How to Avoid the Diet Mindset with Intuitive Eating
Discovering the book Intuitive Eating was a huge step in my journey towards a normal relationship with food. I devoured it. It just made so much sense.
Why should we create rules around food or follow diets - when we can listen to our bodies?
As I worked my way through the book and practiced giving myself permission around all foods, I felt less guilty.
I love using Intuitive Eating as a tool for myself and with clients.
It can such a powerful switch in mindset to get out of the diet perspective.
Yet, it's not the "cure" for disordered eating.
When I see clients in my office for eating disorders or any disordered eating patterns, they're working with me for the food piece. They also have a therapist, a physician, and possibly other members of the team like groups or therapeutic yoga.
That's because while it's important to change your beliefs and actions around food, it's also so essential to look at the big picture. That's where you can start to explore why you are trying to control your food intake or your body, do body image work, and bring more awareness and acceptance to all parts of you - even the vulnerabilities and parts you may want to hide.
A word I love to use with recovery is surrender to start letting go.
Most people start eating intuitively from a place of control. Of course, we do (I did too!) because we all came from a place of controlling our food on diets or putting rules around our food intake. You may have felt like you binge when you let go of that control, leading you to put even more rules around your food.
On a side note, life is uncomfortable and uncontrollable, so of course we like to try to control and avoid that discomfort. Practicing being okay with discomfort is such an important skill to learn (and re-learn)!
With time, this surrender is possible to let go of the diet mindset, so you're just normally eating intuitively. That is, using your intuition to guide you around food. No one can tell you how to do this, except you.
As you're starting intuitive eating, it's okay if you feel like you're trying to control things. Just be aware of these rules, and you may find yourself letting go of them with time.
Here's what I want everyone to be aware of, so you don't turn intuitive eating into another controlling diet.
1. It's okay to eat when you're NOT hungry.
It's okay to eat at anytime you want. You're always allowed to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. If you just had lunch and you're full, but you still want a cookie because it's delicious, eat it! If you don't want it, then don't. It's your choice.
It's normal to eat when you're not hungry, and everyone does it. At Thanksgiving, I eat dessert, even if I'm stuffed. If I know I have several clients in the row and won't have time to eat, I'll have a snack beforehand, even if I'm not hungry then. I know my body will feel starving if I don't, so I feed it proactively.
Speaking of hunger, this is also really important if you've been on diets or struggling with disordered eating patterns because you may not have regular hunger signals. If this is the case, you won't be able to fully trust your hunger cues because they will be irregular. They may only show up when you're starving, which is a sign of more extreme hunger, compared to feeling moderately hungry.
The more you eat regular meals with enough food, your hunger signals will return. There may be a period where you feel like your hunger is insatiable, and you may feel starving an hour after you eat. That's okay - you're allowed to eat anyways.
2. It's okay to feel full.
You don't have to obsessively check in with your body after every bite if you're full yet. Fullness is more a feeling of not being that interested in food anymore. When your body has gotten the food it needs, your brain loses its interest in food.
Sometimes, I finish my whole meal, and I'm done. Sometimes, I want more, so I have more. Sometimes, I don't eat it all because I'm done.
It's not a calculation about finding the perfect level of fullness because that doesn't exist. The amount of food my body wants varies every meal, depending on so many factors like my activity level, where I am in my menstrual cycle (I know I'm way hungrier the week before my period, so I naturally eat more), and how long it's been since my last meal.
It's okay to feel the sensations of fullness in your body. It only indicates you fed your body. It doesn't you overate or did something wrong.
It's also okay to keep eating if you're full. Most of us eat large meals at Thanksgiving and feel stuffed afterwards.
In this case, I would just check in with your intentions and awareness. Are you eating because you want it? Maybe the food just tastes really good, and you want to enjoy it fully. Great, savor that meal!
It's great to be aware if you're eating for other reasons too. Are you eating as a way to numb out from feeling other things? You may know that if you eat to the point of 'stuffed,' you can focus on how your body feels rather than worrying about your anxiety about another issue. Check in with yourself about what's going on, and you can choose to keep eating (that's okay too), or to explore other ways that may address the underlying cause of the eating.
3. Intuitive eating isn't a weight loss tool.
Oh, yes, the weight loss goal.
I hear this all the time - "I tried intuitive eating but must have been overeating because I gained weight," "Will I lose weight if I intuitively eat?," or "I failed at intuitive eating because I gained weight/didn't lose weight."
Intuitive eating isn't about weight loss.
It's about reconnecting with your body to allow yourself to listen to your body's signals, make peace with food, and respect your body.
It ties in well with health at every size because you can focus on your overall health, which may include food, movement, along with your mental, emotional, and spiritual health too.
Intuitive eating takes weight out of the picture by allowing your body to find its natural size or shape. This is a place where you can settle without having to control or obsess over food, and you can eat normally. Some people may lose weight, others will gain weight, and some will stay the same.
Intuitive eating is about respecting your body, its natural size, and knowing that all bodies deserve enough energy and good nutrition. This is where gentle nutrition can come in because nutrition can play a role in your food choices. You can choose to eat veggies or cook more whole foods at home because you want to take care of your body.
This is where body image work can come in too. Practicing body acceptance and exploring body positivity can be wonderful tools along with intuitive eating.
Surrendering + Trusting your Body
Using the idea of surrender also applies to your body. While you may feel like you have control over your body, your body is eventually going to get its needs met.
When you restrict yourself, you may end up binging, so your body gets enough energy. While you may be able to keep your weight low by keeping a carefully controlled diet, your health may suffer with side effects like losing your period or hormonal imbalance, digestive issues, feeling cold all the time, or just cranky and obsessively thinking about food.
Surrendering control around your weight allows you the freedom to let your body find its natural setpoint range. It allows you the freedom to discover normal eating where you don't have to stress about everything you eat, or worry about how it's going to affect your body.
This Gives you Freedom.
It also gives you the freedom to live your life without stressing about food or your weight.
You can have the energy and space to discover how you want to spend your time and who you want to hang out with.
You can also do all the things you are putting off because of your diet or your weight - like go on dates, go to new restaurants, go out dancing, or whatever it may be.
I wish all of you this freedom.
Give yourself the chance to fully explore it by breaking down all the rules around food and not turning intuitive eating into yet another diet.
Surrender to your body. It knows what to do. It wants to take care of you.
“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. the world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.” - Marianne Williamson
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