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Intuitive Eating: Listen to Your Body and Be Mindful

La Petite Maison Verte: Intuitive Eating: Listen to Your Body and Be Mindful

Monday, November 28, 2011

Intuitive Eating: Listen to Your Body and Be Mindful

Because the holidays are here and we all want to avoid gaining extra weight over the next few weeks, I thought I would use the blog to share some of my thoughts on eating and nutrition in order to hopefully inspire you (and me!) to enjoy the season without going overboard.  I can only speak for myself but I really don't like the idea of waiting for New Year's to make a resolution to get healthier, but at the same time I also don't want to go on a diet between Thanksgiving and Christmas, just to avoid the holiday weight-gain.  I think we can all reach a compromise: a balance between denying ourselves the special treats that only come around once a year (Grandma's Christmas Cookies!) and eating everything on the Holiday Party buffet table.

I am going to talk about Intuitive Eating.  It's simple and yet complex at the same time.  It's somehow intuitive (duh!) and yet so many of us are seemingly incapable of it.  There are a number of components to this approach and I'd like to give ample consideration to each one, so I plan on devoting a series of blog posts over the next few weeks to the principles involved in forming a healthy relationship with the foods we eat and learning to become aware of what we eat and why.  I also plan on sharing some information about myself and telling you what has worked for me.  We are all different so my approach may not work as well for everyone, but I think most people could benefit from these tips, especially at this time of the year when the temptations are so many.

Thank you in advance for allowing me to get up onto my soap box for a little while.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll still be sharing some of my favorite recipes here too, just mixed in with practical advice and (hopefully) some interesting facts that you may or may not be aware of.  I won't be going all "health-nut" either (phew!). As you'll see, I think there is a place (in my life at least) for comfort foods, for desserts, for delicious indulgences and rich, hearty, family-style suppers.  But I hope you will take away that there is also a balance to be reached and that you can find just as much satisfaction from a healthy veggie-centric meal as you can from a fancy five-course seated one.  We're all human, and we're not perfect.  But I plan to try to find the best version of myself this holiday season and strike that balance that will allow me to enjoy this time of year more than I ever have before....

Fact:  Overindulgence is guaranteed on Thanksgiving if you are me.  Surrounded by an endless variety of delicious carb-y stuffing, sweet potatoes, pies, homemade cranberry sauce and rich tasty homemade gravy, I simply must try each and every dish.  And maybe go back for seconds on my favorites.  Of course this year was no exception!

That being said, I also couldn't and wouldn't want to eat those things every day, even in moderation.

My body is used to eating predominantly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, lean animal protein and low-fat dairy foods.  More or less in that order.  Oh, and lots and lots of water.  These are the foods that make me feel good and it's something that I have learned by trial and error, with lots and lots of practice and experimentation.

My diet is just that, mine.  It's not right for everybody.  For people who are far more active than me, it would not provide enough energy (calories) for them to sustain such a high activity level.  Some people need more protein in their diet, others should consume much less sugar than I do (even fresh fruits have a profound effect on blood sugar).  And although I am constantly tweaking my diet and I eat a variety of different foods, I have found the basic formula that makes my insides feel good and keeps me at a relatively steady weight.

What's the key?  I listen to my body.  Simple as that, right?  Well I don't think it's simple for most people.  It wasn't simple for me for the longest time!

Many of the people in my life right now didn't know me when I was overweight.  They may even be learning about my struggle with my weight right now, for the first time as they're reading this.  From the age of about 13 until I was 22, I was overweight, out of shape and struggled with dieting and poor self-esteem.  At my heaviest, I was at least 155 pounds (at 5'3''), although I cannot be 100% sure about that since I did not frequently weigh myself unless forced to (at the doctor's office/school/etc.).  Simple math shows that at that weight, I had a BMI of 27.5, well into the "overweight" category.

Well, so what?  I was pretty healthy and happy, wasn't I?  No, I was terribly out of shape and hated my body.  I only took gym at school because I had to (just one semester my entire High School career).  I was convinced it was my asthma that made me so out of breath when I had to run (and to be fair, it probably was partly due to that).  I wasn't happy with the way my clothes fit, I hated having my picture taken, I dreaded buying size 12 and 13 jeans, mostly because even those felt tight.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that what I needed was more exercise and less junk food.  But I didn't feel like I was in control of my eating.  I ate when I was happy, when I was sad, stressed, angry and every emotion in between.  My food choices were less than stellar too.  Once I went to college and had plenty of choices at the dining hall I often filled my bowl with sugary cereal or grabbed a giant muffin from the bakery while rushing to my early morning classes.

Lunch wasn't any better:  I'd choose a turkey club sandwich on wheat bread with potato chips and an apple or orange, or a small salad with a cheeseburger and fries from the grill line.  And at dinnertime, I thought I was doing myself a favor by picking up a really big, healthy salad from the salad bar...but I always ate a slice of pizza along with it and always a big chocolate chip cookie for dessert.

