Remember when eating was simple? You ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. You didn’t think about food before mealtimes nor did you wallow in guilt and shame after a mid-day snack or decadent dessert. There were no “good” foods or “bad” foods. There were no “rules” such as “no carbs after 6pm” or “protein at every meal.” No, you simply just ate food.
So when did eating and food become so complicated? When did we begin to label, count, weigh and scrutinize everything edible in our homes and on supermarket shelves? The reality is, we make food and dieting much more complicated than it needs to be. And all of these self-imposed rules and labels have not only taken much of the enjoyment out of eating, but also made us downright anxious and stressed out about something that can actually be pretty fun to do.
Believe it or not, the body is smart and actually wants to function optimally. It balances our pH levels, monitors our blood pressure and internal temperature and regulates our hormones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also tells us when it needs fuel, when it has a full tank and what it would prefer to be fed that day. However, thanks to the combination of hectic schedules coupled with an overabundance of calorie-dense, nutrient poor, heavily processed food-like products staring us in the eye everywhere we go (do we really need a slice of pizza while we walk around Target?) and a new nutrition rule, law or study either praising or punishing a new food each day, we’ve managed to tune out our body’s cues and signals.
This is where the concept of intuitive eating comes into play. Intuitive eating refers to the process of actually listening to what the body is asking for and then providing it with the appropriate response. For example, are you really hungry at 3pm, or do you just need to get out and stretch your legs. Are you experiencing a hunger pang, the body’s cue for fuel, or are you just bored?
If you are truly hungry, eating is perfectly fine and the right response. However, all too often we revert to our “rules” and what we are “allowed” to eat rather than paying attention to what our bodies are telling us. In an effort to avoid a slice of bread, we eat a “low carb” frozen meal that can simply (and quickly) be popped in the microwave. It is often tasteless, full of sodium and has a laundry list of unpronanouceable ingredients. Yes, you avoided the bread, but wound up eating more calories that weren’t even remotely satisfying. This will only lead to further craving that beloved forbidden loaf.
So how do you eat intuitively?
1. The first step is to determine if you are truly hungry or only eating because the latest nutrition article said breakfast must be eaten at 7am. Simply put, eat when you are hungry, don’t eat when you are not.
2. The second step is to stop labeling food. Believe it or not, you can eat whatever you want…IF you follow the first step. When you absolutely must have a slice of pizza and it happens to be 8:47am, it is actually OK to do so. However, when that box of donuts in the office break room is staring you in the face fifteen minutes later, you must ask yourself, “am I really hungry here?” Chances are, you’re not. And chances are, you will be quite satisfied for several hours as pizza is calorically dense. Try to avoid the satiating slice with a low-calorie diet bar and you’ll probably find a mound of wrappers piling up around your desk before you finally give in to that box of deliciousness in the break room.
Research has actually shown this intuitive approach to eating to be quite successful for weight loss and maintenance and people in several studies reported less anxiety and more overall satisfaction from eating than those who followed other structured diet plans.
This month challenge yourself to eat intuitively. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
• Stop labeling food as “good” or “bad.”
• Only eat when you are hungry.
• Stop eating as you begin to feel satisfied.
• There is no right or wrong time to eat so don’t base your meals or meal selections on a specific time.
• Pay attention to how you feel after you eat, did the meal satisfy you or do you find yourself needing more or overly full?
Remember, this is not a license to stuff yourself. Rather, it’s a chance to feed your body when it needs to eat. Studies have shown that exercise enhances the benefits and aids in helping to make the right choices. With the holiday season just around the corner, this is a perfect time to embark on a regular exercise plan and practice your intuitive eating skills.
If you need some help, our Fitness Specialist Team is ready to assist. Each of us has years of experience and can help you reach your goals. Just ask for any of us at the Front Desk.
Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. (2016). A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite.96:454-472.
Anderson LM, Reilly EE, Schaumberg K, Dmochowski S, Anderson DA. (2015). Contributions of mindful eating, intuitive eating, and restraint to BMI, disordered eating, and meal consumption in college students. Eat Weight Disord. Aug 5.
Bush H, Rossy L, Mintz L, & Schopp (2014). Eat for Life: A Worksite Feasibility Study of a Novel Mindfulness-based Intuitive Eating Intervention. Am J Health Promotion (July/Aug):380-388.