When embarking on the path from diets and rules to Intuitive and Mindful Eating, you are essentially learning how to trust yourself to make decisions in your best interest. I’ve talked before about how strongly I believe in our ability to choose and that there is always a choice. It’s so satisfying to see someone walk the path from self-doubt and fear of food to confidence, trust and faith in their ability to take care of themselves. Ultimately, you learn that your choices matter. While it might start as a hope to feel less troubled by food, this process will affect every aspect of your life.
Intuitive Eating is about honoring the thoughts, impressions and “gut reactions” that come as you turn down the volume on diets, rules and “shoulds”. It’s about being thoughtful, mindful and proactive rather than impulsive, anxious or reactive. Would this mean that you could honor the craving for chocolate or a hamburger? Absolutely. Does this mean that a big salad will hit the spot at certain times? Sure will. In fact, the very act of practicing Intuitive Eating, where no food is off the table, is what will allow you to make decisions in your best interest rather than out of fear, deprivation or restriction. My goal for anyone I work with is not to make them uber-healthy eaters, but rather confident eaters, built on a foundation of trust.
This brings me to the point I would like to make – a vital ingredient in this process is committing and owning your choice. There is no room for second-guessing or cynicism or doubting. Maybe listing the steps would make this easier to relate too:
1. Notice you are hungry
2. Take a moment to pause and identify what would adequately satisfy, fuel and energize you.
3. Notice any judgmental thoughts about what you “should” have and recognize them as a result of the diet mentality or food fear. These are not reality, nor are they drawing on your innate wisdom, which is what you want to cultivate.
4. Notice any chaotic thoughts about not needing to care at all. Remember, Intuitive Eating is about honoring you and your needs, not about disregarding them. While no food is off limits, if the food or amount of food isn’t what your body is asking for, then you are still making decisions that are impulsive and reactive rather than thoughtful and proactive.
*Basically, you are learning to temper your choices. No need to be overly rigid or restrictive while also avoiding the temptation to feed chaos. When the choices you make are the result of thoughtful consideration that feels integrated, functional and healthy, then you can be confident you have made the choice that is best for you.
5. When you find balance between rigidity and chaos, you know you have made a choice you can feel good about. This is wisdom, this is what we want to cultivate. In fact, you are only able to tap into intuition when you find this balance.
6. Then OWN IT. I mean, fully commit. 110%. Avoid the temptation to hem and haw and feed the doubt. You did the work. Stand by your choice and move on.
I don’t think I can stress this last step enough. In order for you to learn to trust yourself, you can’t second-guess your mindful and thoughtful decisions. Have faith that you did the right thing and trust that it will work for your benefit. Avoid giving too much of your time and energy to a meal already eaten and find more important things to focus on. If it really isn’t sitting right, then allow yourself to reflect and learn. However, in order for that to be effective and instructive, I would avoid the impulse to only blame the food itself. In all likelihood, it has more to do with how much, possibly the balance of food groups, and if it was truly satisfying and what you were really wanting and needing. Ultimately, if it “hit the spot”, you probably wouldn’t question if it was the right decision. As an experienced eater, I’m sure you understand that.
These 6 steps are a process and will take time. As you gain experience through practice, it will become much more natural and ultimately bring you back to a healthy relationship with food. In fact, I bet there was a time in your life when you followed these 6 steps without even recognizing it. I love watching my kids at mealtimes and learning from how they naturally interact with food.
When our thoughts are rigid or chaotic, our behaviors will be. This is why I believe that changing the way you think about food will not only effect food behaviors, it will likely teach you to be more mindful and intuitive with relationships, your professional life, other forms of self-care, etc. Continually walking through this decision making process will strengthen the brain muscle. In fact it is to the brain what lifting weights are to a muscle. It only gets stronger as you continually practice, which leads to trust, confidence and freedom from any power food may hold over you. Well worth any effort and I can attest to that.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD