I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years talking one on one with people who are sick of dieting. They are sick of the calorie counting, the restriction, the hunger, the misery… and let me tell you, I can relate. I was there for a whopping 10 years before I realized that it was destroying my life.
But what came next wasn’t what I expected either. Although I had heard of the concept of “intuitive eating” I assumed that meant that I just ate when I was hungry, stopped when I had enough, and ate what sounded good at the time that I would be lean and fit and never have to worry about anything ever again.
Boy was I wrong. That first year, I focused on “eating what I wanted” I actually gained 10 pounds… yup. It’s true. Part of that was releasing myself from the guilt and restriction, and was a very healing part of my journey.
However, I found myself often eating 3 bowls of cereal a day because “it’s what I wanted” when in reality, it was really the easiest choice. Since that time, I’ve discovered that it takes a little more than “listening to my body and eating what I want” in order to live my best life, so if that definition of intuitive eating holds, then no, I am not an intuitive eater. However, I did learn a lot from my time attempting to “eat what I want, when I wanted:”
Listening to body cues is important –
One of the best things I learned from intuitive eating is listening to my body. Listening to hunger and satisfaction is a crucial part of a healthy balance with food. It gives us the biofeedback to know whether we are eating too much, enough, or not enough….. but is it necessary to stress and obsess every day over “how hungry am I?”
Here’s an email response to the question of how I handled weaning my son from nursing that illustrates this point quite nicely:
” So for a couple days, initially, I didn’t change anything… because I was used to how I was eating. It took me about 2 days to recognize: “wait a second, I’m not as hungry before meals as I would like to be.”
Is hearing our body’s signals important? Absolutely! Does it mean we will always listen? Not at all, in fact our habits make it difficult to make adjustments, unless we are willing to adjust our habits as well.
A healthy relationship with food is important
Another fantastic thing I learned from my intuitive eating journey was creating a healthy relationship with food, and not dieting. There was room for me to release the judgement, shame, and guilt that came with eating a cookie, and I could more easily recognize the impact different foods were having on me because I was no longer feeling dreadful about what i ate.
And bonus, I didn’t hate my life anymore. That was important too.
Choices are an illusion
The most important thing I learned, in retrospect, was that the majority of the time we don’t make food decisions based on our own choices. We make them based on 1) our habits 2) our circumstances. Which is why I cringe a little every time someone says “I’m trying to make healthier choices.”
Because making choices aren’t enough.
Every time we make a choice, we have a little less willpower for the next choice.
Every time we get distracted, busy, stressed, tired, the quality of our decision making goes down.
Every time we come up against something unexpected, we shrink back to what comes most naturally: our habits.
Choice is a crucial long term principle: (ie. I choose to take care of myself) but not effective as a short term strategy.
Habits are where it’s at
My success with fitness and nutrition didn’t gel until I started creating healthier habits (not choices)… meaning that 80-90 percent of my decisions were put on autopilot.
This freed up brainspace to make better choices when needed, plus gave me the flexibility to enjoy life, (and pasta as well.)
Do I listen to my body cues? You bet. Every day.
Do I have a healthy relationship with food? Absolutely
Do I enjoy my food without guilt or judgement? YES!
Do I obsess about food and weight? NO! I don’t need to.
And to be honest, now I DO “eat what I want, when I want…” because the what and when are so tied into my habits that I have created… so I guess in that sense you could say I AM an intuitive eater.