Intuitive Eating: Giving Your Body What It Wants

“Eating today has become this idea that the food on your fork can either kill you or cure you. It’s gotten to a point of almost religious fervor.” ~ Evelyn Tribole

Babies cry, eat, and then stop sucking when they have had enough milk. Children naturally balance their food intake from day to day — eating when they are hungry and stopping when they feel full. But adults have all types of stipulations on when they can eat, what they can eat, and how much they can eat. At some point, we stop letting their internal clocks guide us in feeding our hunger, and instead rely on society’s norms to guide our nutritional intake. Children have something to teach us about what, when, and how much we eat: It’s called following our intuition or intuitive eating.

In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, I want to talk about our relationship with food. There are so many diets today; Keto diet, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Dukan, Paleo, Vegan, low-carb and Atkins diets to name a few. There are all sorts of “fad diets” out there that eliminate certain food groups, have you count carbs, measure waistlines, and include a range of rules to achieve weight loss. And while [temporary] success may come from these diets, many individuals and dietitians in the country have found that more often than not, weight that has been lost that way does not stay off forever.  

Have you heard of intuitive eating? In 1995, two dietitians in Southern California grew tired of watching their clients see success in weight loss through dieting, only to gain it back over time. One of these dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, said, “We were banging our heads against the wall because the way we were working wasn’t working. We were sick of the insanity [our clients] were going through: They’d restrict themselves and lose weight, but then they’d gain it back and they’d blame themselves.” So she and her colleague, Elyse Resch, went back to the drawing board and their book, “Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works” was born.  

At the time, Americans were just starting to realize how tiresome the shame and fear around food and ineffective weight loss was. In their book, Evelyn and Elyse encourage readers to do something that might sound backwards and dangerous:

Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when.

Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, which I urge you, my readers, to read, ingest (pun), and practice. In a future blog post, I will go over these 10 principles of intuitive eating in greater detail and offer actionable steps. For the purpose of this overview post, I wish to focus only one of these 10 tenets, the one that may surprise you the most about intuitive eating: No foods are off limits, and there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.

I imagine you are thinking, woah woah woah, this just sounds like a free-for-all. I see where you are coming from and I validate that concern. But step back and allow me to explain. Often times, the reason you and I crave pizza is because we tell ourselves it is a wonderfully delicious sinful indulgence. But if we look at pizza as what it truly is (bread, tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni)–not necessarily anything good or bad…just food!–then the guilt associated with pizza evaporates. Sure, you may gorge on pizza for the first couple days of eating intuitively (and preliminary studies have found this occurs frequently for those new to intuitive eating), but eventually the body will tell you it has had enough pizza and wants something else. It may surprise you how quickly your body will tell you to pass up the post-workout donut and instead eat something nutritious!

It is undeniable that different foods have different nutritional benefits. Tribole and Resch are not aiming to tear down public-health initiatives that tell society to eat vegetables. At the very root of intuitive eating is the training to teach you to pay attention to how food makes your body feel.  If you untangle food from the stress, shame, and labels that society has put on things you eat, how do you really FEEL eating that donut or that celery juice? The fact is that while you may fill up on Five Guys, if you truly pay attention to what your body wants, you will inevitably crave the variety and nutrition represented by the “healthy” foods you once had used as punishment in your dieting days.

Intuitive eating means breaking free from the yo-yo cycle of dieting and learning to eat mindfully and without guilt. Intuitive eating is about trusting your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and without influence from diet culture. You were born with the skill to eat, to stop when you are full, to eat when you are hungry, and to eat satisfying foods. Intuitive eating is a return to that instinctual skill.

Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss program. It is not a diet. It is a way of life, a complete paradigm shift with what you eat and why you eat it. It has been found to improve body image, to promote mindfulness practices such as meditation, and encourage exercise — all of which is intended to better attune people to their bodies. This will allow you to mitigate binge- and emotional-eating tendencies…by listening to your body!

Calorie counting, carb avoiding, and waistline measuring are miserable lifestyles. The lifelong pressure to diet wears people down and does not lead to a healthy relationship with food. Though I am not a certified dietitian, I have experience in helping clients struggling with rules and negative beliefs around what they eat. I have seen firsthand how effective and life-altering intuitive eating can be. If you need help working through unhealthy eating habits, I would be happy to assist you and point you to helpful resources. Please contact me or schedule a session today to get started on the path to a healthier relationship with both food and your body.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Fork Your Way Into a Healthy 2018!

Healthy Eating Self Care - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistDid you know that around 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight? This scary statistic includes 30% of boys and girls under age 20! By understanding what specifically our bodies really need, we can aim to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle–both physically and mentally.

