15 Jul

One of my main goals when helping clients with their eating is to empower them get out of a fad dieting habit and learn how to eat intuitively. A fad diet is a popular weight-loss plan that promises unrealistic results such as fast weight loss and unfounded health improvements. Usually these diets are not healthy and don’t result in long-term weight loss. I find that they play havoc with people’s health, both physiologically and psychologically, and make people very weight and number focussed.

If you want to learn how to eat well and ensure that food is giving your body exactly what it needs, you need to learn how to listen to your body. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health and wellness that moves away from the restrictive and rule-focused eating by teaching you to tune into your body signals as well as improve your relationship with food. It is about learning to eat outside of a diet, putting the focus on internal cues (hunger, fullness, satisfaction) rather than external cues (food rules and restrictions). Further to this you also shouldn’t be focusing on a number goal – when you eat intuitively your body will naturally come to its healthy place.

Theoretically, intuitive eating is the exact opposite of a diet. There should be no meal plan to follow, no measuring of portions, no calorie counting, and no foods are off limits. I find however, that it is easier to learn the internal signals by starting off with a structure that helps your body to function at its best. So when I work with clients I usually start off by designing an eating plan. This may still seem like a strict eating plan, and it is in some respects, because when you are not able to know what your body is telling you, you need to learn the signals and signs that your body is sending out and what they mean. I have found that it is easier to learn this while you are following a set of guidelines as to when and how much to eat.

These guidelines will help you to eat with your physiology, which will help you to listen to and learn your signals properly. On a simple level, this involves:

  • Starting early (within an hour of getting up)
  • Eating at regular intervals thereafter (every 3-5 hours)
  • Eating more food during the daytime
  • Eating enough food for your metabolism to function at its best

Together with this structure, I teach clients how to start listening to what their body is telling them. One important thing to remember is that your body will never lie to you. You can trust your body to tell you exactly what it needs. Some of the things that your body can tell you include:

  • When you are hungry (this is a light empty or hollow feeling in the stomach area)
  • When you have had enough to eat (this is when you are no longer very interested in the food – mindful eating is very important here)
  • When you have eaten too much (this is when the stomach feels very distended)
  • What foods feel good for your body
  • What foods don’t feel good (this can result in stomach aches or other allergy symptoms)
  • When you are thirsty and need fluid

Some of the problems with listening to your body are that:

  1. Depending on how much fad dieting you have done, these signals can take some time to be ‘heard’ and understood
  2. How much time you take to be quiet and listen to your body, as well as how often you do the exercises, will determine how quickly you will understand and be able to work with just listening to your body
  3. The structure of your day will determine whether you can eat with your signals or not. For example, if you are only able to have lunch at 1pm, you will need to eat at this time, whether you are hungry yet or not – learning how to eat intuitively in these instances can be more tricky

When you are able to hear and understand your signals you can start eating when your body tells you it needs energy, as well as stop eating when your body tells you it has had enough. Once you have these signals down, you should theoretically never have a weight problem again as you will generally not eat when you are not hungry and you won’t eat way past satiety or fullness.

Another angle of intuitive eating, which you can practice from the start even before you understand the signals fully, is to think about what you feel like eating and eat according to what you want to eat rather than what your brain tells you you should eat (portions are still important here). You may think that you’ll have a treat fest, but once you realise how much better you feel with food that has more nutrition you will intuitively make the right decisions. But you will also allow yourself to have the occasional treat, because there is nothing wrong with that. One of the things that is important with intuitive eating is that you give yourself permission to eat whatever you want without feeling guilty.

Intuitive eating is an amazing concept if you are able to let go of the diet mentality. Take your time to move away from the focus of just losing weight and find a different way of eating that you can stick to for the rest of your life.

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