As a nutritional therapist and well-being coach, I’m a huge advocate of Intuitive Eating. This is how I teach my clients to eat – from a place of inner wisdom and deep knowing.
It’s a method, or mindset, that women are increasingly coming to in their 40s and 50s. Some have yo-yo dieted for years and others have had an overall healthy relationship with food. Many find that what they did in their 20’s and 30’s doesn’t work anymore to maintain weight and feel fabulous. So they turn to Intuitive Eating as a radical act of self-care to assist the changes in their bodies through perimenopause, rather than relying on fad or quick fixes. The days of the dogmatic diet culture are over. The days of following strict food rules and other people’s ideas of what health means are over.
Time to slow down, take a breath and listen to your own body wisdom. Let that guide you through peri-menopause and beyond!
So, what is Intuitive Eating?
When I tell people that Intuitive Eating is about listening to your body and honouring what it needs there are usually some wide eyes and head tilts.
‘So,’ they challenge, ‘if my body wants pizza, red wine and chocolate that’s what I should feed it?’
‘Yes. Exactly.’ I reply and am met with a mixed reaction of joy and scepticism. When you put it like this, Intuitive Eating sounds like yet another fad diet. An unreachable ideal.
In actual fact what Intuitive Eating is about is moving away from dieting, from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food labels, and listening instead to our body’s inner wisdom. In all likelihood, once you have mastered this your body probably won’t ask you for pizza and wine very often. It might occasionally need some chocolate though (yay!)
The path to Intuitive Eating is harder for some, so although I’m going to give you a three-step guide, I’m not going to call it simple. Rediscovering an intuitive mindset around food can involve a lot of unlearning which takes time and is more often an ongoing process. Yet, if you can commit to doing this, here are some of the potential benefits of Intuitive Eating:
- A better relationship with your body
- Improved balance in your moods
- A healthy weight you can maintain
- Higher self-esteem
- Reduced stress
- Better digestion
Step One – Dismantle the dieting myth
In order to hone in on our inner wisdom, we must first silence the voice of damaging diet culture. The one that tells us that food is either good or bad. Or that micro-managing our food intake gives us control.
Dieting is not only largely ineffective but can also severely harm the relationship we have with food and our bodies. Often based on slithers of science, which may apply to a small portion of people, diet programmes usually focus on quick weight loss and the promise of ‘beach-ready bodies’. Common sense tells us that they don’t work but hope and curiosity often win out, because these diets always promise fast, easy, long-term weight loss. Usually, this requires cutting out essential food groups, counting calories or controlling when/how often you give your body substance.
Symptoms of these diets can include fatigue, mood swings, halitosis, hunger and deficiency in essential vitamins and minerals. It doesn’t sound very healthy, does it?
Furthermore, restricting our food intake and putting our bodies through turbulence damages the relationship we are supposed to have with our body. Not to mention that when the unachievable results of each diet fail to materialise or cannot be sustained, it’s us left feeling the failure.
How can there be harmony in body and mind if they are constantly at war with one another?
Intuitive eating is not a diet, it’s a philosophy. Therefore, it must be approached like a journey. If you’re having thoughts of, ‘well if this doesn’t work I’ll do the cabbage soup diet again,’ then that needs to be addressed. Because in order to truly tune in to your body and grace it with what it needs, we must reject the dieting myth.
Accept that dieting doesn’t work and begin to build a partnership with your body. Rather than making battle plans for yet another war with yourself.
If you struggle with learning to love yourself, then please refer to my article on Making A Contract With Your Body, which can help your body and mind make peace with one another.
Step Two – Slow down and listen
We are so used to be told that certain foods are good and certain foods are bad that we’ve made our choices emotional. Truthfully, the idea of good and bad food is an oversimplification. It is not a question of whether a food is good but whether it contains something our body is in need of.
The difficulty is, we often don’t really know what our bodies need. Despite being told by glossy magazines and self-proclaimed experts on the internet what we should be eating. Those people we follow on social media. Celebrities who claim to have found the ultimate way to stay slim. We’re stocking up on goji berries and throwing out dried pasta because Sally down the road, who doesn’t have love handles, swears she never eats carbs.
Yet, how often do we ask our own body what it needs?
It’s not an outlandish theory that our bodies are capable of giving us the right signals for what to fuel them with. Science has long argued over whether cravings during pregnancy or menstruation are a sign of nutritional need. Yet, giving in to cravings and listening to our inner bodily wisdom are different things.
As an example, let’s go back to the ‘my body wants pizza and wine’ issue. Who could blame you for craving a deep pan, cheese-covered, red meat slathered, greasy take-out pizza? My mouth is watering at the very idea of it. Because there are no rules and no ‘bad foods’ in Intuitive Eating, then you could absolutely listen to that inner voice and schedule a Dominos delivery. Be honest though, if I ask your body how it feels an hour after you’ve demolished the pizza, what is it going to tell me? What will it say the morning after? How do you think your sleep might be?
Just because Intuitive Eating does not place restrictive rules on us or cancel certain foods, it doesn’t mean it’s about eating whatever we want all the time. Through Intuitive Eating, we can learn to distinguish between emotional and physical compulsions. Allowing our body to be the expert when it comes to what it needs.
Take time to tune into your body whilst you eat. Enjoy each mouthful and take breaks to ‘check in’. Listen to your body when it is getting full and stop eating. This is especially important as we age because our digestive systems don’t need to be working any harder than they should be. Unhappy tummies affect our sleep, ability to exercise and our mood.
The more you practise Intuitive Eating, the easier you will find it to tune in and the more naturally you will respond to your body’s signals.
Your body does not filter foods by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but, as you begin to communicate with it, you will find it guiding you. Once you learn to register how your body feels after food – energetic/tired, heavy/light, calm/tense, etc – then you’ll increasingly select the right foods and portion sizes for you.
When we make food an experience we often come across the word ‘served’ – ‘I was served the most delicious … ‘ They serve a lovely …’ ‘It was a generous serving’. Serving means to be useful to, or in service of. Take a moment to imagine food as a service you provide to your body. An offering even. Then ask yourself – to most kindly serve your body, what would you serve?
Step Three – Rediscovering the joy
When you begin to fuel your body with what feels good then it’s only logical that you’ll start to feel good too. Intuitive Eating is not just about honouring the body though. It is also able to repair the emotional relationship some of us have with food.
Many of us have over-complicated or toxic relationships with food and it’s draining on our mental health. Some of us will struggle with this as we learn to eat intuitively. If we’ve broken the trust between body and mind then it may take time to learn how to be at peace again. Yet, focus on what it can bring you. All that wasted time researching the latest diet trends. Throwing out perfectly good food to remove the temptation. Buying expensive so-called ‘superfoods’ that make outrageous promises. All that time calorie counting, worrying and shaming ourselves. If we can develop a healthy relationship with food then we get all that time back! What will you do with it?
Diet culture often perpetuates low self-esteem and negative body image and as we buy into this we move further and further away from what our relationship with food ought to be about – enjoyment, nutrition, energy and love. Yes, love. In the way that family and friends might show love by cooking meals for one another, feeding ourselves a healthy, balanced, tasty diet is a wonderful way to show love to our bodies.
Not sure if Intuitive Eating will work for you? Read all about Yonja’s experience here: https://simplysune.com/category/blog/soul-work/