I’m loving the internet lately. Maybe I’m just only choosing to consume content that speaks to my values, but just within that community I have seen so much positivity surrounding our relationships with our bodies and with food. I’ve been eating it up. People are getting so real about their disordered eating pasts, a balance between health and obsession, and really just promoting a truly healthy lifestyle that looks different for everyone.
I also feel like there is often a lot left to be desired in these conversations. It’s great when people share their stories. It’s great that people aren’t out here promoting a one size fits all wellness approach. It can also be really, really confusing when the advice you tend to keep getting is, “Do your research, listen to your body!”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not entirely bad advice…
But what in the world does listening to your body REALLY mean?
If something is out of whack or you’ve not spent a lot of time learning and decoding what your bodies unique signals really mean, this can be pretty cryptic advice.
Sometimes I get cravings for things I don’t even like. What does that mean? Sometimes the only thing I want to do is sleep the entire day away… but I’ve learned that it makes me feel worse. I have never, ever been on a run where I didn’t at some point want to stop. Is keeping going an act of disservice to my body, or is there value in perseverance?
See how it can become so confusing?
I’ve been doing the intuitive eating/movement thing for a long time, and I still have a long way to go on this path, but I’m here to share what I have learned so far with you.
So what is intuitive eating anyhow?
I actually took to the internet to see if there was one “real” answer out there, and it turns out there isn’t really. Most of what I saw was still promoting it as a way to loose weight, and while that may be a side effect for some people, it’s pretty far from the bullseye if you ask me.
To me, intuitive eating simply means eating in a way that best serves your own body AND mind. Diets are almost always bad for your mental health. Restricting and obsessing don’t really seem healthy to me either.
So how do you pay attention to what you eat and how you feel without obsessing?
With grace. So much grace. It’s easier said than done, so here are some more concrete tips for achieving this balance between mindfulness and obsession:
- Have a regular eating schedule— three meals a day? Five meals a day? Snacks? No snacks? It may take some trial and error. There is no “right” way to follow a positive eating schedule, but finding a routine that works for you will help you pay better attention to your hunger signals.
- Use that schedule as a guideline, not a formula— very frequently, I will find myself ravenous long before the time frame where lunch usually occurs. There are two steps I take here: 1) eat a snack, and 2) make a bigger breakfast the next day.
- Understand when your bodies signals are probably off— the main thing you hear about intuitive eating and balance is “eat when you’re hungry. stop when you’re full.” Anyone who has ever had anxiety, stress, depression, pregnancy, PMS, GI issues, had surgery, insomnia, or other sleep scheduling problems will probably tell you that there are times you don’t know when you’re hungry or full. Recognizing that you have a condition (or perhaps are just so out of whack with your habits) that throws off these natural signals is the best starting point. If you haven’t eaten in more than 5 hours and you’re not feeling hungry, it may be a good time to remind yourself that you need and deserve to eat. Allow yourself to have whatever it is that sounds the slightest bit appealing, even if its only a little bit.
- Patience, patience, patience— I’ve been doing this for almost three years and I feel like I’m still only at the beginning (although, some days, I feel like a master). It’s going to ebb and flow, and a healthy dose of acceptance is going to go pretty far on this path.
- And again, grace— You’re going to try things that don’t work for you. You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about this, and worry if you’re obsessing. Eventually, it gets easier. You’ll find a groove, you won’t have to think about it quite so much, and you’ll think less and less about every meal and movement. It is a process!
If there was one word I could use to describe the key to this entire process, it is mindfulness. I know we hear it all the time, it can be quick to loose it’s meaning… or maybe you haven’t experienced what it means to begin with.
Mindfulness basically just means paying attention. What does the air around you feel like? Notice the sensation of air coming into your lungs and leaving it. Feel your feet on the ground. Feel what it feels like to live inside your body. That’s the “easy” part.
The hard part is not making judgement about those things. Is this a good or bad thought? feeling? day? It isn’t good or bad. It just is. To quote Shakespeare: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
The same can apply to your eating habits. This isn’t “good” or “bad” food. Nothing is going to give you cancer or diabetes or heart disease on it’s own. Lifestyle is a comprehensive picture. There may be foods, thoughts, words… that you choose not to consume daily because you learn that they don’t make you feel good. That’s fine. But they are not “bad”. Just because you choose not to take something in daily doesn’t mean you are wrong to do it when you’ve decided it will be worth it. Only you can decide that.
But how do we decide if something is right for our own self?
Not just with food, but with all activities that can either contribute to, or take away from our ultimate well being, the key is paying attention (ie, being mindful) to how you feel before and after you eat or do certain things.
I feel better when I don’t sleep in, even though I sometimes think my body is telling me to do so. I feel better when I don’t drink. Like at all. It makes me feel cranky and unbalanced the entire next day, makes me crave things that will make me feel worse in the long run, and most importantly, makes my blood sugar and my moods unstable.
How did I come to these conclusions?
By doing things that I thought might be okay for me, paying attention to how I felt (not just one time, but a lot of times over the course of years), and deciding on what is right for me even though it’s not super fun or popular.
More often than not, we know the things that contribute to a lack of wellness in one area of life or another, we just don’t want to do the things that we know would leave us feeling healthier because we are afraid they will not leave us feeling happier.
AHA! The ultimate dichotomy of a healthy life!
I suppose I don’t have a lot to offer to those who are caught in that feeling/thought/fear. I have been there too, with many different things, and the only thing I have to offer is this:
Eventually, I realized that the things that left me feeling the healthiest were also the things that left me feeling the happiest. I’m talking big picture happiness. I like drinking with friends, but I like having stable moods even more. I might feel good for a few hours when I drink, but it’s (usually) not worth feeling bad for the entire next day (and not just when I’m hung over)
It’s still confusing sometimes. There are things that can feel awful in the moment but make you feel amazing after (like working out) and things that make you feel good in the moment but make you feel awful after (like drinking, lots of sugar, etc) which is why the before and after mindfulness practice is important.
Practice and patience! They’ll go a lot farther than you might realize in this process.
What have you done that has helped you achieve a healthy balance and a happy life?