I talk with patients on a daily basis about their relationships with food. Many of you probably read that sentence and found it comical, as if we really have a “relationship” with food. While it’s funny to think about, it actually could not be more true. Eating is a necessity, a basic need, so naturally we structure our days (if not hours, minutes) around the very act of eating. Whipping up a quick breakfast, meal prepping our lunches, planning our “30 minute or less” dinners and dining with friends are all normal parts of our routine. With as much time as eating and food planning takes, it can often consume even more emotional energy.
We live completely immersed in diet culture. Each one of us has been tempted to try the latest fad diet or cut out entire food groups because we are seeing our friends’ (or strangers’!) amazing transformations. First, let me say this: it is completely fine and normal to experiment with new diets and ways of eating, exercising and looking at what you put into your body. In fact, it’s encouraged, especially if you are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms from a particular food group, i.e. gluten or lactose. (Please just talk to a health professional first.)
That being said, it is clear our culture needs (and deserves) a break from dieting mentality. Whether we are aware of it or not, there is a spectrum of feelings associated with foods of all types. Green juice? “Amazing.” Donuts on a Sunday? “Cheat meal — don’t overdo it!” Carbs after 4pm? “Avoid.” Got carried away and ate a lot of pizza? “Burn it off later.”
Participating (even unknowingly) in this conversation with yourself about your own dietary habits can be downright exhausting and detrimental to our interaction with food and your own body and mind. Enter intuitive eating: the opportunity to free yourself from guilt and judgment regarding your food choices.
Here’s how to embrace this new practice and give yourself a break:
- Embrace the pleasure of eating. Eating feels good, tastes good, smells good, so enjoy it! Eat slowly, talk with friends / family and really savor what you’ve selected for your meal.
- Understand hunger and fullness. Don’t just eat because it’s 9am and you normally eat at this time — wait until you are actually hunger. Have some water, relax into your schedule for the day and then eat when your body is ready. The same goes for fullness: if you make yourself a plate of food, don’t be afraid to save some for later if you are filling up quickly. It’s about balancing your habits so that you stay comfortable and can digest everything effectively.
- Face guilt head-on. If you are about to eat something and have a flash of guilt, it’s important to ask yourself “What rule am I about to break that I have to allow to dissolve?” If you’ve been on a lot of fad diets, there are many rules that your brain is naturally following. Face them, break them, and move forward.
- Focus on how you feel. Naturally, you will feel best when you’re consuming foods that fuel your body versus synthetic or processed ingredients. Carefully observe how your mind and body feel after eating and continue making choices for the good.
Overall, intuitive eating isn’t just eating whenever or whatever you want; it’s about remembering your basic needs as a human being when it comes to satisfaction, hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating brings us back to the basic principle of eating to live, not living to eat.
Enjoy a weekend of great food, great company and hopefully plenty of time outdoors in the beautiful weather!
Best of health,