Your body is a magnificent instrument that is designed to move you toward a state of health on a moment by moment basis. Just think about it works to heal your body when you injure it in some way. At the cellular level, the body just knows what to do. In the same way, the body knows when it needs to be fed and responds positively to food that it determines is healthy for it. It actually works to dispose of food that is not good for its functioning. And many of us make it work overtime if we are putting food into that is toxic to the system in some way, such as eating too much sugar, fat, and salt.
If you have not been paying attention to your body’s physical signals for a long time, it might sound a little overwhelming to think about trusting your body to tell you what it really needs. Not listening to your body can happen for a number of reasons—you’re too busy, you’ve followed the advice of diets or diet gurus to tell you what to eat and when, and you listen to the thoughts in your head more than you listen to your body.
In the class that I teach, the idea of mindfulness-based, intuitive eating can be a little scary for people. The most common things I hear (and I hear them all of the time) are: If I eat intuitively, I’m afraid that I will get fat. How can I eat whatever I want and not gain weight? If I don’t weigh myself regularly (something I ask people not to do), how will I know how much I weigh?
Let’s take them one at a time.
- If I eat intuitively, I’m afraid that I will get fat.
Intuitive eating is eating that is based on physical signs of hunger, not eating that is based on emotional cues (like boredom, anxiety, or stress) or environmental cues (like food sitting around in the break room, advertising, or yummy food smells). As a general rule you would eat when you are physically hungry (“body hunger”). This type of eating would rarely lead you to overeat. I say rarely, because if you aren’t familiar with your hunger cues it may take you a while to catch on to what they are. And, if you eat food that is highly processed and therefore high in sugar and fat, you may be responding to what I call “brain hunger” (not “body hunger”). What I mean by “brain hunger” is the physiological craving set up by too much sugar and fat. Eating intuitively will lead you to fulfilling physical hunger with food that helps the body feel healthier, not exhausted.
- How can I eat whatever I want and not gain weight?
What does “eating whatever I want” mean? What it implies is that, given the option, you would eat cakes, cookies, chocolates, chips, and all the fried food you want all day every day. When I explore this idea further, people always say when they overeat high sugar, fat, salt food they feel absolutely awful and when they eat healthier food they actually feel really good. My question then becomes, “Why would you want to eat in a way that make you feel absolutely awful?” Is that really what you want to eat or is it just because you have denied yourself pleasure with food for so long that you think, given the opportunity, you will never quit eating. That is a different issue. Learning to eat all kinds of food in appropriate amounts for the body is what happens when you mindfully, intuitively eat. You can have cake, but you are quite unlikely to want the whole thing. Actually, eaten mindfully, often a few bites are enough.
- If I don’t weigh myself regularly (something I ask people not to do), how will I know how much I weigh?
Again, this question implies that you haven’t been paying much attention to how your body actually feels and looks. You don’t need to get on the scale to know that you have gained or lost weight. You can feel how tight or baggy your clothes are. You can look at yourself in the mirror. You can notice how light or heavy you feel. There are many ways to know how much you weigh without quantifying it by a number on a scale. Mostly people just use the scale to beat themselves up and feel bad about how much they weigh. Do you really need to do that on a regular basis? If weighing had been helpful in the past, would you be trying a new mindful, intuitive approach to eating and your body?
When it comes to eating, it is very useful to use the BASICS of mindful eating that you can find on this website. If you use those instructions when you eat, you will be feeding the body with care and listening to the mind and heart with love.
If you have not been paying attention to your body for a long time, trusting it will take time. Be patient with yourself and the process. As you move from eating based on messages from your head and emotions to eating based on messages from your belly, you will be guided to the weight your body wants to be and to the health that you want to feel.