By Barbie Boules
Intuitive eating is the act of discriminating between eating because you’re physiologically hungry and eating for any other reason. It is a process by which you learn to separate food from emotion and genuinely trust yourself to honor your hunger and eat without guilt, respect your fullness, and stop when you are physically satisfied. It’s about reclaiming your power over food and treating yourself well. Learning to eat intuitively and mindfully is a process. Like anything else worth achieving, it takes time. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey.
Think about young children. They are naturally intuitive eaters. Their patterns vary from day to day and week to week. We know we can’t force a toddler to eat when they’re not hungry. Somehow it works out because they have not yet begun to strongly associate emotions and “rules” with food. When you first allow yourself to eat intuitively, you may go a bit overboard, particularly if you’ve been restricting yourself for some time. When you know that you can enjoy the foods you love, you begin to connect with your body’s cues, overindulgence eventually starts to dissipate and finding a balance becomes easy. Intuitive Eating is not a “diet;” it is a lifestyle. That said, once we reconnect with food in a healthy way, weight loss is an inevitable benefit if that is what’s appropriate for your unique and beautiful body.
When you are feeling hungry, take a moment. Scan your body. When was the last time you ate? How much did you eat? Does it make sense that you are physically hungry? Or, could it be something else nagging at you? If you are genuinely hungry—EAT! If you determine that you might be stressed, tired, bored, anxious, angry or simply wanting to celebrate, take another moment and see if there’s something else you might do that is satisfying, rather than eat.
If you determine that emotional eating is an issue for you, starting a journal is helpful. Notate these moments in your journal: “I want to eat because I am feeling…” “Instead I can…” (If you determine it’s not genuinely hunger.) “I choose to…” (It’s okay if you choose to eat rather than your alternative).
7 Tips for Mindful Eating
Mindfulness refers to the practice of being present in the moment. While wandering thoughts are completely normal, when you’re trying to establish a healthy relationship with food being present is hugely helpful. Mindfulness encourages us to notice our distractions, and then gently bring ourselves back to the now. This practice sounds challenging, like work, and initially, that’s true. Ultimately, mindful eating brings back the joy of eating because you’re actually experiencing it.
Before you begin eating, take a moment to reflect upon how you feel. Are you genuinely hungry? Or is there something else you’re feeling that you could address in another way? Determine the difference between physical and psychological hunger. One rule of thumb is if you’re genuinely hungry, you’ll be fine eating a healthy option. If only mac and cheese will do, you’re probably craving a food hug.
2. Have a seat.
This is big. You’re less likely to appreciate your food when you are multi-tasking. It’s also difficult to keep track of how much you are eating when you’re in your car or standing in the kitchen.
3. Ditch everything with a screen.
No TV, phone, tablet or computer. If you must read—read a bit, stop reading and take a bite and enjoy it.
4. Put your food on a plate.
Eating from the bag, box or carton is a sure-fire way to lose track of portions.
5. Give gratitude.
Before you begin eating, take a moment to acknowledge the labor that went into providing your meal (farmers, factory workers, cooks, animals, the Earth, the chefs) and how fortunate you are to be well-fed.
6. Take time to chew and taste.
Often times, we are swallowing before we’ve fully chewed, or we’re already taking anther bite when we haven’t swallowed. Go slowly. Chew, taste, then swallow.
7. Make your meal your entertainment.
Every once in a while, when dining alone, be conscious of the food’s consistency, flavor, tastes and smells; fully appreciate the meal.
5 Tips for Sticking with It
1. Prepare for success.
This is absolutely number one. Preparation is everything when it comes to achieving your nutrition goals. Your environment must match your goals; make the fridge, pantry and equipment work for you.
2. Focus on the process, not the outcome:
Goals are not reached overnight. With commitment and consistency, they are achievable. Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough day.
3. Don’t Eat and Drive.
If you drive a lot, consider inspiring audiobooks and turn your car into a classroom.
4. Make a List of Pros and Cons.
Ask yourself the pros and cons of staying the same, and the pros and cons of making the change. Write
5. Keep Focused.
Create a singular mantra that refocuses you to your goal.
Barbie Boules is a registered dietitian and certified health coach in private practice for 17 years. She works with individuals, families and brands, as well as corporate wellness programs. Her approach is personalized to each client—one size never fits all. She is passionate about the concepts of mindful and intuitive eating, with a focus on anti-inflammatory and pro-gut health foods. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 312-607-6689.