I can trust my body to tell me what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat.
I am going through the ten principles of intuitive eating, as set out by Evelyn Tribole in her excellent Intuitive Eating book and the new collaboration wtih Elyse Resch of The Intuitive Eating Workbook. The starred ones are those I already know I need to work on.
1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Easy. Done that. They don’t work. I know they don’t. I ignore people talking about their diets and how many pounds came off this week. What came off will come on again, only with a vengeance. Yo-yo dieting is worse than not dieting.
How does dieting interfere with my life: physically I gain weight (but was that due to food?); socially I occasionally compare quantities but it’s minimal; psychologically nothing; behaviourally I do eat more when stressed and I avoid physical intimacy (but that’s not just about weight).
I do not have dieting tools (such as calorie counting or exercising more after a good meal and all that nonsense). I do ban foods on basis of environmental concerns.
What are my hidden forms of dieting: I struggle to not believe that I wouldn’t be healthier if I lost weight. I know it’s the wrong yardstick and I should instead be focusing on positive ways of becoming healthier such as increased physical activity.
2: Honour Your Hunger
I work from home so I have the space to notice when I am hungry and eat then, rather than having to eat at practical moments. My interoceptive awareness, a phrase new to me which refers to whether I am aware of what my body is trying to tell me (go to the toilet, go to sleep, eat, etc.) is I think fairly good. Meditation helps with this. The suggestion is to practice this by listening to your heart beat which is much like focusing on the breath.
In a short self-care assessment I do well: I miss out on regular exercise (and prayer, but that’s not going to happen) but otherwise I can tick all the boxes. Attunement disruptors, or distractions from my interoceptive awareness include: more than two hours of television a day (although I have cut down on binge-watching substantially); I am often sleep deprived although working on it; I think I overeat when stressed but am no longer sure; I am over critical of myself; I do withdraw when I am stressed but less than I used to; I used to take pride in being super busy but no longer do so.
I think I am fairly self-aware of where I am on a hunger-fullness scale.
3: Make Peace with Food
I think I manage this quite well. This is about binning all the rules and saying instead, if I want it and like it I’ll eat it, or unconditional permission to eat. If I want a whole pack of jaffa cakes I will have them. I gave myself that freedom, ate them by the packet full and then stopped. I can eat just one or two. This applies to more than just jaffa cakes. I struggle with not stuffing myself on cheese and beef.
I do have an internal judgement that pre-prepared food is not as good quality, both in terms of ingredients and their quality. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s irrelevant as I would never make it so all I can do is buy it. I have taken onboard what the The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating says in terms of processed food i.e. processed does not equal bad. I think I still have a condition of worth that says cook it from scratch or you’re a bad home-maker.
I am still trying to regain my sweet tooth, having an inherent default position that chocolate and tart lemon are fine, but everything else is not good. My parents had some very stupid in built rules about food and I’m still throwing them out. Do I believe that all foods are emotionally equivalent? Not yet.
Of ten questions dealing with making peace, the only one I hesitate to be positive about is whether I can cope with my feelings without turning to food. I am certainly better at it, and that includes better at coping with stress without alcohol but I could still improve.
4: Challenge the Food Police
I think I’ve sent them packing. I don’t believe in rules about food. I do still hear my parents’ voices on this but have learned to recognise that that is their stuff and not mine. Yes we had to finish our platefuls, not complain about disliking foods. Yes I had secret foods, mostly bars of chocolate or sweets that I would eat on my own. Also big bags of crisps (that are now called “sharing” bags). My parents are manic walkers and that was our exercise. My mother was on regular diets and my father was not bothered with her weight but was with mine, although I was fairly thin as a child and adolescent. My father did sometimes have his own rules about he could have thirds (usually of meat) but I couldn’t. I did also get your dad’s worked hard to put food on the table / your mother’s worked hard cooking a nice meal so finish it messages. We also had to wait for dinner if hungry an hour or so beforehand. If we were out on a walk it might be several hours before food.
Whilst I know that losing weight is not going to find me the perfect partner, I struggle to accept that it can’t but help.
I would like to exercise more.
5: Feel Your Fullness
Sometimes I go from pleasant fullness to unpleasant stuffed. I think this occurs when I’ve cooked (or been presented with) something really nice and I know it won’t taste as good reheated the next day so I plough on through the last few mouthfuls even though they are unnecessary and make me feel bloated.
Mostly I recognise fullness and stop. I am better at saying no, or yes but only a small slice. I accepted a large slice of birthday cake recently and struggled my way through most of it before remembering I could just put the fork down. If I am at home I tend to have two small portions rather than one big one. The pause for refill does give me a moment to question whether I am still hungry. I struggle to not clean my plate (because I’ve bought it and spent time preparing it) but I do think about it and question my need. So much of this is just pausing to ask the question.
I still often eat in front of the television. I am trying to not do it as much. In the summer it’s easier to make more of an occasion of a meal as I tend to take it outside a lot. I still might scroll through my phone or take a book but I am more aware of the distraction and better able to leave it and focus on the food. Even if I am distracted I try to pay more attention to food. So television, book and phone are all still distractions but heavily reduced.
I could try noting meals and how long it takes me to feel hungry afterwards in order to make different choices but I don’t think it’s necessary.
The last bite threshold is something I’ve always been aware of with alcohol, in knowing that I am slightly merry but one more drink and I will start being uncomfortable. I think I recognise this with food but don’t always stop.
6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
What do I really want to eat right now?
Enjoying food is good for your well-being, studies say. I try and think about what I want to eat before I look in the fridge and spy the easy foods. I try to consider what taste will tantalise my taste buds. I am trying to get re-motivated to cook, which lost its enjoyment when children were fussy. I am trying to widen my repertoire.
I try to eat while considering sight, smell, touch, sound, mouthfeel and taste of food. Be mindful and keep drawing your attention to eating, rather than the breath.
I try to improve my eating environment, by giving myself the time to eat (rather than shovel), to not be distracted, to eat at a clear table in a pleasant setting, without having unpleasant noise or feeling stressed. I usually eat alone, occasionally with friends or family. I can do better at this.
This is where it gets harder…
7: Cope with your Feelings without using Food*
I think I went from dieting to emotional over-eating. Food can offer comfort, appease loneliness, boredom and anger as well as just offering a distraction.
Better sleep can help. I still don’t get enough sleep and I still awaken easily during the night. More physical activity during the day would help with this. I am fairly consistent in time, maybe an hour or two later than the alarm. I drink hardly any coffee and keep my black tea with its caffeine for mornings only. I am not good at turning off devices well before bedtime.
Everything about life is about balance (as I didn’t quite say during my interview). I am spending less time on paid work and voluntary work (which is good and bad). I give my children the time they need and want. I give time to my friends. I don’t give myself enough time for fun stuff although I have increased it. I do not give myself enough time for exercise of any form.
My daily meditation has reduced my stress levels substantially. I cannot say enough how amazed I am at the difference ten minutes a day makes. Ten sodding minutes. We can all do that. Thanks Calm! I still have stressful things to deal with and I still get overly stressed at times but it’s getting rarer.
The one time in my life I achieved my target weight it was the only thing in my life I had control of, just before splitting up with my partner. Life was terrible but I was a size ten (UK).
The family activity at home was coming together for a ‘nice’ meal together because that is nice. Enduring it was nice. We never came together out of choice or for any other reason. Food was an important replacement to expressions of love. My husband took over the cooking. At first I was grateful and too late I realised it was another form of control. I have struggled with cooking for my children as they all evolved different tastes and dislikes. Not everyone will eat mashed or roast potatoes or rice. It makes enjoying cooking difficult.
I do eat when I’m bored or unhappy and food helps. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a whole tub of ice cream in one go but I wouldn’t swear to it. Mostly I eat about a third of a tub. Food can be comforting. I go out for meals to enjoy other company but also because I can’t be bothered to cook such a pleasant meal at home. I would benefit from cooking more.
Am I aware enough of my physical reactions to strong emotions? Probably not and it is something that gets developed with meditation.
Do I pay enough attention to self-care? Probably not but I don’t anyone does. I try to get more sleep. Do I get enough sensual pleasure? Well no, but I could think in what ways to increase that, unrelated to sexual partners. Am I heard? Yes, by my therapist, my children, my friends. Do I get enough intellectual and creative stimulation? I didn’t, but my course has certainly stimulated me.
Beyond these basics, I get hugs from some friends; I occasionally demand them from my sons, I read for pleasure (although not enough), I go for walks but not enough, I enjoy my garden, I listen to music, I take baths for pleasure rather than cleansing, I meditate (have I mentioned that yet).
What do I really need – at this moment – to deal with my current feelings?
There is a suggestion to pause for five minutes before going for food and asking the above so that if eating isn’t about food there is time to be aware of what the issue is and look at other ways through. I think I need to question my eating more until I can be confident that it is about hunger.
8: Respect Your Body*
I am becoming more accepting of my body and less critical. I still wish I were thin/ner but I also spend less time worrying about it. I can look at a naked me in the mirror without feeling quite as much dismay as I used to. I am better at buying nice clothes – thanks Marisota – without concern for shape (although I do not buy horizontal stripes!) and I still need to widen my horizons that way.