I thought that because I cut out snacks and didn't go to the late-night dining hall hours with my roommates (where they served fries, mozzarella sticks, wings, burgers, pizzas and desserts) that I was eating right and I couldn't understand why I didn't lose weight.  I mean, I was walking all over campus!  (Yeah, but I was probably consuming at least 2500 or more calories every day!)

Looking back now, I can see that although my diet wasn't horrible (after all, I was eating salads, some whole grains and fruit and I never gave into temptations to try the late-night offerings), I was eating way too many calories for my activity level, but I wasn't eating the right foods to give me the energy I needed.  My classes right before and after lunch time were always the ones I struggled with, not because of the subject matter but because my attention waned as my blood sugar spiked and dropped (of course I didn't know this at the time).  I didn't listen to what my body was trying to tell me.

Fast forward to today and I am a much healthier person and more in control of eating and exercise, which makes me happier.  Through my reading a whole bunch of books on diets, nutrition and the food industry I realized that I could still eat really delicious foods (in fact, way more delicious than anything I ate at the dining hall!) and still maintain a weight that I am happy with.  I don't have to give anything up, unless I choose to (I can eat chocolate, I can drink wine!).  There is nothing that is fundamentally off limits (although, there are plenty of foods I choose to avoid now because I do not derive any satisfaction from them, especially now that I know what processes go on to make them).

That being said, it helps that I really enjoy the taste of salads, vegetables, fresh fruits and healthy whole grains.  And just as much as I enjoy the taste of these things, I enjoy the way my body feels when I eat them.  I'm not talking about weight here, either.  I am talking about feeling really and truly satisfied, not stuffed, satisfied.  Do you know what that feels like?

Many of us don't know what that feels like because we're not eating the right things at the right times.  We mindlessly fill our stomachs on-the-go, barely pausing for a second to unwrap a granola bar or snack cake.  We eat things that we think taste good (hey, the TV ad told us they taste good!) and are quick and convenient for our busy lives.  But all too often, these things don't taste good (if you really take a moment to taste them), they don't fill us up, they don't satisfy.  And so we go find something else to mindlessly devour in order to feel satisfied.  The point is, this way of eating doesn't work.

What I am suggesting is that when you decide to eat something, you pause and take a moment to consider what you want to eat and why you want to eat it.  Are you hungry?  That seems like a simple question, but often the answer is no.  Listen to your body. Perhaps you are thirsty.  Perhaps you are feeling stressed out or bored.  Maybe you are watching a commercial for Oreos where the grandpa and grandson seem all warm and happy and you want to eat Oreos so that you can feel those things too.  (Right now your gut reaction is probably to think that you would never be tricked by such a blatant and obvious ploy, and maybe you wouldn't, but I ask you to consider the possibility).

Be mindful of what you eat.  Again, this sounds so simple.  But it's difficult to be mindful if you're racing out the door with a pop-tart sticking out of your mouth.  It's also difficult to be mindful if you're drinking a can of soup with one hand as your driving the kids to soccer practice.  Food companies make products that make our lives easier, right?  I would ask you to question that the next time you think about picking up a package of drinkable yogurts or a frozen dinner entree.  How much easier is this going to make my life?  And is the "convenience" worth it for the tons of added preservatives, sugars and empty calories that I am going to consume along with these processed cheese-like crackers.  You may answer, Yes.  Yes, it is worth it because I am a busy person and I really like my cheesy crackers.  And that is absolutely fine (Gasp!  Remember I said no food is off limits) if and only if you truly enjoy the taste and they satisfy you.  But if you eat them while you're sitting at your desk at work multi-tasking and find yourself with your nose in the fridge an hour later looking for something else to eat, then they probably didn't satisfy you and how do you even know whether you like their taste, remember you were on a phone call and checking your e-mail as you ate them.  Be mindful.

In what ways do you listen to your body?  

Do you have any foods that you eat mindlessly, on-the-go, or while doing something else?


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At November 28, 2011 at 10:17 AM , Anonymous HeidiRob said...

This is such an amazing post, Julia! I appreciate your forthright discussion about your own struggles and simple good advice. I think that your example about the Oreos is a common pitfall. First of all, our minds are switched OFF, we are not being very mindful when we watch TV and therefore are easily influenced. Secondly, sitting around the house all day or all evening puts us close to temptation! Another important tip is to buy food when you are not hungry, so there are only healthy options in your fridge and pantry :)

At December 1, 2011 at 6:22 AM , Anonymous Jules said...

You are so right about not shopping when you're hungry! I try to make sure I am well-fed before venturing into the grocery store otherwise I've been known to make some of the most RANDOM impulse buys (cough-Biscoff spread-cough)


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