Many of my clients have goals for 2018 that include improving their physical appearance by focusing on a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, and boosting their stress management. While I am not a licensed health coach, this is pertinent information to me because physical health is closely tied to mental health. I, like you, am also working on bettering my diet and exercise regime in 2018. I follow several fitness accounts on Instagram for inspiration; just tonight, @soheefit shared her secret that slimmed her waist…There is no secret! The way we will see results is by eating well, exercising often, and regulating sleep and stress. We often fall prey to the latest trick or the newest laser therapy or the groundbreaking diet we hear about from friends or on social media, but, at the end of the day, those methods are not healthy or sustainable. We need to make lasting changes to our nutrition and exercising habits in order to see results. This is not news to you!

Have you ever felt discouraged or depressed, and gone for a walk or a hike? If so, it is likely you noticed that your emotional state improved as you got fresh air and let your heart rate increase a little bit. Our physical health directly affects our mental health. When we take care of our bodies, they take care of us. What specifically are you going to do in 2018 to take care of yourself (both physical and mental)? Exactly which “healthy habits” do you need to work on developing? As I mentioned previously, the three main things that influence our overall weight gain are: Diet/nutrition, exercise, and sleep/stress management. For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus on the first: diet and nutrition. Brian Regan, a comedian, has a skit where he mocks the food pyramid, saying nobody knows what on earth “legumes” are, and he pokes fun of the serving sizes saying no one actually keeps track of or ingests 6-11 servings of grains.

First, let’s clear the air about the “d” word…DIET. It is a dreaded word for many of us–especially those who have tried the South Beach Diet, a low-carb diet, SlimFast, Whole30, Jenny Craig, or any of the other millions of diet plans available nowadays. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that dieting typically does not work. Abstaining from eating major food groups is unhealthy, weight lost from pendulum dieting often comes back full-force, and then you feel overweight and discouraged. My recommendation is to fill your plate and your body with healthy options, while still enjoying what you are ingesting. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Take a moment to consider what you are eating and if it is what your body really needs.

In 2011, 19 years of food pyramid illustrations and teachings were laid to rest with an updated nutrition guide called MyPlate (see graphic below). MyPlate depicts a place setting with the recommended serving sizes for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy, to help us visualize exactly how much of which foods our body needs. The following are specific ideas for each food group, to help you get creative with what goes on your fork:

Choose My Plate - Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapy

 

  1. FRUITS: Adults ages 18-30 should eat around 2 cups of fruit a day. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, juiced, or pureed. (Click here to see a comprehensive list of the fruit options).
  2. VEGETABLES: Adults ages 19-50 should be eating between 2½ -3 cups of raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried/dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed vegetables each day. Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.  (Click here to see a comprehensive list of all the vegetables you never even knew existed).
  3. PROTEINS: I think protein is the hardest to come up with ideas for (“um…protein powder?”). All lean cut and deli meats are protein, as well as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, nuts, and seafood.  (Click on this link for the complete list of protein options as recommended by the USDA). Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet can often curb cravings and keep you full longer, which makes a world of difference in forming healthy habits!
  4. GRAINS: All bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. There are two types of grains: Whole Grains and Refined Grains–we want more Whole Grains than Refined Grains. Whole Grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm, while Refined Grains have been refined to have the bran and germ removed. Aim for eating whole wheat bread/rolls/tortillas, quinoa, oats, and brown rice (click here for the full list of grains). Little changes to the base of your diet and nutrition–your grains–will make a huge difference!
  5. DAIRY: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts (ice cream, frozen yogurt, smoothies, sherbert) are some of the common foods that make up this food group. (Please click on this link for a thorough list of all possible dairy foods!) Men and women ages 19-50 need three cups of dairy each day–be sure to choose low-fat or fat-free options for the Dairy Group!

We live in a culture that often convinces us certain foods are either good or bad (which is a key component in eating disorders!) and that we are either a good or bad person based on what we eat. Carbs are not bad. Meat is not bad. Milk is not bad. Our bodies need the vitamins and nutrients available in each of the food groups, and–as we eat from each food group in moderation–we will find our way to a healthier lifestyle. Eating a well-rounded diet will affect the overall health of your internal organs, your cholesterol, energy level, self-esteem, skin health, relationships…basically your entire life. You know what they say, “Fuel well, feel well!”

Maybe you have a New Year’s Resolution pertaining to your physical appearance this year. The goal should not be getting thin, but getting healthy. Get healthy eating better in 2018. Start today by improving what is on your plate. Make it well-rounded, make it low-fat, make it healthy, make it fun! Eating healthy does not have to be a drag. You can do it! The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. If you need support to explore your relationship with food, contact me today and allow me to coach you through the process.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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