We are born with an intuitive sense of eating. It tells us when we are hungry and full. Those sensations are not questions to a baby, but as we grow those signals can get confused. They become muted by the voices of your parents, by our culture, by your brain, or even by your own body.
Maybe you remember hearing a phrase like, “don’t eat that – it’s fattening.” And from that phrase you learned not only that cookies (or whatever you had in your hand) were bad, but you also learned that being fat was bad. This is how it begins -tiny moments that walk us away from our inner voice.
Maybe you had to change your diet because of a food allergy or sensitivity. For instance, you learn that you are celiac and now your post-meal sickness makes sense, but you’re still scarred by years of food causing physical pain. Your brain has now linked food and pain in the same sensation. This can majorly change our body’s intuition toward food.
Maybe you were like me and went through a dieting phase (maybe you’re still in it). And through that dieting phase you learned that restriction and denying your wants was the key to “health” and weight loss. So every time your body craved fat, or sugar, or carbs you said, “NO!” and you ate something else. Maybe this is where you started to deny your body’s signals.
Perhaps you went through a full blown eating disorder where you replaced your craving for food with a desire to shrink physically. Maybe you forgot all together what hunger feels like and fullness became a foreign word.
Or maybe, you started to feel attacked or betrayed by a body that was overcome with sickness despite all of your efforts. Perhaps you reached a hopeless place, and rejected your body in the same way it rejected you. Sometimes you can eat all the healthy things in the world and still be struck my a major disease. This is a brutal human truth, and this will cause some serious mistrust in your body.
Or even, maybe, you were victimized because of your body, your gender, your skin color, etc. and this made you deeply despise the human form you take. Maybe this made you mistrust others, and yourself.
All of these examples and more are the reasons we walk away from our body’s voice. This is where our intuitive sense of health and happiness diminishes. So now let’s talk about how to begin to connect with that voice again. And let’s remind ourselves what true “normal eating” looks like.
I have partnered up with my friends over at Seven Sundays for this post. (They make magically delicious muesli!) I’ve worked with a lot of brands that align with my food beliefs, but I’ve never felt so connected as I do with Seven Sundays. They are a company that believes in eating real, whole foods – enjoying them – and then using the energy gained to go forth and celebrate all of the small moments. At my best moments of intuitive eating and celebrating health-ier, this is what my life looks like. So I’m really excited that they were willing to put their name to this guide and help spread the word about intuitive eating and celebrating health-ier!
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating (or as I’d rather rename it – The Self Kindness Anti-Diet) is the state in which you are in tune enough with your body’s signals that you can understand what/when/how much your body needs to eat. This means you’re in touch with your signals for hunger and fullness (but not obsessively). It means that your body is telling you what it needs to eat in order to function best (and you are trusting it.) It means you find what is “normal eating” for your body.
“Normal eating” is going to look different for everyone. To some people it is going to mean eating 5ish small meals a day. To a different body, “normal eating” might include a gluten-free diet or going meatless. I have a friend that doesn’t need to eat anything until lunch time, and I would die if I didn’t eat breakfast (not literally, but my soul might die.) It just depends. There is no one kind of normal. It looks different on every human.
The key to “normal” eating is that it also includes room for “rule breaking” (although there are no rules.) By that I mean, if you went through a breakup and want to eat ice cream in bed for a day then DO IT. Comfort food is apart of our lives. It shouldn’t be the norm, but if your soul needs some cookies – eat the dang cookie. That is why I want to rename it The Self Kindness Anti-Diet (TM). We should be eating like our bodies are our best friends. Which most of the times means feeding it real, whole foods that give us energy to kickass and enjoy each moment. But it also sometimes means eating the dang candy bar because life is hard and being an adult sucks.
How do I train myself to eat intuitively again?
There are two key phases to learning to eat intuitively, and if you come from a restrictive food background they can be scary AF. But these two changes are what rescued me from a miserable existence of dieting and body hate. So in the end it is worth it. Give yourself time, and forgive every “failure.”
