My story begins with me stuffing my face with cookies, chips and crackers at 4:00 pm every single day right before my kids walked in the door from school. I literally ate in anticipation of the stress that I knew was coming. It took me years of self introspection, honestly with myself, and painful recognition that I was feeding my feelings instead of feeling them to be able to stop my emotional eating. It took me a few additional years to learn what to eat that works for my body.
According to Wikipedia “Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods.” The intuitive eating approach has become the popular non-diet approach to eating based on the book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The premise is that by adopting a new way of eating one can make peace with food once and for all.
We are born intuitively knowing when we are hungry. We cried and our caregiver fed us. We stopped eating when we were full. This innate understanding of our own hunger and satiety cues ended abruptly when we entered preschool. Breakfast was forced upon us before we left for school so we would not “be hungry later.” Once in school we were not allowed to eat when our bodies signaled our hunger through various cues. We were instructed to ignore those cues because it was not yet snack time.
And the same with lunch. We ate lunch when the teacher announced it was lunchtime and put our lunch away when lunchtime was over even if we were still eating and our hunger was not yet satisfied.
For many adults, depending on their employment, it may not be so different than during their school years. Not every job allows their employees to eat at random times during the day when their bodies speak by sending hunger signals. Years of overriding our natural hunger cues ultimately results in being unable to recognize them.
The good news is that by using mindfulness you can relearn your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues. Let’s define mindfulness for now very simply as a pause button. You feel the need to eat something, this is where you pause and ask yourself if you are truly hungry? What does hunger feel like for you? If you decide that you are in fact hungry, then you should eat.
When should you stop eating? When you are full. But what exactly does that mean? I think most of us know when we are stuffed but ‘feeling full’ is something we don’t all recognize. I like to define the feeling of fullness as no longer hungry. I suggest you take time to think about what fullness feels like for you.
If you determine that you are not hungry then ask yourself what do you really want? What do you need? Try to find a way to give yourself what you really need.
As a recovered emotional eater I can tell you that what I usually needed was quiet time, me time, time to sit and think quietly, time to read a book uninterrupted.
Busy people are not necessarily able to give themselves what they need in that moment. But that’s ok. Promise yourself that you will make time for yourself later that night. Honor your promise to yourself. Take a bath, talk on the phone, connect with your partner or hang out on social media. Think about what you need and gift that to yourself.
Small changes add up to large results. Begin your journey towards reaching your health goals by practicing using your pause button. As the school year winds down and the summer months approach try slowing down along with the season. Use the longer days and slower pace to begin practicing mindfulness and really working on sharpening your awareness of your hunger and satiety cues.
I believe in bio individuality which means there is no one size fits all way of eating. Each person is different metabolically, what works for one person may not work for you. There are however healthy habits that we can all benefit from by incorporating them into your daily routine: drinking more water, getting enough sleep, moving your body and learning stress management techniques.
For some, the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are a set of rules that are just replacing the rules from their previous diet. I have seen clients obsess over whether they are following the principles correctly. I also have many clients with medical diagnosis which dictate a prescribed eating plan. For these clients following the intuitive eating principles alone is insufficient. They must learn how to reframe their relationship with food while following their medically prescribed food plan. This may or may not be intuitive. For others, following the principle of intuitive eating is their personal food freedom.
Mindfulness, using the pause button combined with sustainable healthy habits are great first steps in your journey to feeling great in your mind, body and soul. Wishing you much success on your journey!