I try and ignore diet talk and perfect body talk and all that but it’s impossible to avoid completely. I have mostly stopped badmouthing my body. I will refer to it as fat. I may not challenge negative body talk but I at least try to ignore it. That is a statement rather than an emotional word. I do compare my body to others’ and find it wanting but at least I am aware of that and try and stop myself. I am aware that my body has done me grand for my life, having produce four babies along the way and the fact that it is still in one piece despite my neglect is truly remarkable. I want to learn to take better care of it.
I binned my scales and any diet material several years ago when I first read Linda Bacon. I have boxed up the majority of clothes that don’t fit and shoved them in the attic. I used to try and buy minimal clothing on the basis that I would go down a size soon and I have stopped that. It is about time I had another clear out.
My mother sent me an email recently after a visit to a seaside town. “it’s full of fat people and it’s full of old people”. She’s over 80 and fat. I wonder how many of such remarks I have heard from her throughout my life that added to her own perception of needing to lose weight and to what extent I have introjected those insecurities. Together we used to watch people and note nice clothes with an inevitable mention of size and size-appropriate clothing, as in “she’s far too fat to be wearing a short skirt”. I still find this difficult to reject and my father has also told me off for wearing strappy tops as wider straps would be “better” for my size. He’s just trying to be helpful he tells me.
9: Exercise: Feel the Difference*
I have tried over the years to get more into exercise. I bought a Wii for my 40th and did play quite a lot of physically active games and exercise programmes. But they never stuck. Just like meditation I could never quite find the right way to do it that I could sustain. Over the same period I’ve increasingly had physio to do, for my lower back or arms and shoulders. These I have maintained while in pain and then they gradually slip away. In the last year I have tried being more active just by going out for short walks, without trying for speed or distance, but trying for pleasure. That is more in the right direction but still not quite right for me to sustain. I’m currently trying to keep my physio going after I pulled my back a month a go and my neck is hurting. I’m waiting for a referral to the physio to happen. I like walking but I don’t think I’ve quite thrown off my horror at the forced walks I did as a child with my parents. I hoped once I learned to drive that I would go for more days out which would be more active but that hasn’t yet happened. Outings need destinations and planning and I can’t quite be bothered. Yes I know that sounds pathetic. I am increasingly aware of aches and pains and the need to perform more maintenance on my body before it really does start falling to pieces.
When your body sits for a long period of time – an hour or more – there is a physiological stasis effect; your metabolic health comes to a standstill.
Non-Exercise-Activity-Thermogenesis or NEAT – breaking up sitting with normal activities that aren’t exercise but are movement. I spend a lot of time sitting and although I do get up to make a cup of tea at regular intervals I am quite pleased when I spend an hour or more sitting down focused on work. So that needs to change.
I like and agree with the “Hedonic Theory of Motivation”, that people repeat activities they enjoy.
Actually I found this chapter remarkably unstimulating. It’s basically find exercise you enjoy and the right circumstances and enjoy doing it. A couple of sustained periods a week are good but so are short bursts of activity. Any activity is better than no activity. Again, it’s about finding a way of fitting it in so that it doesn’t feel like a burden as my super Calm app does for meditation. I need to spend more time thinking about how to make this work for me. I didn’t really learn anything from this one.
10: Honour Your Health: Gentle Nutrition
I don’t think I eat that badly. No, let’s make that a positive statement. I eat relatively well. I do note cravings for greens or salads after an absence and indulge them. I enjoy many salads, veg, meat, rice, pulses etc. I’m not enamoured by spices. I will try almost any food or restaurant type at least once although I know where my preferences are. Sometimes I eat a lump of meat, others a meatless salad so I think I’m relatively balanced. Everything in moderation and a good variety. I enjoy fish and seafood but not the purchasing of it or the cooking so I tend to eat those when out. Some foods I would eat more of at home if I had a better quality and/or more affordable supplier. I am trying to increase my fruit intake by choosing fruits that I like (what an idea) but I also need to learnt to shop more often so they don’t go off and I can buy in smaller quantities.
So, Body-Food Choice Congruence is a mouthful of a phrase that means do you note what your body wants and give it to it? I never have enough energy (but is that about food?) I eat less takeaway food and sometimes feel the stodge later and wished I hadn’t, or had the smaller version. If I’m at home I tend to eat more small meals rather than fewer large ones.
Again if I’m out I might finish my plateful and feel slightly uncomfortably full, knowing that I’m not going to have that experience again any time soon. I rarely do it at home but can stuff myself on popcorn, beef and probably a few other things. I like crisps but tend to be happy with an individual pack.
The gold target for all of this is “authentic health”. This is where you balance all of your inner cues sent by your body from instinct, emotion and thought with whatever rational external health evidence-based guidelines there are along with whatever other choices you’re making such as environment, vegan, organic etc.
Having worked my way through this book, I would say that I mostly do most of this most of the time. There are certainly areas in which I can improve but I don’t think there are any of which I am unaware. Maybe, just maybe, I should stop putting myself down.