If you are someone that loves dieting and the process of restricting the foods you love, read no further. If you are someone that has tried diets and are so tired of all the rules that don't work for your lifestyle or your body, please read on!
Let's start with what intuitive eating is! Intuitive eating is a process where we eat based on being hungry or full and not based on whether or not you should be eating a particular food at a specific time. Period. Full stop. Simply put, you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. This sounds so easy that surely we must all be doing this, right? NO!
We are all born intuitive eaters. Think about it, when you were a baby you were born with the instincts to tell your caretaker when you were hungry by crying and making it clear you were full by refusing to eat anymore. Some days you may have been fussy and decided to not eat and other days you may have eaten a whole lot more to make up for those fussy days. This balance of eating too little or too much all evened out over time so long as you weren't force fed. You were using your intuitive eating instincts without even being aware of it! So what happened? Societal pressures. Your family, friends, coworkers, media outlets and society all influence what and how much you eat. Somewhere along the line, most likely in childhood, you lost the ability to stop eating when you were full. This may have happened when you went to one too many birthday parties surrounded by pizza and cake or at the holidays where eating to excess is encouraged. The important takeaway is that those intuitive signals diminished or even disappeared and we now eat for many other reasons besides being hungry or full.
So can we get back our intuitive eating skills? Absolutely! Intuitive eating brings together your mind-body connection with food in order for you to develop a healthier relationship with food. One of the ways we learn about intuitive eating is by developing a mindfulness practice and putting food choices, initially, on the back burner. Developing a mindfulness practice allows us to become more in tune with our bodies. This helps us realize how much power there is in using our minds to strengthen our body and vice versa. This is not voodoo and you do not have to be a monk to develop this practice! Our minds are incredibly powerful and we can find ways to harness and hone this power every day. For example, the mindfulness aspect of pilates is part of the reason I love being a pilates instructor as there is a significant overlap with intuitive eating. In pilates, you use your mind to make strong, purposeful movements to gain strength and stamina, mainly using your core. Translating this concept to intuitive eating, you use your mind to connect with your body to recognize your eating patterns in a more precise, non-judgemental way. Being more mindful while eating will allow you to become more purposeful instead of automatic with what you choose to eat. For those of you who aren't familiar with mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and pilates, this concept may be entirely new to you. That is ok! Luckily, becoming more mindful when you eat is something that is totally learnable and eventually, becomes natural.
This brings me to another point. Mindfulness seems to be the coolest buzz word around the block these days. "Let's be more mindful of where we put our arms on the armrest during a flight" or "we should be more mindful of how our actions influence others." These variations do NOT use the term "mindful" in the way we use it when discussing mindfulness and intuitive eating. Mindfulness, when discussing intuitive eating, is being present without judging your experience. It should be noted that mindfulness is certainly a part of the intuitive eating process but intuitive eating and mindfulness cannot be used interchangeably. We use mindfulness to become more aware and present while eating without judging the experience so that we can start getting more in tune with our hunger signals. This is the exact opposite mindset we have when we are dieting. Dieting promotes judging what we eat and intuitive eating promotes a judgement free zone.
So what is one easy step to become more mindful during your meals to start your intuitive eating journey? Try to put away your phone for 1 meal over the next week when you are eating by yourself while sitting down. Yes, I mean it! For the entire meal, put your phone away and notice how you feel. You may feel anxious, you may feel liberated, you may feel strange. But it's now just you and the food in the front of you, no distractions. If you did this first step, congratulations, you have finally experienced what it's like to be present for a meal! How did it feel?