New to the Abundantly Enough series? Make sure to read about Health at Every Size here before reading this post!
I chatted about the basics of HAES the other day, and now it's time to dive into the "how" you can live a healthy and fulfilling life without diets and rigid exercise plans! First up: intuitive eating. Note: this post is mostly informational, where I'll explain what intuitive eating is and a bit of how it works. I linked resources at the bottom of the post if you want to do some reading, and I'll be posting soon about breaking the diet mindset/learning how to eat intuitively!
WHY DIETING DOESN'T WORK
There's a lot of science and evidence behind why diets don't work, and that's a whole post for another day (this is a good read if you want to get a jump on things). Today, we're using a simple graphic to describe/relate to how diets and bingeing go hand-in-hand and perpetuate the restrict-binge cycle.
This graphic shows the relationship with dieting and how it feels and looks when diets fail. Remember: you are not failing. By breaking food rules/eating, you are responding to your body's natural drive to eat and fueling yourself. Diets are failing you by creating an unnecessary and unrealistic eating environment that makes you feel crazy around food. If you have some hangups about this graphic, here's a few questions to ask yourself:
Have you ever tried a diet that "worked"? And I mean, worked for 2+ years - not provided short-term and temporary weight loss.
How do you feel emotionally when dieting? Do you feel the need to avoid social situations where there will be food, or feel out of control when you eat certain foods?
Is dieting sustainable? Are you constantly starting a new diet or trying new tips?
What would your life look like without diets? What would you have more time for?
INTUITIVE EATING BASICS: WHAT IS IT?
Intuitive eating is a concept/philosophy/process that helps you develop a healthy relationship with food. And by "healthy relationship", I don't mean always eating foods we think of to be healthy. I mean that through intuitive eating, you can become a competent eater who...
Recognizes and responds to hunger and fullness cues
Can be calm around highly palatable foods (ex: brownies, cake)
Tunes into food cravings and desires
Guides eating with gently applied nutrition
Enjoys food from a variety of groups and flavors, without wanting to "make up for it" or planning a new diet the next day
Thinks less about food overall
I go over the principles of intuitive eating in this post, but basically: IE is a way of eating that tunes you into your own body, not external cues like rules or diets. By taking away limits, you open yourself up to discover what foods you truly enjoy and allow balance to find you. When you start eating intuitively after a long time spent dieting, it's possible that your intake will be both more than you expect, and will mostly focus on foods that you've been restricting for a long time. That can be scary, but know that A) the tighter you've been restricting, the more time it may take for you to stop craving those foods, and B) this too, shall pass.
Here's some questions to help you start thinking about your relationship with food...
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are likely turning to external cues like a diet plan or food rules to help you decide what to eat, rather than listening to your own body. But don't worry - that's what intuitive eating is for!
INTUITIVE EATING RESOURCES
One of the first steps you can take towards eating intuitively is to arm yourself with information. If you're reading this post and it's speaking to you, chances are you've already hit diet "rock bottom", or you're close to it. If you feel frustrated with dieting or like you continue to gain weight despite several dieting attempts, intuitive eating is for you. Recognizing that frustration is the beginning of what can and hopefully will be a very freeing experience!
Purchase the Intuitive Eating book here.
GETTING STARTED: THREE ACTIONABLE STEPS
RESPECT YOUR CRAVINGS
Eating what you really want is satisfying and allows you to move on from that eating experience feeling calm. Avoiding what you want to eat is a surefire way to promote obsession and possibly overeat that food the next time you have it. So instead of avoiding the fries, order them, enjoy them, and carry on.
BE CURIOUS, NOT JUDGMENTAL
Because diet culture is so loud, I think it's really easy to judge food in general - whether it's in a commercial, in conversation, or on our own plates. Instead of using those food rules to judge, let's shift to being curious about our intake. What guides your decisions? Do you eat when bored? Does a certain food/group sound good only when you're stressed? Do you have more hunger on days you move more? Exploring your body objectively allows you to understand your motivation more and tune in to your intuition more.
BE IN THE MOMENT
I'll be real: the process of transitioning from dieting to intuitive eating is active, not passive. Because you've been shutting out internal signals for so long, you have to pay even more attention to them to know how to read them AND to encourage them to talk to you. So in the beginning, it may feel like a lot of work - but it does get easier and more natural as things go along. Think of it as a learned skill that becomes a habit. In the beginning especially, try to eliminate distractions while you eat and just be in the moment. Think about how your food tastes, feels in your mouth, and feels in your body. Maybe eat a little slower if you have time, so you can feel how your body fills up. (I know this isn't always realistic because of work and real life and kids and pets, but trying it when you can is so helpful)