Finding Food Freedom Through Intuitive Eating
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Before starting @healthbylexi, diet culture and I were best friends. I always thought she had my back: guiding me through every eating choice, making sure I worked out everyday, telling me that I had so much will power and discipline, and convincing me to develop these so-called “healthy” habits.
But … she was toxic. She taught me to fear foods that I’ve loved my whole life. She taught me to obsess over everything I put in my mouth and track it all on a silly little app. She taught me to label foods as good vs bad, which only led to guilt when I ate those ‘off limit’ foods. And she taught me that my body and weight are determinants of my character and self-worth.
Realizing that there is so much more to life than diet culture and fitting society’s unrealistic beauty standards, my family helped me realize that it was time for a breakup. And so, I finally did it. I tried to remember that any extra weight I was going to gain from here on was going to be a badge of honor, representing my strength and just how far I have come.
A quote that means a lot to me and helped me find perspective:
“Those extra 5-10 pounds, that place where your body naturally wants to be—that’s your life. That’s your late night pizza with your man, that Sunday morning bottomless brunch, your favorite cupcake in the whole entire world because you wanted to treat yourself. Those 5-10 pounds are your favorite memories, your unforgettable trips, your celebrations of life. Those extra 5-10 pounds are your spontaneity, your freedom, your love.”
I learned to adopt this mindset through the principles of intuitive eating, or mindful eating. And I hope you, too, can find food freedom through using this lens and practice. I'm always here to help and you can use this as a guide for yourself! So, let's break it all down.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is the practice of "paying attention to your actual eating experience without judgment" (Center for Functional Medicine). In simple terms, it is often described as listening to your hunger cues, and honoring your cravings: eating what you want, when you want. But, it goes much deeper than this though. Intuitive or mindful eating will help you become in tune with your body, helping you understand why you are hungry: are you bored? do you normally eat on a schedule? how are you feeling? sad? happy? anxious? are you craving something? what does your body need right now?
What are the principles of Intuitive Eating?
Get rid of the “my diet starts tomorrow mentality” and give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods
Let’s ditch this mindset together today and try to make peace with food. Allowing yourself to eat foods that you have previously deemed “good” AND “bad” is so so important and will be the first step in helping you ultimately heal your relationship with food. When we inherently label foods in this manner or rely on a diet, we tend to fear foods and the vicious cycle of binging and restricting often continues, only leading us down a path of guilt. I am here to tell you that it is NOT your fault if you feel like the diet industry has failed you; so many diets are marketed with false promises because the diet industry is a business at the end of the day and your “losses/failures” = their gains. It may be hard at first to ditch this mindset, but let’s try to reframe the way we think of food and get rid of any food rules diet culture has set up for us (P.S. these rules are not really backed by science anyway!). Food is fuel. Food is neutral and we need it to survive. I have been able to find food freedom by giving myself unconditional permission to eat what I want, when I want, no matter what that food may be. Regardless of whether I labeled it as “bad” in the past, I know that my body will still use all of the energy and nutrients as fuel. Plus, even if it is not the most nutritious food in the world, I like to think of it as a “soul or comfort food” that will make my belly and mind happy!
Appreciate your body and all that it does for you
I want you all to know that you deserve all the food and love in the world, no matter how you are feeling right now. We all have bad body image days here and there, we're all human. But when you notice yourself initiating some negative self-talk and/or having intrusive thoughts, try to think about all of the incredible things the body does for you.
I have a little exercise on my instagram page (found from pinterest) to practice gratitude toward our bodies, and here it is:
look at your hands
they have pet so many cute animals and dried so many of your tears
look at your feet
they have walked you to some of your favorite places and walked you away from the bad ones
look at your belly
think of the times it has been full and happy with your favorite foods
look at your eyes
think about all of the beautiful places and people they have seen
look at your mouth
it has told so many people you love them
look at your legs
they have held you up when you thought you weren’t strong enough to stand
your body has been there for you since day one. love it. it loves you. ♡
Try not to overthink or hyperfocus on your food choices
This can be really daunting initially when you first immerse yourself in the realm of intuitive eating. I am here to assure that the body is SO smart. It will tell you what it wants and needs, so listen to it. An important point I want to draw upon is that a lot of the time if you are craving a certain food, you are likely in need of a certain nutrient. For example, if you are craving chocolate, it is very possible your body is asking for magnesium which you can get from a multitude of food sources. Just some science for ya! But try to listen your cravings, because I know in the past a lot of the time I wouldn’t let myself eat what I was craving. I would try to find some healthier alternative but it never left me satisfied. I would eat a bunch of snacks, only to still want what I was initially craving. And I know if I just would have eaten that food to begin with, I would have been satisfied and happy!
Listen to your body’s cues and become in tune with it
Before being swayed by diet culture and society, younger children are very in tune with their bodies. A young child will tell you when they are hungry and exactly what they want to eat. They know when they’ve had enough and when they are satisfied. They are quite literally the poster child for intuitive eating...so let’s try to use them as an example and try to emulate their behaviors towards food!
Easily manipulated by diet culture, I was convinced that I needed to employ these arbitrary food rules in order to be "healthy". Not sure who made it a “rule” that you have to eat every 3 hours, that you can’t eat past 7pm, that fruit will make you fat, or that you should drink water or chew gum to curb your hunger. Because if you ask me, these food rules make no sense; they take a one-size-fits-all approach to health and that is something I truly do not believe in. Nutrition needs to be individualized and you need to listen to your body and give it what it needs. Listen to your hunger cues, try to understand why you are hungry, and try to become in tune with your body. You may be hungry because you are sad or anxious, or because you usually eat lunch at this time. No matter the reason, honor it and accept it. Being in tune with your body is an ongoing process, it's not going to happen overnight. But try to acknowledge that you have more control than you think over you are eating. Easier said than done, but try to not let food control you. I promise you have so much power!
Be mindful and present during every eating experience
I know how hard it can be to be completely mindful and present during a meal. You may be tempted to aimlessly scroll on social media while you’re eating. Let’s try to get rid of distractions during meals so you can fully enjoy and appreciate what you are eating. Create an experience for yourself. Maybe that means cooking your own meal. Or maybe that means just sitting down and eating in peace: giving yourself a moment to express gratitude. Creating an experience with all of the senses truly helps to optimize digestion. Try to eat slowly/don't rush your meals, fully chew your food, focus on how the food makes you feel, focus on what you can smell and taste, etc. Eating mindfully can help you get rid of any preemptive judgment, and leave you feeling content after meals in both a physical and mental sense.
For me, food freedom and intuitive eating is all about making peace with yourself and food. Learn to love yourself, practice gratitude, and don't put so much pressure on yourself. When you start to find food freedom through intuitive eating, you'll feel in control of the foods you are eating, instead of feeling like the food is controlling you. Let's strive for health and happiness together, not perfection.
If you ever have any questions or just need some guidance, please don't hesitate to reach out to me on Instagram @healthbylexi OR fill out my contact form at the bottom of my home page! I am always here to help :)