The first step to getting you back on track toward a Self Kindness Anti-Diet is to get rid of all food rules. Seriously. Every diet – every cultural thought – every connection between food and weight – throw them all away. (I told you this would be scary.) This means that if you’re a vegetarian, meat is back on the table. (Not that you have to eat it but just that it’s no longer ruled out.) This means that if you have a full organic household, poptarts are now back on the table. Literally all food is on the “yes” list. Try to remove all judgments of “good” and “bad” and just go with it. It also means there are no limits to how much of whatever kind of food you want to have. You’re always allowed to have more. (Just go with me on this, it will make sense later.)
The second step is to have intentional meal times. Turn off all electronics and really sit with yourself. No books, no computers, no phones, just you and your chewing and your stomach. Chew slowly, breathe, and put down your fork in between bites. Carve out a space for you to communicate with your body. Try to really taste each bite. Do you actually like what you are eating? How does it make your mouth feel? How does it make your body feel? What about your heart? All of those answers are in you every time you sit down to eat, it might just take a while to hear it again.
So now you have no rules on what you eat, you just simply need to have very intentional eating times. Here is how that looks in real life: say you LOVE the bagels from the coffee shop down the street, but you don’t let yourself order them that often ’cause “bagels are empty carbs” or whatever the reason. What I want you to do is go and buy one and sit down with it for breakfast. Eat each bite – spread it with all the cream cheese you want – and really taste it. Savor the deliciousness, slowly. And then, when you are full (not when the bagel is gone or when you start to feel guilty), but when you are actually full – put the bagel away. Because you’re allowed to eat another bagel for lunch if you want! There are no rules here. Eat a bagel for every meal for a week if you want. As long as you’re really listening to yourself when you sit down to a meal, it’s totally fine!
Here’s what will start to happen when you give yourself this freedom – you’ll begin to grow tired of the foods that used to taunt you while on a diet, your body will start to crave things that aren’t carbs or sugar or salt or whatever your guilty pleasure is, and you’ll learn how to eat a “normal” amount of whatever food it is you choose to eat. It will even help you to start to say “no” to foods that just won’t make you feel good. Because you’ve spent time eating them, and investigating how it actually makes your body feel – not how you fear it will.
I found that I don’t in fact have an endless craving for sugar, like I was afraid I did. And I also found out that eating sugar and carbs and even meat won’t make me gain a million pounds. Because my body now craves exactly what it needs. It learned that it could crave anything it wanted, so it started to speak to me again. Now it’s just my job to listen, and respond out of self-kindness.
What does eating intuitively have to do with celebrating health-ier?
I spent years of my life bogged down by rules and restrictions in order to lose weight. It didn’t really work – I didn’t lose weight and I completely stopped hearing any of my body’s signals. I was essentially miserable. And it took learning how to trust my body again, and connect with my self kindness to be able to enjoy my life again and start celebrating everyday. Now I eat health-ier because I care about my body. I make good choices out of self kindness. And I occasionally eat the cake or drink the wine or order the french fries, also because I love myself.
Finding your “normal eating” sweet spot is not an easy journey. There are times even now that I eat too much out of anxiety, and I forget the loving thing to do. I sometimes forget to listen to my own signals. Which is why we have to celebrate all of those small successes. We have to really enjoy the life we have in front of us. It’s the only one we’ve got and it’s worth us truly being alive for it.
The Self Kindness Anti-Diet requires us feeding ourselves like we love ourselves (even if it isn’t true yet). It requires us to forgive all of our “failures,” knowing that those are apart of the journey too. Failing is apart of normal eating. Don’t beat yourself up. Just continue on seeking the kindest actions for yourself, and eventually your body will show you the way.
Where can I get more info?
I HIGHLY suggest picking up the book Intuitive Eating, and reading more about it. I have adapted the book into a model that works for my life, and hopefully you can do the same.
If you want more info on where to buy some delicious muesli handcrafted with real, whole food ingredients and a touch of natural sweetness – head over to Seven Sundays and getchu some.
And if you EVER have questions or want to know more about my journey, shoot me an email at haley(at)brewinghappiness.com. xoxo.