Intuitive Eating – Getting your Mind into your Food
What does our brain have to do with eating anyway?
Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.
If you have struggled at all with eating or weight issues, you’ve no doubt heard that people eat “mindlessly” or that eating is often used to deal with emotional issues that may have nothing to do with hunger.
Even if you have NOT struggled with eating, you’ve likely heard these terms. Food, eating, weight-they are all a huge part of our culture. Especially now that approximately 33% of Americans are overweight, and another 34% are obese. The implications of these numbers are staggering.
There’s always the search for the magic pill, the miracle exercise plan, the instant fix. There are thousands of diets, immense numbers of diet books, and a new weight loss guru every day showing up on the internet.
Celiacs have a special challenge with weight loss due to the absorption issues in the gut; and then there are also hormonal wackiness in some celiacs. The idea of intuitive eating is a huge subject, and one that I have wanted to discuss for quite a while. It’s such a huge subject that I was hesitant to tackle it, as it is a very individual journey.
I listened to a podcast where Carla and Shauna discussed their views on intuitive eating. They also expressed what a giant subject this is, and provided their own personal views on intuitive eating. (Carla also mentioned she was gluten intolerant, which of course I found very interesting.) The podcast gave me the kick in the butt I needed to write this.
So what the heck is intuitive eating?
In their podcast, Carla and Shauna renamed it “mindful eating” which I like quite a bit.
I have written in the past how awareness of what you eat can benefit you from a health and weight perspective.
Authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch have written a book titled Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works I read this book several years ago, and keep it handy for reference, which I still do from time to time. On their website, they give this definition:
“Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom. It’s also a process of making peace with food—so that you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts. It’s knowing that your health and your worth as a person does not change because you ate a so-called “bad” or “fattening” food. “
The truth is, that intuitive or mindful eating is going to have a slightly different definition for everyone.
We attach so much emotional value to food. In its most basic form, food is fuel. But to many of us, food also represents celebration, tradition, and family fun time. To some of us, food also represents loneliness, comfort or escape and that’s where we start to run into problems. Not only do we eat when we’re hungry, we eat when we’re bored, lonely, upset, happy, driving, watching TV, or any other time.
Imagine if we ate only when we were low on fuel
Imagine if we didn’t let food define us, allow it to control if we see ourselves as “good” or “bad” (ie: “I was good today, I only ate lettuce” or “I was bad today, I had a chocolate cake”.) Maybe then we could start to get this obesity crisis under control. Maybe we could separate our feelings of self from our eating pattern.
Intuitive eating is not a diet, just as eating gluten free is not a diet.
And food has no inherent control on who you are.
It’s my personal opinion and experience that a combination of intuitive eating and structured eating is the way to go for weight (fat) loss.
For maintenance eating,(staying at your “happy size” when you get there) I think a full on intuitive approach is definitely a great way to go. I do think that as you are actively losing weight, that there may need to be an additional component of calorie control. You absolutely can eat too much, even if it is “clean and healthy” food and never lose the fat. In these instances, you would have to limit your caloric intake by measuring/weighing/using portion control. Calories do matter, I don’t care what zealots of any given diet plan say.
To lose weight (fat) there must be a higher caloric expenditure than there is intake. That means you may feel hungry.
Feeling hungry is not fun, but it won’t kill you either, especially if you have a lot of fat to lose. This is why I think that a more structured eating plan is necessary in a fat loss phase, especially for celiacs whose gut hormones may be a bit wacky. If you feel hungry and you are intuitively eating, you would eat. But that won’t help you if you’ve already eaten the maximum calories for the day which will still allow you to lose weight. You end up spinning your wheels and getting frustrated, “I’m doing everything right but I’m still not losing weight!” In these cases, almost always, it’s a case of too many overall calories. Even if they are healthy calories.
Carla had a great idea on the podcast. She suggested keeping a food diary which indicates not just what you eat, but how you feel before, during and after eating an item. I think this is a fantastic idea. I suggest keeping a food diary… be sure to add in the awareness component to your writings.
The key in the beginning is to keep the diary without changing anything. No judgments on yourself, just write it down as this helps set the baseline of where you are now. What you eat, how much you eat, and how you feel – before and after you eat. After a week or two, you will see a large increase in your awareness of what you are putting into your mouth, how often you are putting food into your mouth, and how it makes you feel.
Now go back and review your diary. Notice anything? If you notice that you are eating when you are already full, then stop doing that. If you notice that you are eating after a meeting, then stop doing that. (It’s like the guy who goes to the doctor – Doc, my arm hurts when I do this – the Doctor responds with “stop doing that”). I know I know – it isn’t that simple… right? Some things aren’t that easy to just stop. I get that! The key is “awareness”. As you become more aware, the “just stop” will take care of itself in time.
I know I am over simplifying, but the most important thing is to do something. Today. Now. If you are unhappy with how you look or feel, it is up to you to make a change. You can do it. You are stronger than you think.
Over on the Gluten Free Fitness Facebook page in the discussions tab we have a “goals and accountability” section where you can post your goal and get support and a kick in the butt if needed, so swing by and join us.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please pipe up on what you think of intuitive eating, your experiences and opinions.