Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full. Don't see food as "good" or "bad." Eat what you want, when you want.
It kind of sounds like the best "diet" out there, right? Except, it's not actually a diet. It's truly a way of life -- an intuitive eating way of life. And it's a philosophy that I've been following for more than six years with life-changing results.
I spent the majority of my teen and college years obsessed with the number on the scale and with the number of calories I'd burned and eaten. I'd heavily restrict my food for a few days, only to binge on unhealthy foods later. Then I'd overexercise to burn those extra calories off, and set a new goal to follow yet another unrealistic diet. Only to fail, overeat and overexercise again. This yo-yo dieting cycle continued and continued.
That was until I learned about intuitive eating -- and learned to really follow and trust my own body. I began checking in with myself before, during and after every meal to see how my hunger or fullness was and to see what emotions I had going on. With the help of my registered dietician, I began to drop my obsession with calories and fat grams and the like. I stopped overexercising and dropped the guilt when I'd eat an unhealthy food or miss a workout. I began eating without distractions or as a means to comfort or punish myself. I slowed down and began to notice and trust what my body was telling me to do.
Some days, my body needed french fries. Other days, a big salad. Sometimes I'd have two breakfasts because I was just that hungry. Other days, a light dinner was more than enough. I learned that a small piece of dark chocolate could actually satisfy a craving and that I didn't actually need three glasses of wine with dinner to enjoy it. Butter, burgers, donuts -- nothing was off limits as long as I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full (but not stuffed). It took a few months, but it's funny how once you realize you can actually have any food at any time, a lot of food's irresistible draw vanishes.
And it was life changing. When I began to eat this way, a whole new level of my awareness about everything opened up. I was more present in conversations. I better appreciated my food. I was grateful for my body. And I had so much more energy. Not only was the food fueling my body better, but my headspace was so much more expansive, free and happy because it wasn't constantly adding up calories or worrying if last night's dessert would show up on the scale.
Sometimes when I tell people about intuitive eating, they seem to think that it's too good to be true. So when I stumbled upon a review article by the journal Public Health Nutrition that was published in late August about the research on intuitive eating, I was thrilled. While it's no magic bullet to weight loss (what is though?), the article showed that intuitive eating is linked with lower BMI (weight maintenance and lack of weight gain over the years) and better psychological health.
These days I'm actually about five to 10 pounds lighter now than I was back in my pre-intuitive eating days -- and my weight stays steady without me trying (I only get on the scale once a week, at most). But, that's not the most important perk for me. It's that better psychological health piece that I'm really grateful for -- and the one I'm glad to see is a common thread for those who practice intuitive eating.
Life is too short to spend it counting calories, weighing yourself obsessively or spending hours at the gym doing workouts you hate. We are all more than what we look like and beating ourselves up to look a certain way never results in true health or well-being.
So if you're stuck in the yo-yo dieting cycle, consider giving intuitive eating a try. (I recommend meeting with a certified nutritionist who specializes in it to get you started.) You just might be surprised at how much of your life opens up when you start trusting your body -- and yourself.
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