Alternatives
There will be challenges to your intuitive eating process. There will be times when stress, fatigue, and pressure from the outside world will influence your eating choices. This is okay. It’s a learning process. The goal is to begin to identify alternatives for these challenges. Remember that alternatives can be anything that works for you. If you eat unconsciously when you’re stressed, you might find that listening to a song or looking at a funny cat video does the trick.
It’s important to understand and to fully embrace that intuitive eating is a process. It’s about relaxing a bit and learning to feed your body the way it needs to be fed. Instead of listening to the outside world and your negative and limiting thoughts about food and your body, you listen to your body and respect all that it does and will do for you.
Your body is amazing and it can show you how to eat right for you. Start listening to it. Tune everything out and enjoy the tremendous benefits of intuitive eating.
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