Our bodies communicate regularly with us. They tell us when things are going well. We feel comfortable in our own skin, we move with ease, and we do things freely. We go on with our lives without much thought.
They also tell us when things are off. We feel tightness, aches, pains, illness, or discomfort. We know there is something amiss, and we rest, we take supplements and/or medication, we exercise, and we do what we feel is necessary to take corrective steps.
The same thing happens to us with our food. When we eat something, and it works well for our bodies we respond well. In fact, we don’t even think about it. But, when we eat something that is not good for us, we feel discomfort. Often, we get so used to the discomfort, either because it happens frequently or because there is too much going on in our lives, that we stop listening.
The key behind getting control of our diet is remembering to listen to our bodies. That means learning to eat intuitively. I mentioned eating intuitively in an article about how to get vitamins from our diet, and I mentioned I would dedicate a separate article on how to eat intuitively, and here it is.
What Happens When We Diet
Research indicates that diet don’t work. One out of three people gain the weight back after one year, and everyone gains it back after five years. (WebMD, 2018). Dieting on a regular basis, particularly when we have cycles of gaining and losing weight, can be stressful. It causes stress not just mentally and emotionally, but also to our bodies.
Yo-yo dieting puts pressure on our circulatory system and heart, it increases our chances of developing gallstones, changes our gut bacteria, and can leads us to not getting enough of the nutritional value we need, given the restrictions diet impose (WebMD, 2018). Ironically, all of this can contribute to make us gain weight.
What to Do Instead
Instead of dieting, consider long-term lifestyle changes. We’ve all heard this before. It is common knowledge we need to exercise more, eat more whole and plant-based foods, eat less sugary and processed foods, reduce stress, improve our support network, and generally make healthier choices.
But, it is important for us to make the choices that will work best for us. We are bioindividuals and what works for one person will not work for another. I have written about bioindividuality before. Just because a diet is popular, it doesn’t mean it will work for us. We have to learn what will.
How to Eat Intuitively
The best way to achieve bioindividuality, and to learn what will work for us, is to eat intuitively. Eating intuitively means listening to what our body is telling us. These are six steps we can use to start:
Take Time Deciding What to Eat
Stop and consider what to eat before deciding. Look at the food in the refrigerator or imagine the food on the menu. Consider what looks appealing. Then, take an extra moment, and think how our body will feel. If the response is well received and it feels right, then proceed. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
Listen to Cravings
Our bodies tell us what we need. That is where cravings arise. Have you ever woken up and had a strong urge to eat something, perhaps eggs? It probably means we’re in need of protein. Or perhaps you crave greens. Or something else. This is our bodies speaking to us and telling us what we need.
These cravings come from our instinct. Animals eat instinctively. They know what piece of land they need to forage from to get the nutrition their body needs. We have the same instinct, but we’ve stopped paying attention to it.
Distinguish Nutritional versus Emotional Cravings
It is important to recognize when we have cravings that are beneficial to us versus cravings that do not have to do with our nutrition. For instance, when craving something sweet, consider if this is because our blood sugar is low or because we’re feeling nostalgic and sad and hope the bowl of ice cream will help us feel better. In the latter, the craving is best satisfied by considering how to rectify the feeling rather than the actual craving. If unsure of where the craving is coming from, go back to step one. Stop and take time before deciding whether or not to eat that food item.
Stop Eating When Full
This also means that we need to recognize when we’re full, because many of us, including myself, tend to overeat. We’re more intent on finishing what is on the plate, than finishing when our stomach has had enough. A great way to make sure we listen to our stomach is to eat more slowly and chew more with each bite. This helps us pay more attention to what we’re eating and how our body changes with each mouthful. It is more likely we will stop eating when we’re full.
Only Eat When Hungry
Instead of eating when our schedule dictates, eat when our stomach dictates. We may have meetings, events, parties, or other commitments that involve meals, and sometimes we eat because there is food, and not because we’re hungry. If faced with having food when we’re not hungry, then have no more than a couple bites of food. That way, we keep up with the social or professional compromise, but do not overeat.
Keep a Food Journal
The purpose of keeping a food journal is to keep a record of every single food and beverage item we consume, the time of day, and the portion and quantity. But, that is not enough. Write down what we are feeling before and after, including what we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is a useful exercise to identify how our feelings affect our food choices, as well as how our food choices affect our body.
It is particularly useful if we do not know how our bodies feel, and how to remember to pay attention to those feelings. I would recommend keeping the food journal for at least a month and seeing what patterns arise.
One woman followed intuitive eating and had success beyond losing weight. She felt happier, slept better, and was more present for her relationships (Garces, 2018). But, this is not a one-off. Studies show that eating intuitively helps people reduce weight and keep it off, while also bettering their health, such as with improved cholesterol, blood pressure, and other measures (Conason, 2014).
Conason, A. (2014). The evidence for intuitive eating. Psychology Today. Retrieved on July 22, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/201406/the-evidence-intuitive-eating
Garces, K. (2018). Intuitive eating: 5 things that happened when I stopped obsessing about food. Elephant Journal. Retrieved on July 22, 2018 from https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/02/intuitive-eating-5-things-that-happened-when-i-stopped-obsessing-about-food/
WebMD. (2018). What happens to your body when you yo-yo diet. WebMD, Diet & Weight Management. Retrieved on July 22, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-yo-yo-diet-effect