Have you ever had a toddler lovingly cram a cookie into your mouth? My kids certainly did this and I’ve seen other kids do the same. They are so exhilarated at the concept of the cookie that they simply must share it with you. It’s startling and sometimes gross yet we laugh and love the enthusiasm toddlers have for food. Toddlers are the best intuitive eaters.
I’ve recently gone back and read the book Intuitive Eating (IE) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I say “gone back” because I felt as if I had already read it. I’ve read many books that reference their work (such as Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison and The Eating Instinct by Virginia Sole -Smith). I’ve even done the workbook that accompanies the book but finally getting to read the book that is considered the reference for so many others was needed. It is an older book; written in originally in 1995 (though it has been updated many times). So what is intuitive eating?
Read the book! Hahaha. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I’m not here to rehash the whole book for you but I did want to talk about some of the concepts in the book that have changed my life dramatically. I’d also like to share some simple ways that you can start eating intuitively although I will warn you. Intuitive eating isn’t one of those things you do a little bit. As the great Yoda said “Do or do not. There is no try.” (Ah, Yoda life lessons!!)
One of the big concepts of Intuitive Eating was one of the hardest for me. It is “give yourself unconditional permission to eat.”
Like ANYTHING. ANYTIME.
Even the idea kind of blew my mind. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I could eat anything I wanted I would have laughed and said “no, of course not. I only eat what is healthy.” If you asked me if I was on a diet I would have also vehemently denied it.
See, most of us have figured out that dieting is bad. (Don’t believe me? Read the book. They cite many studies to support the fact that diets fail somewhere around 95% of the time.) Since dieting is bad we have replaced dieting with “healthy eating.” Yes, I was a “healthy eater” for MANY years of my life. And by healthy eating I meant avoiding certain foods (I’ll never eat potato chips again!), only eating foods that I thought were “healthy,” not eating before or after a certain time of day and not eating even if I was hungry. Basically, I was on a diet. A perpetual, never ending, horrific diet that consumed my time, energy, money and made me feel terrible.
So the first thing I did was buy a huge bag of those super crispy potato chips from Costco. HEAVEN. I ate them like crazy. For three days in a row I ate chips with every meal. It was euphoric!
When I was a senior in high school I went on a senior trip to Cancun. The trip company we went with basically thought having fun consisted of getting us drunk as much as possible (don’t tell my mom). They fed us too but mostly just tried to get us drunk. I once asked for a coke and they gave me rum and coke. I went back and said I just wanted a coke. Once again, here came the rum and coke. When we were on the van that transported us to the beach one day I overhead a fellow teen lamenting, “All I want is a cup of grape juice!” We had proven what IE preaches. You can only eat or drink the same thing for so long before you get utterly and legitimately SICK OF IT.
You will get tired of eating the same thing over and over again. No matter how much you love it. People tell me all the time that they CAN’T STOP eating _________. Whatever it is. I was the same way with potato chips.
Now, I buy them and eat them. They taste good! But I don’t eat them at every meal. This is where people get confused with IE. If you CAN eat potato chips for every meal, won’t you?
Before I went on the IE path, I typically ate yogurt with fruit and a little bit of granola for breakfast. I only allowed myself the plain yogurt and super healthy granola. It didn’t taste great so by the middle of the bowl, I usually ended up adding a bunch of honey to it. Guess what I had for breakfast this morning?
ICE CREAM. That’s what you were thinking, right? I’m allowed to eat whatever I want so I’m gonna eat ice cream. Actually, I had vanilla flavored yogurt (with sugar added, OH MY!), with blackberries and peanut butter/chocolate granola. I never felt the need to add sweetener to it. I loved the taste. I got full about 3/4 of the way through and threw away the rest.
Another big idea in Intuitive Eating is to ENJOY FOOD. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Many other countries around the world make eating pleasure a top priority. And oddly enough, they tend to be more “healthy” based on those typical medical standards (look at Japan and France).
We are told not to eat chocolate because it is a dessert; it is “bad” for you. When I was eating “healthy” I would only allow myself a couple of pieces of the darkest chocolate I could find. I would SAVOR it (cause I knew I could only have a couple pieces, although I would usually go back later and eat the whole bar). Once I went down the IE path, I allowed myself as much chocolate as I wanted in whatever flavor I wanted. I ate more of it and didn’t force myself to eat as if I was never gonna get another piece. It was great! I always had a stash in the kitchen.
Then a really weird thing happened. (This has been a recent discovery y’all.) I noticed that the stash was sitting there untouched for days, then weeks, then months. Turns out, I DON’T EVEN LIKE CHOCOLATE. What?! Actually, I do like chocolate bars and chocolate mixed into ice cream (like Netflix and Chill from Ben and Jerry’s, YUMMY). But just a piece of plain dark chocolate by itself? Only on s'mores!
When we allow ourselves to explore all foods without restriction, we discover what truly fulfills us. We enjoy eating more and don’t feel the need to stuff ourselves because we aren’t sure when we will “get to” eat those things again. Now, don’t be confused. The point of IE is not eating less and certainly NOT WEIGHT LOSS. (Once again, read the book.) The point is to eat in a way that makes you feel good. The point is to be “healthy” emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually and socially. And food plays a role in all of those things.
Emotions-ever eat because you are sad?
Finances-I spent WAY to much money (when I wasn’t making much) to buy only organic, “healthy” food from Whole Foods exclusively. Many of the foods would rot in my fridge because I didn’t really want to eat them.
Physical-I ate so many salads and roughage I gave myself intestinal issues for years.
Spiritual- How many church ceremonies involve some sort of breaking bread?
Social-Every major holiday involves some sort of food/meal. This is how we connect with one another.
The motivating factor in all these changes was probably my anger. Anger isn’t always a bad thing and in this case it motivated me to make big changes for the better. Once I realized that I had wasted decades of my life trying to lose weight, once I thought about the THOUSANDS of dollars I had spent buying only “healthy” foods, once I realized that I was feeling bad about my body once every 15 minutes or so (meaning in one waking day I felt bad about myself 64 times a day), once I understood that the diet industry made 78 BILLION DOLLARS in 2019 (according to an article by Business Wire), once it sank in that my beautiful yoga business may never succeed because I would NEVER tell people that it would help them lose weight, once I was able to see all of that clearly, I was so angry that I would do anything to make changes. My life is so much better because of those changes. And this is the first tenant of IE: “reject the diet mentality.”
Those are just some of the changes I have made in my life. Are you interested in where you might start? My tips for you? Something concrete to work on?Try these out:
Lastly, if a toddler crams a cookie in your mouth ask yourself, “do I want this cookie?” Then, based on your body, do one of two things. Say, “my tummy doesn’t really want a cookie right now but thanks love.” Or say, “Yummy, I love a good cookie!”
And then cram it in your mouth with all the joy of an excited toddler :)
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