By Laura Payne
These days, a quick google search of popular diets will get you multiple pages of results. No matter your eating preference, there is sure to be a diet or nutrition plan that suits your needs. It will tell you exactly how to eat, when to eat and will come with a complete grocery list of good versus "bad" items for your grocery shopping trip. In your search you may find several success stories of how this plan worked for one person and how you, too, should try it but, I’m here to share a different path for you. A path of intuitive eating—choosing to eat from a place of love and mindfulness.
In 2012, I was one of those people google searching all the popular diets. I was 60 pounds overweight. I knew that I needed and wanted to change my unhealthy habits but, had no idea where to start. I grew up during a time when Weight Watchers and calorie counting were all the rage. When knowing every single thing that went in your mouth was a praised, daily practice. These rituals, along with stepping on the scale once a week (maybe even more) to see if you dropped even .2 pounds, actually meant that you were on your way to creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
Food has always been at the core of my life. I am the ultimate foodie and center many of my daily activities around what I’m going to be eating. “What am I going to eat today” is usually one of the first questions that pop in my head with such excitement. I remember very vividly being 7 or 8 years old waking up and immediately eating a bowl of cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons. Like I said, food is not a game to me! Plus, with a family of 6, my Mom was always pulling one of us to help her in the kitchen to get food on the table at a decent time. But, I never knew that you could enjoy food, eat the foods you love AND have a beautiful relationship with your body until I found intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is the practice of choosing the foods you want to eat from a place of love and alignment with your life. It is understanding yourself on such a deep level that you only choose the foods that coincide with who you are. It is recognizing that food is not a reward nor a punishment. It is understanding that there is no good food or bad food, it’s all just food that is either worth it or not. When practicing intuitive eating the only decisions you must make include: “am I eating this from a place of love?” and “does this align with my overall wellness journey?”
While I understand that this may be a radical way of engaging with food, it is one of the most beautiful practices I’ve experienced. It has personally allowed me to lose 35 pounds, release the stress of figuring out every single calorie and shift the conversation around food from over-analyzing to mindful. To give you a clear vision of how intuitive eating works I’d like to share two examples of how it recently showed up in my life.
My first example of intuitive eating relates to my undying love for pizza. Something about a delicious, deep dish pizza makes me want to do a happy dance. It was mid-afternoon when I sent my typical daily text to my partner asking, “what do you want for dinner tonight?” He said, “it’s going to be a late night at the office, whatever you choose is fine.” I love when that happens because (remember) I love choosing what I’m going to eat. It’s one of the things I find joy in. But, this day, I didn’t feel like cooking. I wanted to truly relax and it was grocery shopping week which meant we were low on ingredients.
In this situation, my 2012 self would’ve stressed out on what was the healthiest thing I could make that didn’t take me over my allotted calories for the day. But, with intuitive eating, I ordered up a pizza and enjoyed a few slices. The way I know I was eating intuitively is because I associated no results with the pizza. I did not reward myself for stopping after 2 slices nor did I punish myself for having it at all. I recognized that it was just pizza, it was truly what I wanted and that it did not have any affect on whether I was a good or bad person. This is intuitive eating.
My next example of intuitive eating relates to the night my partner had his mind set on going to a local burger joint to get his favorite burger for takeout. He told me earlier in the day that a burger was what he wanted for dinner and I made sure to make a mental note of that. As time crept closer to dinner we hopped in the car and headed over to the restaurant. Once we got there I just knew that I didn’t want that burger. I remembered how my body reacted to it the last time I ate it and I knew that it wasn’t worth it this time around. He went in and grabbed his order and I went home to make my own burger and baked french fries. We both satisfied our hunger and were happy with our decisions.
Intuitive eating showed up here because I was aware that the burger joint did not align with my overall journey. I recognized that it was not going to make my body feel great so I chose an option that would lead to a more useful outcome. Again, this was not a decision based from thinking the burger joint was bad food and my homemade burger was good food. It was simply rooted in knowing what aligns with me.
Intuitive eating starts with learning and knowing your body and the way it reacts to the foods you choose to eat. Ask yourself important questions before, during and after you eat. For example, do you feel bloated after a sandwich? Does sugar make you groggy the next morning? Can your body properly digest animal protein? From there, you can make conscious, loving decisions in alignment with how you ultimately want to feel everyday. Understand the relationship your body has with food and then recognize whether that aligns with the purpose of your best self. When you understand those two things, you are well on your way to practicing intuitive eating.