We're a nation obsessed with food—and also with restricting it.
Ninety-one percent of the American population has, at some point, subjected themselves to a diet. In fact, at this very moment, there are 45 million people currently counting calories, tallying points, or eschewing anything that isn't "non-fat." But diets rarely have lasting effects, and more often than not they aren't even that healthy.
And living life constantly on a 'diet' triggers food issues that can linger a lot longer than those dropped pounds. Enter the idea of Intuitive Eating—the anti-diet.
After decades of diet trends–low fat, low carb, master cleanse, vegan, vegetarian–Intuitive Eating emerged as an alternative. Instead of putting people on a strict plan, Intuitive Eating encourages adopters to eat whatever they would like and whatever they’re craving. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods, it’s all just food.
By giving yourself permission to eat the foods that you crave, Intuitive Eating assures devotees that instead of losing control when you finally give yourself permission to eat that carb-laden bagel that’s been on your off-limits food list for years, you’ll actually be able to experience pleasure and satiety from what you eat.
Skeptical that it's possible to lose weight by eating whatever you want? It works for some people. Science is starting to disprove the theory that calories are the only thing that determines weight gain, and Intuitive Eating is gaining more clout because of its positive results.
The keys to eating intuitively are mindfulness, awareness, and trust. It can be tough to adjust at first, but once you do you’ll find that Intuitive Eating is obvious and second nature. And, surprisingly, the weight will naturally fall off.
First things first: Acknowledge emotional hunger versus biological hunger. When you are truly hungry–rumbly stomach kind of hungry–by all means, eat. But if you’re eating because you simply need to get out of a stressful office environment, because you’re sad, or maybe just out of boredom, stop yourself. But it's important to listen to hunger pangs when they're biological, because the types of food you crave will be different than foods you may crave while emotionally eating.
So you’ve decided your body is biologically hungry. Here comes the tricky part: Recognize there is no such thing as good food or bad food. Nothing is off limits to you, and ignore every diet book you’ve ever read. Even if you crave spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast, that’s okay. Eventually you’ll notice your body’s cravings even out, and naturally your body will start to gravitate toward a more balanced diet.
But following Intuitive Eating doesn't mean it's ok to order three double cheeseburgers and house them in two minutes flat–if you're truly hungry enough to eat three cheeseburgers, you were probably ignoring your body's biological hunger before. Next time, eat before you get to the point of ravenous.
When you finally decide on what you want to eat, be mindful. This doesn’t mean you have to meditate or say a prayer or anything before you dig in, but instead, take pleasure in the art of eating and tasting. Turn off the TV, phone, or computer. Eat your food a little more slowly, and enjoy the taste of it in your mouth. After all, if you’re eating intuitively you’ve picked a food that you really love and that you were truly craving… so don’t you want to take a moment to enjoy it?
That idea, the pleasure of eating food, is exactly why Intuitive Eating can work for people who've had diets fail in the past. The awareness that comes with choosing food based off of what your body craves forces the eater to notice when they’re hungry, why they are hungry, and most importantly, when they’re full.
Those who practice intuitive eating also recommend regular fun exercise to keep your body moving and joints lubricated; again, the goal here is not to burn a ton of calories or dominate a workout, but instead to nourish the body with movement.
If you've grown up following diets and counting calories, Intuitive Eating can almost seem overwhelming–too much choice! But if you're ready to throw your low-fat cookbooks and food points out the window, it can be a lifelong eating plan that supports and evolves with you. Photo credit: Niklas Rhose via Unsplash