Eating Intuitively

For those who aren’t familiar, here’s a little breakdown of the intuitive eating* philosophy.

Women everywhere are depriving themselves, judging themselves and punishing themselves, because we truly believe we need to be something we’re not, to look a way we do not – or, in most cases, cannot – in order to be loved or accepted, to feel worthy or beautiful.  Often, instead of experiencing our lives, being aware of every moment and treating ourselves with kindness, we are perpetually distracted by thoughts of food and body image – i.e. what we’ve given ourselves permission to eat, what is forbidden to eat because it will certainly make us fat and, therefore, ugly and undesirable, whether we exercised enough that week – even to the extent that we may base the fundamental quality of our days/weeks/months on whether we were “good” or “bad.”  And it is extremely hard not to fall into this way of thinking when society practically shoves it down our throats.

Dieting has become the norm.  In a conversation between any two women, comments such as “I need to lose five pounds,” or “I can’t have that cupcake, it’d ruin my whole day,” are more than common – they’re practically required, another way to fit in.  The overarching assumption is that we, as women, are innately dissatisfied with our bodies and rightly so, that we should be striving eternally to attain that thin, sexy, fit physique which, once achieved, would automatically and drastically improve our sense of self, quality of life, and give us the deserved confidence we can earn no other way.  But ironically, even women who already have that “10” figure, that envied waistline and tight yoga booty we are all conditioned to pine for, are still striving, still punishing themselves and depriving themselves in order to reach some better version of themselves, still finding something to criticize – maybe their fat ankles or the sprinkle of cellulite on the back of their (rock hard, super strong) thighs.

Basically, it’s an epidemic, and women everywhere are affected by it to some degree. But the kicker is, and there are tons of studies and statistics to prove it, dieting simply doesn’t work.  People will pick one trendy diet or other – Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, what have you – lose some weight, maybe maintain it for a while, inevitably gain it back (and probably more), perceive themselves as having failed (themSELVES, surely not the diets!), turn to yet another diet in desperation, and so the cycle goes.  Why do you think the weight loss industry and all it encapsulates has experienced so much monetary success? It’s certainly not because all of these people have lost weight, kept it off, and are now enjoying perfect lives as thin, carefree, uber-confident versions of themselves.  On the contrary, the obesity problem continues to escalate.  And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

So what happens when we give up dieting? When we leave the decisions as to when, what and how much to eat to (call me crazy!) our own bodies? You know, those things our minds are attached to, those things that have gotten us through childhood, adolescence and on into adulthood?  Those things that human beings have had since Adam and Eve (or since the first gorilla started losing some body hair, whichever theory you prefer), and that have seemed to work just fine?  After all, where do you see images of morbidly obese ancient Roman soldiers or diabetic, incapacitated medieval knights?  When we give up dieting, and learn to trust our own bodies, we won’t, as society might have us believe, become increasingly and eternally fatter.  Because our bodies are smart, they have their own inherent wisdom, and they are most certainly not out to get us – after all, they ARE us.

It’s just a matter of listening to them.  The voices of our bodies have become lost amidst the din of thousands of other voices telling us what we should eat, what we shouldn’t, what will make us thin, what will make us fat, what will clog up arteries, what will improve metabolism, yada yada…  But if we can learn to quiet those other voices, turn our focus inside and find out what our bodies truly want, and give it to them, we will find satisfaction, and, most importantly, peace.  And, though it can be counterproductive to think in these terms, we will also, ultimately, reach our natural weight, the weight our bodies are genetically wired to maintain.  This may not be the highly idealistic, likely unrealistic, and possibly even unhealthy, “goal” weight we set our hopes on at the beginning of one dieting endeavor or another, but that is just something we must learn to accept.  Our bodies are just that – ours, unique to ourselves.  Why spend our whole lives struggling to shape them into a mold they’re not meant to fit?

This whole philosophy is something I am recapping and borrowing largely from Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free from Emotional Eating and Evelyn Tribole’s Intuitive Eating (see the “Resources” page), although there are many other books, essays, studies, etc. out there that similarly delve into the truth of staying away from dieting and learning to trust your body.  The basic principles that can help you retune yourself to your body and what it truly wants are: eat when you’re hungry, eat what you are truly craving (i.e. do not deprive yourself of any food), and stop when you are full. Try not to eat with distractions, while standing up, in front of the fridge, etc. Do yourself the kindness of paying attention to what you’re eating, savor it, fully enjoy it, and you will ultimately find it much easier to stop when you are contentedly full. Because you don’t have to deal with the previously all-consuming fear that these foods won’t be there next time you have a craving.  And once you truly come to terms with that fact, you will find that you don’t always crave cake, cookies, pizza, cheese, whatever foods you had previously forbidden yourself from even thinking about… because your body loves you, and it knows what’s best.

A few weeks ago, I was surprised to discover that my body was practically screaming for an arugula salad.  I have never liked arugula, I always thought it was bitter and tasted like plants. But, as I used to tell myself, it would make me skinny!  Suddenly, however, with that pressure finally off, the craving for arugula came from a place of true desire within myself, rather than from the millions of other voices telling me “salads are healthy! don’t eat carbs, eat field greens! vitamins are good for you!”  After having spent some time working to quiet those other voices, I fully believed that I could eat anything I wanted, but what I really wanted, what would satisfy me at that particular moment in time, was an arugula salad. And it was delicious.

*I’m not strictly referring to the book Intuitive Eating.  I just think “intuitive eating” best describes the way we eat, as live, metabolizing humans, when unencumbered by diets.  I’m using it as a kind of umbrella term, under which the book Intuitive Eating certainly falls… in other words, it’s not just one book’s plan I’m talking about here, it’s the whole idea of eating what, how, and when you want.

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