How do you approach the way you eat?
Eating can be such a loaded topic. Depending on where you are and the culture you’re influenced by, eating can be tied up with so many emotions – from guilt and shame, to stress and craving.
From an early age, we may be taught to associate eating with pleasure and sensation-seeking, eating out of boredom, or eating as a response to helplessness and crisis.
And as we get older, food often also gets associated with restriction and control, depending on your ideas of weight and wellness. Some may also associate eating with morality, avoiding meat out of compassion for sentient animals.
Making food choices for wellness can be overwhelming – intuitive eating simplifies it
To me, eating intuitively cuts through all of the information we receive about foods, and simplifies the process of making food choices, especially for those with busy lifestyles.
I went through a whole period of time where I would research nutritional values of foods, and I would make choices purely on what someone else said is ‘good’ for you. But I found that making food choices from a purely intellectual place did not work for me. It took all the joy out of eating, and was an often unsatisfying experience.
I slowly gravitated towards eating intuitively instead, an organic process that arose out of necessity (i.e. lack of time and also, laziness) and because I wanted to enjoy the act of eating. I wanted to eat healthily but I didn’t want to count calories or obsess about food.
Eating intuitively is about trusting the intelligence of your body, and the power of your intuition as a messenger for your body. You may start getting images of certain foods and a craving for certain tastes that really start to make sense later. The more you act on these instincts, the more your body will start to communicate with you.
Eating intuitively is a way to cut through all the ‘shoulds’, all the things you’ve ever read or learned about eating. First, let’s start off with what intuitive eating isn’t about.
It definitely isn’t about following someone else’s rules.
Eating intuitively isn’t about:
- Counting calories
- Reading nutrition labels
- Restricting yourself or dieting
- Judging yourself
Eating intuitively is about:
- Respecting and caring for your body
- Enjoying the act of eating
- Listening to your needs
- Eating what feels right to you
- Learning to listen to your body
- Paying attention to the signals you get before, during and after eating
And as a bonus, when eating becomes an enjoyable activity, we also start to develop a respect for the foods we eat and put into our bodies; how they are grown, produced, and brought to our dining tables become of interest to us.
But it all starts with caring for and listening to our bodies.
Treating your body with respect & compassion
Instead of judging yourself for having cravings, know that sometimes your body sends you signals for what your body is lacking. This can happen due to the normal fluctuations in your body due to hormones and sugar levels. For example, I often crave for spinach or even lamb right before I get my period. This tells me I need to refuel on iron.
Cravings can also be a learned response to emotional changes. When I need comfort I tend to default to white rice, which is what I grew up eating. Nothing says ‘home’ to me more than white rice and porridge. And so when I eat it, I start becoming aware of the fact that maybe there is an emotion under that craving somewhere, maybe something I need to sit with, acknowledge and nurture.
And that is also why I won’t say that I absolutely don’t eat foods from a certain food group. I don’t believe in dogma – regarding almost anything – and tend to stay away from information or writings that say you MUST or MUST NOT ABSOLUTELY do or not do something.
For me, I eat a mostly plant based diet but I do supplement with fish and certain meats sometimes. There are a handful of things I tend not to eat on principle alone. But I do not believe that there are any foods that are inherently bad – even if you crave for chips or candy, I see it as the body saying hey, I need salt! Or, it may be saying, hey, there is an emotion I may be avoiding. Or, hey, I’m stressed and I really need to relieve this feeling; or I’m running on empty, give me some glucose quick!
Or, of course, you may have been eating candy often and your body has developed an addiction to sugar or some other substance … and even then, it is worth looking at the emotion or impulse that’s attached to the food you’re craving. Can you trace it back to when the addiction seemed to start? When did you start to eat what you’re eating?
Attaching shame or guilt to foods can also be counter-productive. Have you ever tried saying, no, I absolutely can’t eat xyz – then find yourself hopelessly craving for it and obsessing about it?
Food is many things, but I tend to shy away from seeing it as punishment or reward. We can learn to trust ourselves and our bodies enough to know that we can respond to it with attunement and love.
Food: It’s nourishment. It’s sustenance. It can be medicine. It is part of a ritual, part of ceremony, an inextricable part of life. We can develop an intuitive, healthy and respectful relationship with food.
And the science of it…
This is also research that shows that intuitive eating leads to weight loss. The paradox here is that by not focusing on a restrictive diet that emphasizes a clinical approach to eating, you actually end up losing weight along the way, if that is your goal.
You can start today
If your interest is piqued, you can start eating intuitively at any time.
- Simply take a moment to pause and really look at what you’re about to eat and put into your body. For half a minute, simply look at it. What’s the first impulse that arises? Are you distracted and feel an urge to put it into your body, not caring how it tastes? What attracts you to it? The colour? Smell? Texture? Does it satisfy you when you’re eating it? What do you feel after you put it into your body? What emotion are you feeling at this moment? Be an investigator, be curious about the feelings and sensations that arise.
- The next time you go grocery shopping, ditch your list. Take a moment to walk through the produce aisles and see what you’re drawn to. Are leafy greens calling to you? A certain fruit? Or nothing at all? Even feeling nothing is a valuable piece of information… Pick up the first thing you feel drawn to, buy it, taste it. See how you feel about it. Once you start collecting more and more information about what you like or dislike, you have started a conversation with your body about what it wants and needs. And you can go from there.
Disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist. Seek out medical advice before making changes to your diet, especially if you are managing a chronic illness or any other health condition. Take care of you first. <3
- Leahy, K. Berlin, K.S. Banks, G. Bachman, J. (2017.) The Relationship Between Intuitive Eating and Postpartum Weight Loss. Maternal and Child Health Journal. Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 1591–1597
- Cadena-Schlam, L. López-Guimerà, G. (2015) Intuitive eating: An emerging approach to eating behavior. Nutrición hospitalaria: Organo oficial de la Sociedad española de nutrición parenteral y enteral, 2015, Vol.31(3), pp.995-1002