Intuitive Eating: A Mindfulness Practice Worth PracticingFebruary 29th, 2016

By Leslie Carr, RD, LDN

Intuitive. I love the word. Webster defines it this way:  having the ability to understand or know something without any direct evidence or reasoning process. Sounds like a good thing – right? When we use our intuition, we follow an inner knowing. At the treatment center where I work as a dietitian, we encourage the kind of listening that enables us to “hear” this inner knowing. We believe that learning to listen to ourselves in this way is central to recovery from eating disorders and the many often co-occurring complications that accompany them. Since my job is dietitian or Chief Food Police (as I am affectionately known), I am most interested in intuition when it applies to food.

Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body's natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than counting calories, fat grams, carbs, etc. Don’t we really know this already? Dieting is such a short term strategy. Most of us have found this out for ourselves. Depriving ourselves of nutrition and the healthy pleasure that eating offers us is no way to live. I frequently remind the women at Fairhaven Treatment Center that “food is fuel” and it is. Planning and preparing good, fresh food is also a creative process. Learning to enjoy food is, for many of my clients, a part of the recovery process. Paying attention to what we eat, when we eat it is definitely a mindfulness practice. My new slogan at work is “savor the flavor”! I want to help my clients heal and recover from their eating disorders and I want to plant the seeds of intuitive eating in their minds and hearts – so that their bodies don’t keep paying the price that a long term eating disorder exacts on their system and their lives.

Here are ten golden tips from the book Intuitive Eating that I hope to foster at my workplace and in my own life. I truly believe that this philosophy and practice can liberate women and men everywhere who struggle with food.  

Intuitive Eating Principles

Reject the Diet Mentality. Stop the fad dieting!  Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back the pounds that you lost initially.

Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Learning to listen to your body and recognize hunger cues lays a foundation of trust within your system.

Make Peace with Food. Make peace with your body. It is okay to eat! Excessive food rules set you up for failure. If you tell yourself that you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.

Challenge the Food Police. Join me and say "NO" to autopilot thoughts in your head that declare you're "good" for restricting calories or "bad" because you ate bread. It’s important to start challenging these unhelpful beliefs. Just because we think something doesn’t mean it’s true!

Respect Your Fullness. Observe the signals from your body that show that you're comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level? This can be tricky if you’ve been undereating for a long time – but it is a part of a healthy eating lifestyle.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor. I love it that the Japanese promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our part of the world, we often overlook the sensory pleasure of a good meal. For too long, as a culture we have placed far too much value on thinness.  Ironically, when you eat what you really want, you will be less prone to overeat.

Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your “stuff” without using food. We all know about challenging emotions. Everyone experiences their own triggers for anxiety, irritation, and loneliness. We all know that food won’t fix anything. In the end, restricting food intake or binging will only make you feel worse.  

Respect Your Body. Who said all women need to be a size 6 or a size 0, for Pete’s sake? Body image is a huge component of treatment for eating disorders. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t criticize some aspect of how they look. This doesn’t make it okay – it just shows us that we aren’t alone!

Exercise--Feel the Difference. Shift your focus from burning calories to how it feels to move your body. This is another way of listening to yourself. At Fairhaven, we encourage yoga and other types of mindful movement.

Honor Your Health--Gentle Nutrition. Remember that you don't have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. (You don’t have to do anything perfectly!) I serve my clients special snacks each week that they sometimes call “challenges” but I like to think of movie popcorn, ice cream sandwiches, and banana bread as treats that we have a right to enjoy. Being overly fixated on gaining weight from one meal or one dessert is a waste of time – and unnecessary. It's what you eat consistently over time that matters.

Intuitive eating is an important aspect of being fully alive and enjoying the ride. My wish for all of us is that we can listen better to ourselves and each other – and trust the process!

 

Leslie Carr received her Bachelors Degree and Internship for Nutrition and Dietetics from Mississippi State University.  She is a Registered Dietitian, LDN.  She is currently working towards her Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDRD) through IAEDP.  Her knowledge and experience, combined with her desire to truly create a change in realtionships towards food in the hearts and minds of those she helps, makes her an outstanding dietitian. 

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