We’re constantly bombarded with messages about what we should be eating. I even shared a list of recommendations here. However, when it comes to nourishing and fueling your body, there’s really only one person you need to listen to – yourself.
This may sound like strange advice coming from a doctor, but it’s true. I can give you general guidelines and recommendations, but at the end of the day, your body knows best. You have an internal wisdom, called intuition that can guide you to the food choices that work best for your body. That is, as long as you’re listening.
This process is called intuitive eating, and it is one of the most important aspects of nutrition. It’s a way of eating that I practice myself and recommend to my patients.
It involves getting to know your body and trusting that your cravings and hunger serve a purpose – to let you know that something is lacking in your body, physically or emotionally.
If you’ve been on a diet you know that suppressing your hunger and cravings is the name of the game, but with intuitive eating, you want to do the exact opposite:
Honor Your Hunger.
When you are physically hungry, it’s best to eat. Hunger is your body’s way of letting you know that it needs fuel and nutrients. Trust your body and give it the nourishment that it needs.
If you aren’t sure if what you’re feeling is physical hunger, try drinking a glass of water. If you’ve ignored your thirst or aren’t drinking enough water, you may crave food as a way to increase your liquid intake. At the first sign of hunger, drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes, If you are truly hungry, the desire to eat will still be present.
Another way to know if you are truly physically hungry is to check in with yourself and your emotions. Are you feeling stressed, lonely, tired, or bored? These are all feelings that can lead your body to crave food in an effort comfort, soothe, and find emotional balance. If your cravings are coming from a need to self-soothe, try your best to manage the emotion before reaching for food. If after you’ve managed the emotion, you are still feeling hungry, have something to eat.
Food is not the enemy.
We live in a world where dieting is very common, but you’ll have more success maintaining a healthy way of eating if you think of it as a lifestyle change and make peace with food. Look at your hunger and cravings as information – your body’s way of making sure that you have the nutrients you need to get through the day. If you’re craving a banana, have the banana. Similarly, if you’re craving chocolate, allow yourself to have the chocolate. Make a conscious choice to have it and enjoy it. Ignoring the craving or attempting to suppress it will only lead to a binge later. Eat it and savor it, without punishment.
In the same way that you honor your hunger, you want to honor your fullness. Chew your food well, and check in with yourself while you’re eating. Once you feel full and satisfied, give yourself permission to stop eating.
Respect your body and its unique needs, that includes any health needs or concerns you may have, as well as your body’s natural weight and size. The body knows what it needs and also knows what size and weight are ideal. Focus on your overall health by eating well and exercising regularly, your body can handle the rest.
For more information on intuitive eating, check out this book by Evelyn Tribole.