Honoring Your Body: Intro to Intuitive Eating

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Courtney was feeling helpless. A 15-year span of stopping and starting trendy diets had taken a toll on her body and her mind. She felt like she was sitting in the front seat of a weight loss roller coaster and there was no exit from the ride.

The rest of her life felt fairly in place, though. She was healthy, exercised regularly, and her family and career seemed to be on a particular high, but so was her weight. The extra pounds she lost from her last diet were back, plus a few more. Drained from the highs and lows of dieting, she was ready to give up until she saw something on her news feed about intuitive eating.

What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating, sometimes called mindful eating, is a pretty simple idea. By making “peace” with food, a person doesn’t restrict or ban certain foods from their diet, but instead listens to their body and eats when it feels right. Instead of looking at food as “good” or “bad,” a person eats based on hunger, their thought process and the way they feel at the moment in time.

But hold on to your doughnut holes; intuitive eating doesn’t mean eating whatever or whenever we want. It means using our body’s natural ability to tell us when we’re hungry and when we’re not. Mindful eating is a simple tool to help us gain control over our eating habits by becoming more aware of our overall eating experience, hunger, satiety, triggers, senses and appreciation for the food we eat.

Mindful or intuitive eating isn’t about weight loss. Eating with intuition or mindfulness may address problematic eating behaviors such as binge and emotional eating, while aiding as a response to external cues. Studies show mindful eating can have a positive effect on emotional eaters. By looking at food as one tool of many to cope with emotions, we can develop our overall emotional wellness.

The 5-S Plan
Stress surrounding food can often become overpowering for some, so we may find ourselves choosing unhealthy foods to cope, eating very fast or eating things that just aren’t satisfying for us. Learning to appreciate the food in front of you may not be easy, but a simple strategy like the 5-S plan from the experts at the American Council on Exercise can be helpful.

Sit: Always sit down when you eat. The act of sitting generally makes you eat at a slower pace compared to eating while standing. Be sure to not have the television on in front of you, because that is an automatic distraction. Consider your environment and where and how you are consuming food.

Smile and say thanks: Who doesn’t feel good after they smile? By being appreciative of the food in front of you, you can approach the meal with a sense of gratitude, knowing that not everyone has easy access to the same types of food.

See: Take a moment to look at the food. Take in the colors and textures of each ingredient in the meal before you.

Smell: Can you notice different aromas and seasoning nuances to the meal in front of you?

Savor: Since it takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to realize you’re full, the act of eating slowly can leave you feeling less rushed and more satisfied. One tip is to try focusing on chewing slowly and savoring each bite. Challenge yourself by chewing each bite at least 20 seconds. After you swallow what is currently on your fork or spoon, then you can take another bite of your food.

Long-Term Benefits
Intuitive eating is not one size fits all and it may not be for everyone. The goal of eating this way is to honor what our body needs, not restricting the foods we choose. The idea of intuitive eating is focused on improving health and feelings toward food. While some may lose weight as they are able to get a handle on unhealthy food behaviors, others may not, especially if they have been restricting themselves from food in the past.

It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting intuitive eating. Certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes may require lessening the intake of certain foods to manage these conditions. It might also be a good idea to make an appointment with a registered dietitian or a nutritionist to discuss any obstacles and come up with a meal plan that works for you.
If your mind and body are dizzy from the diet roller coaster or your current way of eating is making you feel nauseous about your choices, then consider getting off the diet ride and changing the way you look at food. Try intuitive eating; make peace with that pizza, your body and mind.

Sources: acefitness.org, health.clevelandclinic.org and webmd.com.